On Tuesday, November 8, 2011, Mariela Castro (@CastroEspinM) opened a Twitter account for the first time and began tweeting. She is the daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro and the niece of Fidel Castro. She lives in Havana, Cuba, as does Cuban dissident blogger, Yoani Sánchez (@yoanisánchez). Her father, her uncle, Fidel Castro, Venezuela President, Hugo Chavez, and other government leaders have used Twitter for a while.
As soon as Ms. Castro posted her first tweet, she became engaged in a war of Tweets with Sánchez.
Mariela Castro is an activist for gay rights. Earlier this year, Sánchez began a discourse with Ms. Castro in which Sánchez challenged Castro to extend her tolerance of gay rights to promotion of all kinds of rights that are restricted in Cuba, such as the right to free speech, to elect political leaders and to travel abroad. Sánchez has been awarded various human rights commendations, and has been invited to speak many times in other countries, but is never granted a visa to leave Cuba to participate in any of these events. Ms. Sánchez has not asked to leave Cuba permanently. She returned voluntarily to Cuba after emigrating to Switzerland, and says she will not leave again until Cuba is free. But she is continuously forbidden to travel. She frequently explains her exchanges with government officials on her blog.
One panel discussion to which Yoani was invited, but had to attend via Skype because of her inability to travel was How to Ignite, or Quash, a Revolution in 140 Characters or Less, which was presented in July, 2011 by New America Foundation in Washington, DC. The seminar involved social media, including Twitter and its effects in revolutionary activity in various countries.
Ms. Castro did not accept Ms. Sánchez’ requests for a dialogue on all human rights in Cuba.
In the recent barrage of tweets, Sánchez asked, “… When will Cubans be able to break free of [all] restraints?” and “Welcome to Twitter pluralism @CastroEspinalM. Here, no one can silence me, deny me permission to travel nor impede my entry.”
Castro responded: “Your focus on tolerance resurrects old power structures. To improve the value of your ‘services,’ you need to educate yourself.”
Sánchez tweeted: “Another little question for @CastroEspinM. How can you ask for selective acceptance for one issue. Acceptance is total, or not?”
Castro did not accept the challenge, although many other Twitter followers jumped in. Castro said, “Friends who follow me, thanks for your messages. I appreciate also the mediocre-minded and bored for sharing my tweets with others.”
In her blog, Sánchez later said, “The personal attack with which [Mariel Castro] responded stunned me. I did not expect a hand extended in dialog, certainly, but neither did I expect arrogance. It’s true that I need to study, as she suggested, and I will do so and continue to do so until my eyes can no longer distinguish the lines in my books and my rheumatic fingers can no find the keys on the keyboard. However, I have learned that to evade a question by attacking the other’s lack of education borders on arrogance. …
I believe, however, that … verbal attack is a habit that can be cured. The voice can be trained, tolerance acquired, the ear opened to listening to others. Twitter is a magnificent therapy to achieve this. I suppose that as the days pass and as Mariela Castro continues to publish, she will come to better understand the norms of democratic dialog, without hierarchies, where no one tries to give lessons to anyone. When this time comes, I hope we can converse, have a coffee, ‘study’ together — why not? — the long and difficult road that lies ahead for us.”
Various news organizations have reported on the war of tweets: