Yoani Sanchez, the outspoken dissident blogger from Havana, Cuba tweeted today, “I remember the phrase #Gandhi stated: ‘First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you. Then you win.’ I'm at the stage in which they attack me.”
I’m somewhat shocked at the critics’ opinions of Yoani, now that she has finally been allowed a passport to travel from Cuba. The first time I saw somebody write something negative about her trip to the U.S. was a few weeks ago when Florida International University announced she would speak on April 1, and that they would give her an award. There was a place on the FIU site to post comments, and somebody called her a communist. I thought the person was just misinformed, but now I see a groundswell of negativity about her visit.
Her talk is titled, “The role of technologies and social media in driving Cuba’s democratization.” She will receive FIU’s Medallion of Courage.
As we have reported before, Yoani, whose blog recounts the daily struggles of Cuban life, was denied the right to travel for years (like most Cubans). She received awards, but was never able travel to receive them. She was invited to give talks, but was forbidden to attend.
In January of 2013 the Exit Permit law was eliminated, and one simply had to obtain a visa from a country, and then Cuba would issue a passport. Yoani thought she wouldn’t receive one, as some dissidents did not, but she did. She announced a multi-country visit.
Protesters reviled her in Brazil, but besides that, it’s been quite some time since we have heard of protests since then. There has been virtually no news about her visit to the U.S., unless you follow Spanish language media or her own Twitter or Facebook entries.
Now, on the eve of her talk and receipt of an award at FIU, I wonder whether there will be protestors. The exile community in Miami, who staunchly oppose all travel to Cuba, and support strict restrictions, including the Embargo, are being quite vocal in criticism of Yoani in the U.S.
La Nueva Acción, (http://nuevoaccion.com) news media of the outspoken exiles, published an article written by Enrique Artalejo. First he points out that he is twice as old as Yoani, and thus, there is a generation gap. He says she cannot understand the exiles who escaped, or youngsters who were sent away from Cuba. What does she know, having been born after the Castros were already in power?
He says she promotes elimination of the Embargo, which many residents of Cuba do as well. But the outspoken exile groups in Miami are the biggest proponents of keeping the Embargo in place. The author states that, “Lifting the embargo would be just that, funding to tyranny,” and he says, “in addition to being stupid, it would be immoral.”
Then he rails against Yoani for something she apparently said about the “Cuban Five”, who are five prisoners of the U.S., which the U.S. said were planning to commit terrorist acts in the U.S. I really cannot follow what this man is arguing about, but it is much the same as what I hear from my family members when I travel to Cuba. They don’t care about the people stuck in Cuba; they view my visits as benefitting the tyranny. I’m currently reading a book by author Tom Wolfe, called "Back to Blook", and one of the main characters is a Cuban-American police officer, who rescues a Cuban refugee who has fled to the United States, but managed to get onto a boat instead of touching soil. So he is returned to Cuba. The entire community of his family and friends revile him for taking custody of a Cuban refugee and causing him to be repatriated. In Miami, it’s black or white. Talk of visiting Cuba or doing anything the exile community do not approve of, like sending money to relatives, and you become the enemy.
Another writer of Nueva Accion countered somewhat the negative comments of Artalejo. Gabriel Astengo wrote on March 27. He questioned Yoani’s travels and public discussions, but generally supports her. But he does say, since he lives in a democracy, he can disagree with some points she has raised, being elimination of the Embargo and freeing the Cuban Five. I have not actually heard her state that the Cuban Five should be freed, and that statement does seem to be a pro-government sentiment. Signs and propaganda about freeing the Cuban Five exist all over Cuba, and the country has made it clear that Alan Gross could be traded for them. But perhaps she has made that statement. Maybe we will hear a debate about that tomorrow.
A better description of the Embargo and why exiles believe it should stay in place was written by Hector Julio Cedeño Negrin on March 29, under the title, “The Tremendous Effectiveness of the U.S. Embargo”. Although I’m not sure I support the Embargo, and the Cuban people living in Cuba certainly wish it would disappear, at least the article is well written and the arguments makes sense.
Will there be picketers and protestors tomorrow night at FIU? Perhaps. But we hope Yoani will be able to speek freely and receive her award.
At the conclusion of her talk in Brazil, Yoani closed with the following statement, “Cuba is much more than an island, an ideology or a man. Cuba is 11 million residents and two million exiles, together and separately, fighting for inclusivity.”