News

    Silenced During Papal Visit, Cuban Bloggers, Dissidents Speak Out

    Not much was heard from dissidents during Pope Benedict XVI's recent visit to Cuba.  They say that is because the government mounted a campaign of arrests and harassment to silence them.  After the pope left, I was invited to a meeting that the country's best known Internet blogger, Yoani Sanchez, had with other critics of the government to share their experiences.

    "I heard the car start moving with incredible speed," said Danilo Maldonado, waiving his arm tattooed with political drawings.  "And when it turned like this, they grabbed me and shoved me inside."  Maldonado, a graffiti artist, said he was held with other detainees for three days near Havana's airport.

    Meeting in the shaded garden of one of their houses, these dissidents said the roundup coincided with the pope's March 26-28 visit, as he held mass in Havana and Santiago and met with President Raul Castro and his brother Fidel.

    Some dissidents said they were were taken into detention, others say they were put under house arrest.  Many of them said they were unable to use their cell phones.

    "Whoever has details to tell should tell them, because I don't know what happened," Sanchez told the group.  Earlier, in an interview, she had told me she could not receive international telephone calls and that most of the Cuban contacts in her phone book were unreachable.

    Photo Gallery

    A Cuban Dissident

    • Yoani Sánchez, born September 4, 1975, has achieved international fame for her blog, Generation Y, which portrays the realities of daily life in Cuba.
    • Sanchez grew up in height of Cuba's reliance on the Soviet Union and studied philology at university. But she says that when she graduated she was left with a distaste for the world of high culture and intellectualism. In 2002, her disenchantment with Cuba's economic asphyxiation led her to leave for Switzerland, but returned two years later.
    • In April 2007, she began writing her blog, which was blocked inside Cuba until 2011. She writes at Internet cafes since she has no connection at home, but sends out regular tweets using text messaging from her cell phone.
    • In 2008, she won Spain's Ortega y Gasset journalism prize and Time magazine listed her as one of the world's 100 most influential people. A year later, after she was denied permission to travel to the U.S. to receive the Maria Moore Cabot Prize award from the Columbia University, President Barack Obama wrote on her blog saying he applauded her and other bloggers "collective efforts to empower fellow Cubans to express themselves through the use of technology."

    Sanchez publishes an Internet blog called "Generation Y" which is translated into 16 languages, including Polish, Hungarian and Chinese.

    Earlier, in a television interview with the Voice of America, she described what she writes about.  "My blog does not draw on political or academic analysis.  It's about the feelings, impressions and observations that I draw from daily life," she said, seated in her apartment on the 14th floor of a Soviet-style housing block.

    "For example, now, there's no electricity in this building.  So you have to climb the stairs.  On those stairs, I hear stories.  I hear complaints; I hear frustrations.  And all of that goes into my blog."

    But those reflections have been deemed counterrevolutionary by Cuban authorities.  And Sanchez says she has suffered retaliation.

    "Arrests, days in jail, police threats," she recalls.  "But I have to say that wonderful things have happened to me.  To go out into the street and have people say to me, 'I read your work, I agree with you.'  People my age with tears of emotion telling me to continue the fight -- that compensates for everything."

    Sanchez says she was brought up as a doctrinaire youth who used to mouth slogans idolizing Marxist revolutionary hero Ernesto "Che" Guevarra.  But during adolescence, she says, she watched as "everything my parents had sacrificed and struggled for left us in a miserable economic situation without a future."

    She cannot travel abroad to collect awards she has received.  What hurts her the most, she says, is the intimidation of those dear to her.  "I've lost many friends, people who are afraid to be near me.  But I've also made new friends, who are aware of the risks" -- like the fellow bloggers, journalists, artists and dissident clergy who gathered to talk about what happened to them during the papal visit.  

    Reverend Jose Conrado Rodriguez Alegre, a Catholic priest form Santiago, told them that his house was surrounded by security forces.  He promised to pass on the testimonies to the papal nuncio.  "In the church, whoever prevents a priest or ordinary Christian from directly communicating with the Holy Father commits a grave offense," he said.

    Their allegations did not draw a response from the Cuban government.  Since taking over the presidency from his ailing brother Fidel, Raul Castro has moved to liberalize the country's economy and let ordinary Cubans have cell phones and Internet access.

    Many defenders of Cuban communism praise its egalitarian ideals and say it provides a high standard of universal health care and education, in spite of the 50-year-old U.S. economic embargo.  Sanchez has written that the embargo should be lifted, but she has little patience for people in Western countries who romanticize Cuba.

    "I would advise most of those people to spend two months in Cuba, trying to survive on a local salary and live on rations.  And I'm sure that after those two months, they would be more critical of the Cuban government than I or any other opposition figure based in this country."

    Last year, the government lifted a three-year blockage on blogs like Sanchez's.  "The only thing the Cuban government achieved during those three years is that alternative blogs became very popular through alternative networks - being distributed hand to hand, on CDs and flash drives," she said.

    But Sanchez says that because Arab youth played a key role in toppling authoritarian governments during the past year, the Cuban government has tightened its control on society.

    She tweets from her cell phone via text messaging, but has no Internet connection at home.  She has to go to hotel business centers where online access costs about $10 per hour, a fortune for ordinary Cubans.

    Sanchez says adversities such as these lead many Cubans to feel apathetic, "as though this is some sort of curse and there's nothing we can do."  But she says the Middle East and North Africa uprisings changed that and gave young Cubans a feeling of empowerment.

    "Civil society is in ferment," she says.  "Things are happening not just among dissidents, but also among young people making hip hop music, art, theater, alternative film."  

    Many of them, including Yoani Sanchez, are convinced that the future of Cuba is in their hands.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Jack Spatiz
    April 21, 2012 4:07 PM
    What nonsense; the Voice of America interviewing an agent of the U.S. in Cuba. The former director of the Interest Section of the U.S. said he hoped the many conservations he had with YOani Sanchez would never be published; the reason is that Yoani was being instructed what to say bythe U.S. She has a credit card and Pay Pal account that it is illegal to have according to U.S. law. Voice of America is the propaganda voice of the U.S. in Latin America.

    by: NVO
    April 05, 2012 8:25 AM
    In claiming that the pope is the “Vicar of Christ,” the Catholic Church rejects the sufficiency and supremacy of Christ’s priesthood, and grants to the pope roles that Christ Himself declared would belong to the Holy Spirit. It is therefore blasphemy to ascribe to the pope the title of “Vicar of Christ.”
    At Pentecost The Holy Spirit was sent, NOT A POPE!!!!!

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limitedi
    X
    Katie Arnold
    May 04, 2016 12:31 PM
    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora