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.


Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.
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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs