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Although it was April 2007 when Yoani Sánchez began her blog Generation Y, the moment when her name passed from anonymity to popularity was the year 2008. Perhaps it all began a little earlier when, in October 2007, a Reuters correspondent released a dispatch that was subsequently published in several newspapers around the world. That drew the attention of The Wall Street Journal, which devoted a full page article with a headline naming this insignificant citizen. It was followed by the Spanish newspaper El Pais on January 3rd of this year, with one of those interviews placed on the front page titled with a phrase from the one interviewed: “Life is not on the other hand, it’s in another Cuba.”
On the 23rd and 24th of February, when Cuba was in the process of electing a new President of the Councils of State and of Ministers, Havana was full of reporters from the most important media in the world. As if it were a Caribbean Mecca, most of them made a pilgrimage to the 14th floor of the building where this blogger lives. Literally, we had them lining up to interview her. The New York Times, Die Zeit, Newsweek, The Washington Post, Reporters Without Borders, German and Spanish television, Al Jazeera, and many more, wanted to let the readers of their different publications know about this new phenomenon.
In March, the portal desdecuba.com, which hosts the blog Generation Y, along with others, was blocked by the Cuban authorities and since then no one can access it from Cuba. Thanks to good friends living outside the Island, it’s possible to update the blog and now, thanks to other friends, it’s possible to read it in 12 languages.
In April, Yoani learned she had won the Ortega y Gasset Prize for Digital Journalism, and in May, Time Magazine named her one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World in the “Heroes and Pioneers” category. The Cuban government then denied her permission to leave the country and go to Spain to collect her prize. At the ceremony, the glaring absence of the Cuban blogger was evident, and another Cuban blogger, Ernesto Hernandez Bustos, accepted the prize in her name. The solidarity sparked by the travel ban was as gratifying as the ban was frustrating.
A month later the book on Bolivia was published. Fidel Castro wrote the prologue and, without directly mentioning her name, alluded to this young woman who received “one of the many awards granted by the imperialists to blow their own horn.” Yoani decided not to respond, among other reasons because she started her work with a policy of not responding to attacks. She then asked that I be the one to respond. Some people didn’t get the joke about invoking the macho principle that, “When a man insults a woman it should be her husband who takes her side”; maybe they should receive therapy at the National Center for Humor, or simply ask for an explanation of the joke.
In late August, Gorki Águila, the leader of a rock band, was arrested by the police on a charge that could have earned him four years in jail. Yoani, along with other friends, went to the so-called “José Martí Anti-Imperialist Grandstand” where the famous singer-songwriter Pablo Milanés was giving a mega-concert, to ask, banner in hand, for freedom for the rocker. The small group was dispersed with blows, but the next day, in front of the tribunal where the trial was held, all were present and chanting the name of Gorki when they saw him freed, subject only to a fine.
On September 4 Yoani turned 33, but the gift didn’t come until twenty days later when, for the second time, the government denied her permission to leave the island, this time to accept an invitation to a journalism festival in Ferrara, Italy.
In November, Yoani won the Jury Prize in the Spanish contest Bitácoras.com, and barely a week later she won the prize for Best Weblog in The BOBs contest, which involves over 12,000 participants worldwide.
In early December, a group of bloggers joined with the journal Convivencia [Coexistence] and the portal Desde Cuba to organize a meeting to exchange knowledge. The political police, knowing that Yoani had worked like no one else to enlarge the Cuban blogosphere, called her in her to tell her that the activity could not take place. When they refused to put this in writing, she told them they didn’t dare to do so because they were cowards.
The newspaper El Pais’s weekly magazine included her in its list of the Year’s 100 Most Notable Hispano Americans on November 30th; the magazine Foreign Policy chose her in December as one of the Ten Most Important Intellectuals of the Year, as did the Mexican magazine Gato Pardo. Yoani Sánchez is named on all these lists and is the only person who appears on more than one of them.
All of these events have only served to draw more attention to the blog Generation Y, which averages ten million hits a month, with each post receiving between 3 thousand and 7 thousand comments. In fact, it has become an authentic virtual public square where thousands of people come to debate the articles that Yoani writes and the comments posted by those who visit.
There is an unwritten rule that states that popularity attracts enemies. Throughout these months the hostility has come from two extremes: the first and most logical, are those fundamentalists who cannot accept even the smallest criticism of the government. They call her an employee of the Empire, CIA agent or, in the more benign cases, a confused person who doesn’t know the evil that lurks in the outside world. The second extreme is the other fundamentalists, those who believe that anyone who can put their fingers on the keyboard of a computer must be an agent of State Security. Among them we find some who won asylum arguing a persecution they never suffered and who now say they can’t understand how it’s possible that the blogger is not in jail or has not left the island. There are many who can’t accept that she has been given prizes and recognition instead of other independent journalists who have suffered beatings or are serving long prison sentences. I can assure you that none of the awards received, nor the mention by the prologue writer, have been managed by Yoani.
Fortunately, there are more friends. Unlike those who denigrate her, they show their faces and give their names. There are many—and I am privileged to witness this—who stop her in the street to say they are readers and supporters. Among them we find some public figures, Cubans living abroad, people from here who know her through satellite dishes or CDs that circulate freely, young and old, men and women who do not know that this woman is one of the shyest people in the world, to the point that among her friends she’s said to possess the gift of invisibility for her great ability to avoid being the center of attention of others.
I enjoy the infinite pleasure of sharing my life with Yoani. We have been a couple since July 1993, when she hadn’t yet enrolled in the Pedagogical Institute nor dreamed of changing schools to become a philologist. We have a 13-year-old son, a goldfish bowl, and a mutt. I am entitled to say that no one knows her like I do. Her worst personal faults are a secret to her most bitter enemies and her greatest virtues have not yet been discovered by her most fervent admirers. Because of my profession as a journalist, there has been no shortage of people who claim that I am the one who writes her articles. It’s enough to stop by my blog (which almost no one visits!) to confirm the difference in styles. This doesn’t mean I don’t deserve part of the credit, because if I, with my emblematic floral apron, didn’t wash the dishes, clean the house and water the plants on the terrace, Yoani wouldn’t have time for her blog. She is generous enough to let me read her work before she publishes it in order to give me the illusion that I’m helping.
Without a doubt 2008 has been The Year of Yoani. What no one knows is that her lucky number is… 9.
Yesterday, Thursday, I had a party to celebrate 20 years of being a free man. It was 10:00 in the morning on December 18, 1988 when I attended a meeting where I was informed that I could no longer act as an official journalist in Cuba. At the firing squad, where I was executed as an information professional, they shot José R. Vidal (Cheito), director of the newspaper Juventud Rebelde, Lázaro Barredo from the national leadership of UPEC (Union of Cuban Journalists), Juan Contino, who was then the second secretary of the National Bureau of the UJC (Young Communist League), and other colleagues from the newspaper who were only taking bullets from the volley.
They accused me of denying the work of the Revolutionary program, exalting in the contradictions between the younger generation and those who held leadership positions in the country, and using ambiguous terminology that gave my articles a double meaning; they added some details like my having instigated a group of students from the journalism school to engage in a provocation during a meeting with the Commander in Chief and, in addition, that I met with young people at my house and inculcated them with ideas contrary to the Revolution.
Against all this I defended myself like a tomcat, in a long and meticulous appeal sent to Carlos Aldana who at this time led the Party’s ideological apparatus. Months later (I think it was August of 1999) I was received at the headquarters of the Central Committee by a functionary with the name Castellanos, who was second in command to Aldana and Jacinto Granda, who was already preparing to assume the leadership of the newspaper Granma. I was anxious to see how they could rebut the arguments that with so much gratification I had sharpened during exhausting days of reflection. To my surprise, Castellanos told me not to get distracted in defending myself against the accusations, that I could no longer continue as a journalist simply because my thinking deviated from the party line, and that was all.
That was the form in which I met the true face of Fantomas. I left that place angry and frustrated because I still didn’t understand that the lightness that overwhelmed me was not due to my having been transformed into an insignificant person, but rather they had converted me into a free man.
Last night I offered an toast to those who freed me forever from the painful burden of playacting. I swear that I do not bear any grudges and I publicly thank them for the immense favor they did me.
Grateful and tame domestic animals, especially those born into captivity, are obedient to their master. It doesn’t matter that the man who controls them is precisely the one who prevents them from living in their natural environment, he puts them to work, or makes them get fat and then eats them, he decides whether or not they’ll have a sex life, when and with a member of which species; he puts them in reins, yokes, muzzles, saddles, cages, horseshoes and chains; he castrates or violates them, cuts their wings, tears out their tusks, shouts at them, hits them with sticks to tame them; he brands them with a hot iron and sells them to another; he doesn’t allow any of them to leave the farm, zoo or circus–whichever has been the fate of the beast–without permission. None of that matters as long as the master brings food to the corral, if he vaccinates them so they don’t die at an inopportune moment.
Setting aside some unusual exceptions, animals lack rights, have no means of protest nor any place to do it. It’s acceptable that a goose spends its entire life with a tube in its esophagus being force fed a mixture that favors the creation of liver paté; thousands of chickens are condemned to live under a light that makes them believe night does not exist and which is good for increasing egg production; to meet the urgent needs of transport a donkey can be loaded with two or three times its own weight. If something contributes to the splendor of the spectacle, a horse can be whipped or spurred, a bull can be killed in front of thousands of people, a tiger can be humiliated in public by making it jump, over and over again, through the same stupid hoop.
The spectators enjoy themselves while distractedly eating popcorn; he who receives the cargo doesn’t even look at the mule; meanwhile, who remembers the tortured chickens while savoring the breakfast eggs? On the menu where they offer (perhaps in French), goose paté, it would be in bad taste to describe the macabre process detailed above. And as if that is not consistent with denying animals all rights, and the means to protest and the place to do so, the “mastersapien” has the complacent belief that the value of protection is greater than that of freedom and it’s perfectly sufficient to take fodder to his pigsty and remove the ticks from time to time.
I’ve repeatedly had nightmares where in one country on this planet, let’s say one on an island, the people lack the right to express themselves and are not permitted to associate nor to cross the borders without authorization. They have a generous king who apportions various privileges based upon the submission of each one, but he provides equally to all basic food and health care. The disadvantage is that no one can complain. The rest of the world envies and admires the king.
Yoani has already recounted, in her blog Generation Y, the details of the diatribe we both had to listen to in the police station, from the mouths of the two Interior Ministry [MININT] officials. Because I digest more slowly, I have delayed commenting on the matter, but I will pose a few questions about the words that most drew my attention: “You are disqualified from any dialogue with the Cuban authorities.” I apologize if I am not quoting exactly but, as you know, they did not care to put it in writing.
Here are my questions:
Are we on the eve of a dialogue with the authorities?
Is there an agenda for this dialogue?
Are the points of this agenda established only by the party that has the power?
Is the Interior Ministry authorized to determine who is or is not qualified to have a dialogue with the Cuban authorities?
Do the MININT officials assume that they are the authority with whom one must dialogue?
Wherever there are people who are disqualified, it is because there is a “qualifier.” What are the requirements that it is necessary to meet to dialogue with the authorities? Are these rules or regulations secret?
Who will be qualified for a dialogue that doesn’t end up being a monologue or a choir, where everyone is perfectly coordinated to say the same thing?