An interview by Salim Lamrani, published on Rebelion Website
A Conversation with Cuban Blogger Yoani Sanchez
French journalist and expert in relations between
Yoani Sanchez is the new figure of Cuban opposition. Since she created her blog “Generaion Y” back in 2007, she has been granted several international prizes, including the Ortega y Gasset Journalism Prize in 2008, the Bitacoras.com Prize in 2008, the Bob’s Prize in 2008, the Maria Moors Cabot Prize in 2008, granted by the prestigious US University of Columbia. Similarly, the Cuban blogger was selected among the world’s 100 most influential personalities by Time Magazine in 2008, along with George W. Bush, Hu Jintao and Dalai Lama. Yoani´s blog was included on the list of the 25 best blogs of the world by CNN and Time Magazine in 2008.
In November 30, 2008,
Foreign Policy magazine, on its part, included her among the 10 most important intellectuals of the year, while
This impressing landslide of distinctions, as well as their simultaneous occurrence, has raised numerous questions, so much so that Yoani Sanchez, according to her own confession, is absolutely unknown in her own country. How can a person, who is unknown to her neighbors—according to the blogger—, be on the list of the 100 most influential personalities in the world?
A diplomat from a western country, who is close to this atypical opponent of the Cuban government, had read a series of articles I wrote about Yoani Sanchez and that were somewhat critical. He showed the blogger my articles and she wanted to meet me to clear out some points I had referred to.
The meeting with the young dissident, of controversial fame, did not take place in any dark apartment with closed windows or in a remote site that could avoid the indiscrete ears of “the political police.” On the contrary, the meeting took place in the lobby of the
Yoani Sanchez has close ties with western embassies. In fact, a simple call by my contact at midday allowed us to set the date just three hours later. And at 3 pm, the blogger showed up smiling, dressed in a long skirt and a blue jersey. She also wore a sports jacket to keep herself warm in the relatively fresh temperature of the
Our conversation lasted nearly two hours as we sat at a table in the bar and in the presence of her husband Reinaldo Escobar, who accompanied her for some 20 minutes before they left the place as they headed for another meeting. Yoani Sanchez appeared very cordial and friendly; she proved her great peace. Her voice was firm and she never showed being uncomfortable. Already used to meeting with the western media, she really masters the arts of communication.
This blogger, a person who looks weak, intelligent and astute is aware that, although hard for her to admit her western media relation is not by mere chance, but because it advocates the setting up of “sui generis” capitalism in Cuba.
The Incident on November 6, 2009
Salim Lamrani: Let´s start with the incident that occurred on November 6,
Yoani Sánchez: Yes indeed, I confirm I was submitted to violence. They held me for 25 minutes. I was beaten. I managed to take a piece of paper that one of the men had in his pocket and I hid it in my mouth. One of them pressed his knee over my chest and the other, from the front seat would beat me in the kidney area and my head so that I opened my mouth and get the piece of paper. For a moment, I thought I would never get out of that car.
SL: the story on your blog is really terrifying. I quote: you spoke of “beats and pushes,” of “beating knuckles,” of “stream of beats,” “Knees on your chest,” beating your “kidneys and […] your head, “pulling you by your hair,” of your face “going red due to pressure and painful body, of “ beats that went on” and “ all those bruises.” However, when you met with the international press on November 9 all those marks had faded it out of your body. How can you explain that?
YS: They are beating professionals.
SL: Ok, but why didn’t you show the pictures of the marks?
YS: I got the pictures. I got the proving images.
SL: So you got the proofs?
YS: I got the proofs in the pictures.
SL: But, why haven’t you published them to reject all rumors saying you might have fabricated this attack so that the press told about your case?
YS: I rather keep them for the time being and not publish them. I want to present them to a court some day so that these three men are judged. I can perfectly recall their faces and I got the pictures of two of them at least. As to the third man, he is still to be identified but since he was the chief, he will be easy to spot. I also have the piece of paper I took from one of them, which has my saliva because I kept it in my mouth. The name of a woman was written in that paper.
SL: Fine. You publish many photos on your blog. It is not difficult to understand why you prefer not to release the pictures this time.
YS: As I told you, I rather keep them for justice.
SL: You are aware that your attitude gives credit to those who think that you fabricated the attack against you, aren’t you?
YS: It is my choice.
SL: However, even the western media, which quite favor you, took some unusual precautious measures when telling your story. BBC correspondent in
YS: I wouldn’t like to evaluate their work. I am not who is supposed to judge them. They are professionals who face very complicated situations that I can not evaluate. The fact is that the existence or not of physical marks is not evidence of the event.
SL: But the presence of those marks would reveal that violence took place. That is why publishing the photos would be so important.
YS: You should understand that they are professionals in intimidation. The fact that three unknown men took me to a car without presenting any documents gives me the right to complaint as if they had broken all my bones. The photos are not that important because the illegal act has been committed. Now being so accurate as to say “if it hurts here or there” is just my internal pain.
SL: Ok, but the problem is that you presented it all as a very violent attack. You talked about “kidnapping you in the worst Sicilian Camorra style.”
YS: Yes, that is true, but it is my word against theirs. The fact of getting into these details, if I have bruises or not takes us far off the real subject, which is that they kidnapped me during 25 minutes illegally.
SL: Excuse my insistence, but I think this is important. There is some difference between an identity control, which lasts 25 minutes, and police violence. My question is very simple. You said and I quote: “I had a cheekbone and an eyebrow swollen all during the weekend.” Since you got the pictures, you can now show the marks.
YS: I just told you I rather keep them for court.
SL: You are aware that some people will find it hard to believe your version, if you do not publish the photos, aren’t you?
YS: I think that by getting into these details we miss the subject. The fact is that three bloggers accompanied by a friend of theirs were on their way to a place in the city, right on the corner of 23 and G streets. We had heard that a group of youngsters had called a march against violence there. They are alternative kind of people, hip hop and rap singers, artists. I would be there as a blogger to make pictures and post them on my blog and make some interviews. On the way to that site we were stopped by a “Geely” car.
SL: Was it an action to prevent you from taking part of the event?
YS: That was the reason, evidently. They never told us that formally, but that was their objective. They told me to get in the car. I asked them who they were. One of them took me by my wrist and I held back. That happened in a
SL: So there were people at the place then. I mean there were witnesses.
YS: Yes, there were witnesses but they do not want to talk. They are scared.
SL: Not even in an anonymous way? Why hasn’t the western media interviewed them anonymously as they usually do when they publish critical articles about
YS: I can’t explain about the reaction of the press. I can tell them what happened. One of them, a man about fifty years old, with a strong body as if he had ever practiced free wrestling—I tell you this because my father practiced that sports and he has the same body shape-. I have quite weak wrists and I managed to get out of his grasp and I asked him who he was. There were three men plus the driver.
SL: So then, there were four men instead of three.
YS: Yes, but I couldn’t reach to see the driver’s face. “Yoani, get in the car, you know who we are.” I replied: “I don’t know who you are.” The smallest one said: “Listen, you know who I am, you know me well.” I answered him: “No, I don’t know who you are. Who are you? Let me see your papers or just any document.” The other one told me: “Get in the car, do not make things difficult.” Then I started to shout. “Help! Kidnappers!”
SL: Did you know that they were policemen wearing civilian clothes?
YS: I figured it out, but they never showed me any document.
SL: Then, what was your objective?
YS: I wanted things to be done legally; that is, that they showed me their documents and then they could take me although I suspected they really represented the authority. You can not force a citizen to get in a private car without presenting any documents, or else it is illegal and thus kidnapping.
SL: How did the people at the bus stop react?
YS: The people were astonished because “kidnapping” is not a common word in
.SL: Do you mean that since the beginning you knew that they were policemen wearing civilian clothes because you identified the car they were driving?
YS: I sensed that. On the other hand I confirmed it when one of them called a uniformed policeman. A patrol made up of a woman and a man came and took two of us away. They left us in the hands of these unknown men.
SL: But at that point you did not have any doubt about who they were, did you?
YS: No, but they did not show us any documents. The policemen did not say that they represented Cuban authority. They said no word.
SL: It is hard to understand any interest of Cuban authorities in attacking at the risk of unleashing an international scandal. You are famous. Why would they do that?
YS: They wanted to make me radical so that I wrote violent articles against them, but they won’t get away with it.
SL: We can not say that you are soft about the Cuban government.
YS: I never use verbal violence or personal attacks. I never use hard adjectives like “bloody repression”, for instance. Their objective was that of having me radicalized.
SL: However you are very tough about the Cuban government. You can read in your blog that: “the ship taking in water is about to be shipwrecked.” You speak about “the shouts of the despot,” of “people in the shadows who, like vampires, feed from our human joy, inoculate us with fear through beating, threats and blackmail,” “the shipwreck of the process, the system, the expectations, the illusions. [It is] [total] shipwreck,” these are really strong words.
YS: Perhaps they are, though their objective was burning the Yoani Sanchez phenomenon by demonizing me. For that reason my blog was blocked for a long time.
SL: However, it seems surprising that Cuban authorities decided to physically attack you.
YS: It was clumsy. I can’t understand why they prevented me from attending the march since my thinking is quite different from those who use repression. I can’t explain. Perhaps they did not want me to meet with the youths. The police thought I would start a scandal or make an incendiary discourse.
Back to my arrest; the police took my friends away in an energetic and firm manner, but without any violence. When I realized they would leave us alone with
SL: What’s the use of resisting the police in uniform and run the risk of being accused for that and commit crime? In
YS: They took them away, anyhow. The police woman took Claudia. The other three persons took us to the car and I started to shout again: “Help! This is a Kidnap!
SL: Why? Did you know they were police men not wearing their uniforms?
YS: They did not show any documents. Then, they started to beat me and they pushed me inside the car. Claudia witnessed it and she told about it.
SL: But, You have just told me that the police patrol had taken Claudia away, haven’t you?
YS: She saw the scene from a distance while the police car drove away. I defended myself and launched beats like an animal that feels that its last hour has come. They drove around Vedado as they tried to take the piece of paper out of my mouth. I took one of them by his testicles and he increased his violence. They took us to a poor neighborhood,
A woman approached us and we told her we had been kidnapped. She took us for insane people and left. The car returned but did not stop. They threw out my purse in which I had my cell phone and my camera.
SL: Did they return your cell and your camera?
SL: Doesn’t it sound funny to you that they bothered to return? They could have confiscated your cell and your camera, which are your work tools.
YS: Well, I don’t know. It all lasted 25 minutes.
SL: You are aware however, that as long as you do not publish the photos your version will be submitted to doubt and that will cast a shadow on the credibility of all that you say.
YS: I do not care about it.
APRIL 23RD, 2010
This is Part 2 of a recent interview granted by Cuban Blogger Yoani Sanchez to French Journalist and expert in Relations between
SL: In 2002 you decided to migrate to
YS: It is a good question. Firstly, I like to go against the current. I like to organize my life in my own way. What is absurd is not the fact of leaving and returning but the Cuban migration laws, which stipulate that any person who spends eleven months abroad loses his or her permanent resident status. Under different conditions, I could spend two years abroad and with the money earned I could return to
SL: Surprising enough is particularly the fact that having the chance to live in one of the richest countries in the world, you had decided to return to your country, which you describe in quite an apocalyptic manner, nearly two years later you left.
YS: There are several reasons for that. First, I was not able to leave with my family. We are a small family but very united with my sister and with my parents. My father was sick during my stay in
SL: OK, but you could help them from
YS: That is true, but there is still another reason. I thought that with all I learned in
SL: That is alright, but despite all these reasons, it is still difficult to understand why you returned to
YS: As a philologist I would consider that word, since “apocalyptic” is a grandiloquent term. There is something that characterizes my blog: verbal moderation.
SL: That is not always the case. For instance, you describe
YS: I have never written that.
SL: Those were the words you used during an interview with
YS: Did you read that in French or in Spanish?
SL: In French.
YS: Do not trust translations because I never said that. Quite often I come across words I have not said. For instance,
SL: Which were those words?
YS: “In Cuban hospitals, more people die from hunger than from diseases.” It was a total lie. I never said that.
SL: Then, did the western media manipulate what you had said?
YS: I wouldn’t say that.
SL: If they attributed words to you that you did not say; then it is manipulation.
YS: Granma newspaper manipulates reality further more than the western press when it say that I am the product of the Prisa media group.
SL: Exactly, Don’t you think that the western media uses you because you advocate “sui-generis” capitalism in
YS: I am not responsible for what the media does. My blog is personal therapy, a kind of exorcism. I have a feeling that I am being more manipulated in my own country than in any other part. You know about this law in
SL: You mean?
YS: I mean that our conversation may be considered a crime and that you may be punished up to 15 years in jail.
SL: Sorry but, the fact that I interview you may take you to jail?
YS: Of course!
SL: I do not have the feeling that this worries you that much, since you are giving me this interview, in full day light, in the lobby of a hotel in the heart of Old Havana.
YS: I am not worried. This law states that any person that denounces the violations of human rights in
SL: If I’m not wrong, Law 88 was passed in 1996 as a response to the Helms-Burton Law and particularly punishes those people who collaborate with the implementation of the American law in Cuba, for instance, by providing Washington information about foreign investors in Cuba so that they be taken to American courts. As far as I know, nobody has been condemned for that so far. Let’s talk about freedom of expression. You have certain freedom to speak through your blog. You are being interviewed this afternoon in a hotel. Don´t you notice any contradiction between your affirming that there is no freedom of expression in Cuba and the reality about your writings and activities, which show the opposite?
YS: Yes, but you can not see my blog in
SL: I can assure you that I visited it this morning before we had this interview, from this very hotel.
YS: It is possible, but most of the time it is blocked. Any way, at present, I can’t have the smallest space in the Cuban press, while I am a moderate person, no space in radio or television.
SL: However, you can publish whatever you want on your blog, can’t you?
YS: But I can not publish a single word on the Cuban press.
SL: In France, which is a democratic country, wide sectors of the population have no access to the media because most media outlets belong to private economic or financial groups.
YS: Yes, but it is different.
SL: Were you threatened because of your activities? Have you ever been threatened with prison for what you write about?
YS: No direct prison threats, but they do not allow me to travel abroad. I am currently invited to a Congress on the Spanish Language, in
SL: Have you received any explanation?
YS: None, but I´d like to put something straight. US sanctions against
THE ECONOMIC SANCTIONS
SL: So you oppose the economic sanctions.
YS: Absolutely, and I say this in every interview. Some weeks ago, I sent a letter to the US Senate requesting that the American citizens be allowed to travel to
SL: What’s your opinion on the hopes sparked by the election of Obama, who promised a policy change towards
YS: He came to power without the support of the Miami-based fundamentalist lobby, which backed the other candidate. On my part, I have already given my statement against the sanctions.
SL: This fundamentalist lobby opposes the lifting of the sanctions.
YS: You can discuss with them and expose my criteria, but I would not say they are enemies of the homeland. I don’t think so.
SL: A group of them participated in the invasion against their own country in 1961, at the orders of the CIA. Several of them are involved in terrorist actions against
YS: The Cuban exiles have the right to think and take decisions. I favor their right to vote. Here, the Cuban exile has been very much stigmatized.
SL: Do you mean the “historic” exile or the ones that have emigrated for economic reasons?
YS: Actually, I oppose all extremes. But these persons who are in favor of the economic sanctions are not anti-Cuba people. Just think that they are defending
SL: Perhaps, but the economic sanctions affect the most vulnerable sectors of the Cuban population and not the leaders. Then, it is difficult to favor the sanctions and intend to defend the wellbeing of the Cuban people at the same time.
YS: That is their opinion. That’s it.
SL: They are not naive. They know that the Cuban people are suffering because of the sanctions.
YS: They are simply different. They think they will be able to change the regime by imposing sanctions. In any case, I think that the blockade has been the perfect argument for the Cuban government to keep its intolerance, control and internal repression.
SL: Economic sanctions have an impact. Or do you think that the sanctions are a mere excuse for
YS: They are an excuse leading to repression.
SL: Do they affect the country from the economic point of view, according to you? Or is it only a secondary issue?
YS: The real problem lies on the lack of productivity in
SL: In this case, why doesn’t the
YS: Simply because Obama is not the dictator in the United States and he can not eliminate the sanctions.
SL: He can not eliminate them totally because an agreement by the Congress is necessary; however, he can soften them considerably, what he has not done so far, since except for the elimination of the restrictions imposed by Bush in 2004, almost nothing has changed.
YS: No, that is not true, because he has also allowed US telecommunication companies to do business with
INTERNATIONAL PRIZES, THE BLOG AND BARACK OBAMA
SL: You have to admit that this is all very little when we know that Obama promised a new approach of
YS: I can’t say much except expressing my gratitude. Any prize implies a dose of subjectivity on the part of the jury. Any prize can be questioned. For instance, many Latin American writers deserved the Nobel Literature Prize better than Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
SL: Do you say that because you think he is not as talented or due to his position favoring the Cuban Revolution? You do not deny his talent as a writer, or do you?
YS: It is my opinion, but I will not say that he took the prize and then accuse him of being an agent of the Swedish government.
SL: He obtained the prize for his literary work, while you have been rewarded for your political position against the government. That is the impression we have.
YS: Let’s talk about the Ortega and Gasset Prize granted by El Pais newspaper, which sparks more controversy. I won it in the “Internet” category. Some say that other journalists have not yet won the prize, but I am a blogger and a pioneer in this field. I consider myself a figure in the Internet. The Ortega y Gasset jury is made up of highly prestigious personalities and I would not say they took part of any conspiracy against
SL: But you can’t deny that the El Pais newspaper maintains a very hostile editorial line towards
YS: People think what they want to think. I think my work was rewarded. My blog has 10 million visits monthly. It is a cyclone.
However, that is not what an internationally recognized site measuring traffic says; a site like Alexa.com, of Amazon, which at the same time can not be taken as suspicious in terms of partiality in favor of alternative media sites from
SL: How do manage to pay the cost of the management of such a large proportion?
YS: A friend of mine in
SL: And how about the 18-language translation?
YS: They are friends and admirers who do it voluntarily and for free.
SL: Many people find it hard to believe that, because no other Web site in the world, even those of the most important international institutions -for example, the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the OECD, the European Union- has so many linguistic versions. Not even the Web sites of the
YS: I’m telling you the truth.
SL: Even President Obama responded to your interview. How do you explain that?
YS: First, I want to say they were not complacent questions.
SL: We can’t say either that you were critical, since you didn’t ask him to lift the economic sanctions that you say “are used as justification for the productiondisaster and to repress those who think differently.” That’s exactly what
YS: I’m a fortunate person. I’d like to tell you that I’ve also sent questions to President Raúl Castro and he has not responded yet. I don’t give up hope. Besides, he now has the advantage of having Obama’s answers.
SL: How did you reach Obama?
YS: I passed on the questions to several people who were coming to see me and could possibly contact him.
SL: Do you think that Obama answered you because you’re a Cuban blogger or because you’re opposed to the government?
YS: I don’t think so. Obama replied because he speaks with citizens.
SL: He receives thousands of requests everyday. Why to answer you, if you’re just a blogger?
YS: Obama is close to my generation, to my way of thinking.
SL: But why you? There are millions of bloggers around the world. Don’t you think you have been capitalized on in
YS: In my opinion, perhaps he wanted to address some aspects, like the invasion of
SL: But there was one, wasn’t it?
SL: In 1961. And in 2003, Roger Noriega, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, said that any Cuban migratory wave to the United States would be considered a threat to national security and would require a military response.
YS: That’s another issue. Going back to the interview, I believe it made it possible to clarify certain aspects. I was under the impression that none of the sides wanted a normalization of relations, reaching an understanding. I asked him when we were going to find a solution.