Update, Oct. 6: Late on Friday night, Yoani Sanchez was released after 30 hours in custody.
In July 2011, Future Tense hosted an event called “How To Ignite, or Quash, a Revolution in 140 Characters or Less: The Promise and Limitations of New Technologies in Spreading Democracy.” Among our speakers were activists who had used social media to share with the world what was happening in their home countries. But one woman we invited, Cuba’s Yoani Sanchez, was forbidden by her country to join us.
Sanchez is the founder of Generation Y, a blog that takes a critical look at Cuba. It is published primarily by friends who smuggle out her writings, then translate and post them online. Because Internet access in Cuba is tightly controlled and available only to a few, Generation Y is not read by many in the country. But the platform allows Sanchez to share with the rest of the world what is happening in Cuba.
And what is happening in Cuba now has to do with Sanchez herself. On Thursday, she and her husband, blogger Reinaldo Escobar, were arrested in what was apparently a pre-emptive attempt to block her from reporting. The Los Angeles Times reports:
The dissident blogger had intended to cover the trial of Angel Carromero, which began Friday in Bayamo, about 400 miles east of Havana. Carromero, a member of Spain’s conservative Popular Party, crashed his rental car near Bayamo while visiting the island July 22. Cuban officials have accused him of speeding and causing the deaths of dissident Oswaldo Paya and another Cuban activist, who were riding in the car. Carromero faces up to 10 years in prison.
The pro-government blog http://www.yohandry.com asserted Friday that the blogger had traveled to Bayamo “to start a provocation and a media show to harm the proper conduct of the trial.”
Though she was not allowed to join us in Washington for the Future Tense event in July 2011 (she has reportedly been denied permission to leave the country on 19 occasions since 2008), she recorded a video of herself, which her network was able to smuggle to us. Sitting in what appears to be a closet, she spoke about her regret over not being able to attend. She emphasized, too, how important it is for her words to be disseminated broadly so that people know what is happening in her country. Given her and her husband’s recent arrest, that is more critical than ever. The translation of her remarks is below, followed by the video, in Spanish with English subtitles.
I want to send a greeting from here, from Havana, to all the participants at the event organized by the New America Foundation; many bloggers I would have loved to know personally, face-to-face, have been invited. Sadly, I am a citizen journalist, a blogger who cannot leave her country precisely for having opened a blog four years ago, in April 2007, called Generation Y. So I am condemned to island immobility. This is one of the punishments for writing what I think, for narrating in a critical way the reality that the official media hides or silences. A reprisal has been taken against me, not allowing me to leave the country. However this, my words, my voice, my writings, can travel the world, thanks not only to the interest with respect to this island, but also to the solidarity in the hands of friends, dozens of people who help to translate my texts, publish them on the Web, spread them in spaces like this that I now share with you.
I live on an island I call “the island of the disconnected.” The latest official statistics say that only 159 out of every thousand Cubans have access to cyberspace, to the Internet. In reality, it is a false and overstated statistic, since that number also includes people who only have access to a very restricted intra-net with many censored pages. So it is a true miracle that on this Island of the Disconnected, a small community of alternative bloggers have found our voice, have found a way to make cracks in the wall, the wall of control, the wall of state monopoly over information. And through these small cracks, technology has allowed us to narrate our daily lives, our reality.
I am a person who uses words. I am against any type of verbal violence, be it institutional or individual. I consider myself a true chronicler, a chronicler of the underground Cuba, the hidden Cuba, the Cuba at times forgotten, and above all a Cuba that has nothing to do with tourist stereotypes, political stereotypes that have been spread about the reality in our world. I am here, also, thanks to the solidarity of people like you, since the framework of repression, of slander, of institutional, police, and media attacks, is against people who try to question the supposed “socialist paradise” in which we live. They are very interesting, these attacks, no? And well, my readers, they are the point of departure of the main experience I have had in these four years, my readers have been a protective shield. People who come to my site, who read my words, who give their opinions, questions, whether they simply identify or disagree with what I say, without knowing it perhaps, they create a protective halo around me that has allowed me to get this far.
The solidarity of bloggers in other parts of the world is very important to us. Not only because right now we feel like Robinson Crusoe, abandoned on his island, unable to freely connect to the Internet, unable to use much of the technologies that are emblematic of the 21st century, of the global village, but also because the solidarity allows us to continue. The fact that they mention our names, that they read our alternative Cuban blogosphere of people, for example, from Cuba who are using the tool of Twitter, is also very important to continuing our work. Since August of 2007, this small blue bird that is Twitter, with its little texts of 140 characters, has also changed our lives. It has allowed us to inform, report, launch SOS messages to the world, say in real time what is happening to us. I have a thousand and one experiences of how the citizen’s role, the citizen’s voice, thanks to these small technologies, the gadget that is a cell phone, the ability to send and receive SMS text messages, and also thanks to Twitter.
So I would like to say to you that everyone who would like to help us, to collaborate on this personal and national effort, the best way is information, news, the technological literature we are so lacking. And above all, dissemination. Every person who disseminated us allows us to advance one more day, to project our voices louder. I regret, again, that I am not with you. I would love to hear the discussion around the table, on the different panels of this meeting. I know I could learn a lot and well, perhaps that is why the government of my country will not let me travel. However, my blog is there, my voice is there. My Twitter account is there. And you cannot close, you cannot boycott, you cannot completely censor a citizen who one day has risen and says: I do not want to be silent any more. I do not want to wear the mask anymore, I do not want to pretend. That is me, a small, a tiny citizen almost like all of you, determined to use her voice. Thank you.