By Abraham Riesman
"I'll tell you where she's staying," Yoani Sánchez's friend told me over
the phone. "But this is top-secret, okay?"
He'd been helping me set up an exclusive interview with Sánchez --
Cuba's premier dissident blogger -- during her brief stop in New York
City. And he had reason to be concerned about her location getting out:
Sánchez was in the midst of a massive world tour, and just days before,
she'd faced vicious crowds of pro-Castro protesters in Brazil and Mexico.
Sánchez is used to that kind of fury. Since starting her blog,
"Generación Y," in 2007, she's become the Castro regime's most
internationally visible opponent. Her site gets millions of hits per
month, and hundreds of thousands of people follow her on Twitter, and
she uses those platforms to shed light on life within the western
hemisphere's last true dictatorship. She reports on everything from mass
arrests to the terror of the national census, from sudden spikes in food
prices to the hardships of Cuban victims of domestic violence.
This blogging is especially remarkable because Internet access is
incredibly restricted in Cuba. Partly, that's due to technological
backwardness: the impoverished country has virtually no high-speed
Internet connections, even after the recent completion of Alba-1, a
fiber-optic cable link to Venezuela.
But the scarcity of access is also due to extreme government
restrictions. There are huge legal hurdles that prevent Cubans from
having home computers and public computers usually just connect to
RedCubana, a closed intranet system containing only regime-approved
sites. An estimated 98% of Cubans have no Web access, and the government
shows no sign of reducing that number.
So how does Sánchez do what she does? Not easily. She's been repeatedly
arrested and beaten up by regime thugs. She has to use roundabout
methods to get her blog posts published. And after years of being denied
a travel visa, she was only granted one a few months ago (she says she's
not sure why the government changed its mind).
During her whirlwind trip to New York, full of speaking engagements and
press conferences, we caught up with Sánchez at the hotel where she was
staying under a pseudonym. She only speaks Spanish, so Argentina-born
Motherboard writer Leandro Oliva spoke with her and covered a wide range
of topics. Just a day or so after we were done, she was off to more
cities and countries. her world tour continues, and she doesn't know
what will happen when she eventually returns to her homeland.
Check out our video to learn about Cuba's underground railroad of USB
drives, how to blog without a computer, and how Raúl Castro is getting
craftier at using the Internet as a weapon against dissidents.
By Abraham Riesman
http://motherboard.vice.com/read/yoani-sanchez-dissident-blogger Continue reading
Venezuela forces Cuba's pace of change
By Marc Frank in Havana
Hugo Chávez's death, the narrow election victory of Nicolás Maduro, his
chosen successor, and Venezuela's stuttering economy are forcing Cuba,
the country's closest regional ally, to pick up its reform heels.
In 2011, before Mr Chávez's failing health potentially imperilled
Caracas' annual supply of $3.5bn of subsidised oil to Havana, Cuba's
Communist party adopted plans to "update" its stalled socialist model.
But two years later, Cuba remains only part way through that
transformation process, as even Miguel Díaz-Canel, the new
vice-president, admitted recently on state television.
"We've made progress on the issues that are easiest to solve, that
require decisions and actions that are less complex," said the 52-year
old. "Now what's left are the more important choices that will be more
decisive in the development of our country."
To date, measures under Raúl Castro, 81, the president, have bettered
everyday life but failed to improve Cuba's underlying performance,
critics say. For the regime, it is a balancing act: change too fast and
the regime could unravel; change too slow and the economy will
deteriorate and undermine the Castro brothers' legacy anyway.
Mr Castro, who was quick to congratulate Venezuela's president-elect on
his victory, which should ensure that Cuba has five more years of cheap
oil, has three main goals, says Bert Hoffmann, a Cuba expert at the
German Institute of Global and Area Studies: "Avoid splits in the elite,
and also social unrest; organise a succession; and get gradual economic
reforms started to secure the regime's survival."
At least one part of the juggling process, the organisation of a
potential succession, has happened after Mr Díaz-Canal was appointed
vice-president in February, putting him a heart beat away from the
The former electrical engineer and party official, known as more of a
technocrat than a political firebrand, has already taken over some of Mr
Castro's ceremonial functions – such as travelling to Rome for the
election of the Pope.
This has been accompanied by a slight softening towards some of the
regime's internal critics. Yoani Sánchez, the pro-democracy blogger who
operates despite general government restrictions on internet access, and
Berta Soler, leader of the "Ladies in White", can travel abroad after
new rules that allow all Cubans to leave and return.
The appearance of the economy is also changing. Often funded by exile
remittances, which have doubled in two years to $2bn, once barren city
streets are clogged with private taxis and small businesses that employ
about 400,000 in total. Some 1,700 restaurants and 5,000 bed and
breakfasts are operating, against a few hundred in 2010.
Sloppy Joe's, a Havana haunt once famous among tourists in pre-US
embargo days, even reopened last week – too late for Beyoncé and Jay-Z's
recent controversial trip but not for the growing stream of American
visitors, over 90,000 last year, that have followed looser US restrictions.
Farmers are selling almost half of their produce directly, bypassing a
state monopoly. Demand for paint, plaster and skilled tradesmen has
mushroomed after Cubans were allowed to buy and sell their homes.
Nonetheless, those changes are only around the edges of what remains a
centrally-planned economy that needs to attract foreign investment and
grow by more than 5 per cent a year if it is to have any hope of
rebuilding crumbling infrastructure and create sufficient jobs to absorb
the bulk of Cubans who work for a state that barely pays a living wage.
Since 2008, when Mr Castro became president, economic growth has
averaged just 2 per cent.
"The macroeconomic trend does not support such gradual reform," said
Pavel Vidal, a Cuban economist teaching at Cali's Pontificia Universidad
Javeriana in Colombia.
Officials admit the most dramatic measures are still wanting: eliminate
excessive subsidies; allow farmers to purchase inputs; make state
enterprises autonomous and efficient; provide true incentives for
foreign investment; and eliminate a dual currency system.
"The reforms are afflicted by inner contradictions in their design: a
positive step is taken but then excessive controls and restrictions are
introduced, generating disincentives that conspire against their
success," said Carmelo Mesa-Lago, author of Cuba Under Raúl Castro:
Assessing the Reforms.
"This 'compromise' . . . results in a hybrid that does not bear the
expected fruits. More daring measures are needed."
Mr Castro begs to differ. "We are moving forward at a good pace," he
said this month. "We must resist the pressure of those who insist we
need to move more rapidly."
But Mr Castro may not really have a choice, especially if Venezuela,
which suffers a gaping fiscal deficit, finds it can no longer afford to
subsidise the island. Henrique Capriles, Venezuela's opposition leader,
has said he wants to cancel Caracas' oil subsidy and slammed
president-elect Mr Maduro as a Havana puppet.
"Havana has failed to find oil offshore and, in terms of financial
support, the new Maduro government in Venezuela only creates
uncertainty," a European diplomat in Cuba said. "It must pick up the
pace, like it or not."
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/62ceb23a-a698-11e2-95b1-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2QhcbdDsm Continue reading
Posted on April 14, 2013
Who hasn't heard of the EMBARGO? This issue is like the apple of
discord. Some cling to it to "suffocate" the Cuban government while
others plea, out of charity, for its elimination because of the
shortages suffered by Cubans. My question is: Has anyone asked what what
the Cuban opposition thinks about the United States embargo on Cuba?
Clearly, the EMBARGO has been a total failure, its main objective–to
"eliminate" the Cuban Communist dictatorship–has not been achieved and
in turn, it has served as an ally of the Castros to justify everything
that is wrong, the lack of productivity, the immobility, the
deterioration, and to maintain them in power. Is there no milk? That's
because of the blockade. Is there no rice? Blockade! Are Cubans unable
to access the Internet? The blockade and the blockade only. This embargo
or blockade, is just an excuse for the Castro brothers to not take
Fidel and Raul are not affected at all by this prohibitive law. They
have food, cars, petroleum, satellite dishes, internet, travel, they can
go to the best hotels in Cuba (I refer to them and their families). Who
is affected by the situation? We are, I am, the dissidence, the
opposition blogger, those who want freedom in Cuba, the working mother,
my neighbor on the corner.
The Cuban government has remained in power (and I have to recognize it)
because of the great support it has received from Cubans. What Cuban
will have time to think about DEMOCRACY when he spends 24 hours a day
"resolving" the meal of the day? A hungry man can not think about
freedom. Cubans have also lived more than half a century with continuous
daily brainwashing and psychologically this works. The embargo has only
benefited the government of Cuba to brutalize and close the minds of
ordinary citizens even more.
I'm not saying that the end of the EMBARGO would represent an economic
or political improvement for us, but this action would automatically put
the Cuban government on the defensive, because they would not have a
"threatening enemy" that doesn't allow them to "fulfill" their duties.
We need access to information, we need to stop people wandering around
town like zombies looking for eggs and get them to think a little about
We need a cultural flow with the American people to break those myths
that Cuban society still believes. If Havana were full of crazy
Americans, State Security, and their minion "Yohandry," would have less
time to suppress the Ladies in White. What will happen when my city is
full of gringos with dollars and no one wants to hear about convertible
The Cuban opposition is here, on the streets, living the daily miseries
and suffering as well. We have a great international support from
courageous Cubans who give us their highest loyalty from the outside,
but as the people here do not have access to the INTERNET (or to
information in general), all our work is completely invisible to the
eyes of the vast majority of people, and this my dear readers, is quite
beneficial for the Cuban government.
Why when Clinton was about to negotiate an end to the embargo Cuba did
Castro shoot down the planes of the Brothers to the Rescue? Spy planes
fly over Cuba all the time! Why did it have to be at that moment?
Because they had no interest in the end of the EMBARGO, it benefits them.
I think everyone who supports such a law is indirectly supporting the
Castro brothers, hardening the dictatorship, the prohibitions. They will
be in power as long as Cubans on the island allow it, because for Cubans
on the island the outside world is mysterious, alien, strange, unreal.
After all this time the EMBARGO shows its uselessness and today, far
from encouraging citizens to react, it is making the work of the
opposition in Cuba impossible. Having millions of people totally blind
is counterproductive to any attempt to achieve freedom. I invite the
congressional Republicans in the United States to get in contact with
Cuban dissidents who know the reality and our concerns, because Cuba is
not the same as it was in 1960.
Anyone who wants freedom for Cuba and supports this EMBARGO, is sinking
and disarming those of us here fighting to face off against the
(To be continued ..)
http://translatingcuba.com/the-embargo-yusnaby-perez/ Continue reading