Internet en Cuba

Coco Fusco

Co-organizer, The Revolution Recodified: Digital Culture and the Public

Sphere in Cuba

Who's Afraid of Yoani Sánchez

Posted: 03/27/2013 2:12 pm

Yoani Sánchez's historic visit to New York last week thrust political

debates about Cuba into the public arena, exposing their invariably

polemical character. During the famed Cuban 's visits to

campuses, the only venues that offered public access to

Sánchez, she encountered fans who read her Generation Y, Cuban

exiles who admire her temerity, and a small but ardent band of

protestors. As one of the organizers of the conference featuring Sánchez

at The New and New York University, the institutions that

sponsored her visit to New York, I was privy to the challenges involved

in bringing her to the U.S. as well as those of managing a volatile

crowd. Although the disruptive tactics used by the protestors suggested

that they were intent on shutting public debate down rather than

engaging with Sánchez, I'd like to take a moment to consider the content

of their statements, as well as their form of address.

As a moderator, I reviewed all the questions from the audience. Those

coming from Sánchez's detractors were fairly consistent in content and

limited in scope. Her critics asked about money they assumed she

receives from the U.S. State Department; they doubted the political

effectiveness of blogging; and they demanded to know why Sanchez's

writings did not highlight positive aspects of the Cuban Revolution.

They also drew attention to the unjust treatment of immigrant workers in

the U.S., as if to suggest either that Sanchez's calls for

democratization in Cuba were tantamount to an embrace of all American

policies and practices, or that political change in Cuba would

necessarily result in neoliberal style labor exploitation. Although

Sanchez was invited to speak about digital cultures emerging in Cuba,

the protestors sought repeatedly to sidetrack the discussion by

exhorting Sánchez to defend the Revolution and by trying to impugn her


Sánchez described these protests in Cuban terms as "actos de repudio" —

the collective acts of public excoriation aimed at dissidents that are

orchestrated by the Cuban government. To her credit, she also responded

calmly to many of her opponents' questions, explaining that she

recognizes the limits as well as the benefits of the -based

movement that she leads; that she visits the U.S. Interests Section to

obtain visas just as Cuban officials seeking to do; that the

translations of her writings into multiple languages are produced by

volunteers; that she makes a living from her publications and does not

receive funding from the U.S. government; and that she understands her

role as an to be that of a critical conscience,

rather than a promoter of official Cuban policy. Even though the

conference organizers explained that Sánchez's trip to New York was paid

for by The New School and NYU, and even though her English translator MJ

Porter detailed how the international team of translators had been

formed, the protestors continued to accuse her of being a mercenary

financed by the CIA, as if repeating unsubstantiated accusations would

somehow make them true.

While it is not possible to prove that Sánchez's protestors in New York

took orders from Havana, it does appear that they do not perceive the

contradiction involved in exercising their right to express alternative

views in order to discredit Sánchez's attempts to do the same in her own

country. The protestors' raucous behavior was somewhat comic, but sadly,

their questions bespeak commonly held assumptions among American

progressives about Cuba, Cuban dissidents and Cuban exiles. All too

often, progressive Americans maintain their unflinching support of Cuba

as an of their critical views of U.S. policy, not because of

their understanding of Cuban society. Rather than renouncing their

political ideals, they seek to silence the messengers who deliver a very

different picture of life in Cuba as it is lived, not prescribed by a

political apparatus. Unfortunately, the Cuban government makes matters

worse through its hegemonic control over academic organizations that

support Cuban studies abroad, and by instilling fear in Cuban studies

scholars outside Cuba that public criticism of the Revolution will

result in their being denied entry to the island. Recent posts from Cuba

on government-sponsored blogs raised the issue of whether the presence

of Sanchez and fellow blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo on American

campuses might have an adverse effect on academic exchange projects

between Cuban and U.S. institutions; the very act of releasing such

questions can have a chilling effect on public debate about Cuba beyond

its borders.

Ardent Cuba-supporters' tirades against Cubans who publicly expresses

criticism of the Cuban Revolution not only mirror the repressive tactics

the Cuban government uses to discredit its internal opposition, but also

deny Cubans agency as thinking subjects. As Sanchez herself put it, how

could it be possible for Cuba to be the only country in the world with a

citizenry that agrees with everything that its government does? Might it

not be reasonable for Cuban exiles, who send billions of dollars to

their island relatives and who function as de facto wholesale suppliers

for Cuban small businesses, to have their views be treated with respect

too? Don't Americans deserve access to the diversity of views that exist

among Cubans inside and outside Cuba? As a Cuban-American who has

conducted research on Cuban culture for three decades, I have had to

contend with intimidation from extreme right Cuban exiles, pro-Cuba

leftists in the U.S. and Cuban state security because I refuse to stay

inside the ideological sandbox created by the Cold War. I find it quite

heartening now to witness how Cubans from across the political spectrum

are beginning to open themselves to peaceful dialogue with each other

thanks largely to the work of writers such as Yoani Sánchez who are

creating virtual forums for a plurality of views about Cuba to be shared

with the world.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

March 2013
« Dec   Apr »
We run various sites in defense of human rights and need support to pay for more powerful servers. Thank you.