SOURCE: NEW YORK TIMES
In what seems like one step forward for freedom of expression on the island of Cuba, on Wednesday a blogger in Havana named Yoani Sánchez has published President Obama’s replies — in Spanish and English — to seven questions she put to him on relations between their countries.I
Ms. Sánchez explained on her blog, “Generación Y” (the English-language version of site is “Generation Y“), that it took a while to set up the exchange: “After months of trying I managed to send a questionnaire to the American president, Barack Obama, with some of the issues that keep me from sleeping.”
The American president congratulated Ms. Sánchez on the Maria Moors Cabot Prize, which she won this year for her efforts to foster understanding among countries in the Americas. Mr. Obama wrote to Ms. Sánchez: “You richly deserve the award. I was disappointed you were denied the ability to travel to receive the award in person.”
Your blog provides the world a unique window into the realities of daily life in Cuba. It is telling that the Internet has provided you and other courageous Cuban bloggers with an outlet to express yourself so freely, and I applaud your collective efforts to empower fellow Cubans to express themselves through the use of technology. The government and people of the United States join all of you in looking forward to the day all Cubans can freely express themselves in public without fear and without reprisals.
In an article on cultural exchange between Cuba and the United States in Thursday’s New York Times my colleague Larry Rohter reported:
A spokesman for Cuba’s quasi-embassy in Washington, Alberto González, said his government has “always been open to all types of cultural exchanges” with the United States, but added one caveat: “Our interest is in healthy exchanges, without provocations, where both sides can learn, independent of ideology, but with respect” and not “part of a media war against Cuba,” his description of Ms. Sánchez’s activities.
This positive development follows what seemed to be two steps back in recent weeks. The first of these was the news that Ms. Sánchez had been briefly, and violently, detained two weeks ago in Havana. She told The Associated Press that two government agents had stopped her on her way to a protest march in central Havana. According to The Associated Press report:
The agents ordered her and one of her friends to get into their car and pulled her hair and kicked her when she initially refused, Sanchez said. “It was very violent,” she said.
Once in the car, Sanchez said, the agents told her she had gone too far with her writings, which vividly tells of problems of a country where the government controls nearly all aspects of life. Sanchez said that after issuing their warning, the agents let her and her friend go.
The A.P. also noted that Ms. Sanchez “enjoys more of a following off the island than on it. Internet access to the blog is often blocked in Cuba, and Sanchez blames the government, which has refused to comment.”
The second disturbing development is that researchers for Human Rights Watch who visited Cuba recently issued a discouraging report on Tuesday called “New Castro, Same Cuba: Political Prisoners in the Post-Fidel Era.”
Writing in The Guardian on Wednesday, Rory Carroll characterized the findings this way:
[The] Cuban president, Raúl Castro, has crushed dissent and continued repression in the country since taking over from his brother Fidel, according to a Human Rights Watch report published today.
The government has extended use of an “Orwellian” law that allows the state to punish people before they commit a crime on suspicion they may do so, a tactic designed to cow actual and potential opponents, it said. The report, “New Castro, Same Cuba,” paints a near-dystopian image of an island where those who step out of line risk being beaten and jailed in horrific conditions which verge on torture.
The report notes that denying outspoken critics of the government permission to travel abroad is a common tactic. In addition to keeping Ms. Sánchez from going to both Spain and the United States to accept journalism awards, the report notes that last year “the rapper Bian Oscar Rodríguez Galá — a member of the group los Aldeanos (the Villagers), whose lyrics have been overtly critical of the Castro government — was denied permission to leave Cuba for the second consecutive year to participate in an annual international music competition. Rodríguez, who had qualified by winning a rap competition in Cuba, was refused an exit visa despite having provided all of the required documents.”