Category Archives: Cuba

More Proof Censorship Fails

We all know the Internet is Cuba is virtually non-existent. (Unless you go to one of the places set up by the US Interest Section or an international hotel.) Well, it does exist but it is so slow you will die of old age before you can download one episode of Game of Thrones.

Face it, governments such as those in Cuba do not like the free and unfettered nature of the Internet. The leaders of Cuba, China, Iran, etc are all afraid of what will happen to their nice cushy jobs if the people found out what is really going on in the world.

No matter how hard governments try to restrict their people from getting information, there are gaps in the security nets. The Chinese have learned how to use their mobile phones and virtual networks to get past the Great Firewall of China. Iranians used Twitter and SMS to communicate during the uprisings that called for free and fair elections.

And now a new twist has shown up in Cuba – thumb drives.

The Only Internet Most Cubans Know Fits in a Pocket and Moves by Bus

It’s called El Packete, and it arrives weekly in the form of thumb drives loaded with enormous digital files. Those drives make their way across the island from hand to hand, by bus, and by 1957 Chevy, their contents copied and the drive handed on.

People want entertainment and they want uncensored news. And they will get it any way possible.

Even by 1957 Chevy.

And yes, there are a few people who know how to get messages out: Yaoni Sanchez (@yoanisanchez) is probably the most famous of the Cuban bloggers — at least to the rest of the world.

Here is the movie OFFLINE mentioned in the article. It is Cubans talking about the Internet (or lack of it). The movie was smuggled out in a thumb drive.

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Filed under Censorship, Cuba, Internet Freedom

Free speech advocate returns to Cuba after world tour

Blogger, free speech advocate and all-around interesting person Yoani Sanchez returned to Cuba after a three-month world tour.

She had invitations from numerous free expression/press freedom organizations around the world. She also was given a number of awards for her advocacy. But the Cuban government kept denying her a passport and an exit visa. (And please note, that Cuba — like other dictatorships — required its people to get a visa to leave the country. The U.S. and other democracies only require visas for people to enter their countries.)Sanchez runs a blog — Generation Y — that has looked at the problems in Cuba and the repressive measures taken by that government to restrict freedom of expression.

 After the Cuban government changed its rules about issuing exit visas, Sanchez applied for one. The Castro government got put in the  uncomfortable position of either giving her a passport and granting the exit visa or rejecting her application. In the latter situation, the Cuban government would have shown it did not mean what it was saying and, therefore, could not be trusted on other issues. So, the issued Sanchez a passport and allowed her to leave the country.

Sanchez traveled throughout North and South America, Europe and Asia. At many of her appearances, pro-Castro people (some at the urging of the local Cuban embassy or consulate) demonstrated and disrupted her appearances.

Some highlights from previous Generation Y postings:

  • Whose Brain Is It? According to Legislative Decree 302 which also regulates the foreign travel of professionals, my own brain — like those of the rest of university graduates — does not belong to me. The folds and grooves of this organ are the property — according to the new law — of an educational system that boasts of being free but later charges us through ownership over our intellect. The authorities who regulate the possibility of leaving this Island believe that a qualified citizen is a simple conglomeration of brain matter “formed” by the State. But claiming the rights to use a human mind is like trying to put gates on the sea… shackles on every neuron.
  • The Ballot Box, The Stretcher This was the cubicle where I voted this morning to elect a delegate to the Municipal Assembly of People’s Power. Located inside a doctor’s office that was turned into a polling place this Sunday for the residents of the area. “Prescient” I thought of nothing but being alone with my ballot next to the large sink where they wash hospital implements. “Prescient” because my country is in a “coma” of indifference and apathy, and is going to need a profound revival – almost a defibrillation – for citizens to have real decision making power. Thirty-six years since its creation the current electoral system has not convinced us, not even once, that it represents the people against the power, rather we have become accustomed to the exact opposite.
  • Travel and Immigration Reform: Happy or Satisfied After five years of demanding my right to travel outside the country, today I woke up to the news of travel and immigration reform. My first impression was to shout “Hurrah!” mid-morning, but as the day advanced I considered the shortcomings of the new law. Finally the objectionable Permit to Leave has been eradicated, as well as the annoying Letter of Invitation that we needed to leave our own country. However, now in the issuance and validation of passports they will define those who can cross the national frontiers and those who cannot. Although the costs of the paperwork will be less and I imagine the time required shortened, this is not the new travel and immigration law we were waiting for. Too limited, too narrow. But at least it has put in writing a legality as a starting point from which we can now demand, protest, denounce.

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Filed under Censorship, Cuba, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

Freedom House: Yoani Sanchez World Tour Review

There is so much to write about Yoani Sanchez’ global tour that it is just better to click on the Freedom House summary   rather than have me copy a bunch of excerpts.

Through Digital Media, Activist Yoani Sánchez Redefines the Borders of Cuban Civil Society

March 21 marked the end of the New York leg of Cuban blogger and activist Yoani Sánchez’s highly publicized international tour. Since beginning the 80-day, 12-country whirlwind of speaking engagements in February, Sánchez, whose blog Generación Y is now translated into nearly 20 languages, has been met with equal measures of protest and warmth in Brazil, Mexico, Europe, and the United States. Arguably the most influential blogger writing within Cuba, Sánchez was denied an exit visa 21 times over the last five years, but she finally received permission to leave the island last month under a broader government initiative to loosen travel restrictions.

While Sánchez’s success in securing a passport after years of formal requests is significant, it would be a mistake to view the shift in exit requirements—or the recent activation of a highly anticipated fiber-optic cable (ALBA-1) to enhance the island’s internet connectivity—as evidence of a sea change in the regime’s attitude toward civil liberties such as freedom of movement and access to information.

Rest of story here.

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Filed under Cuba, Freedom of access, International News Coverage

Cuban diplomats try to spike Sanchez UN visit

Cuban blogger and dissident Yoani Sanchez was the guest of the United Nations Correspondents Association this week.

The visit was part of Sanchez’s world tour now that exit visas are no longer required to travel outside the country.

But just because the exit visa law was changed does not mean the Cuban government has changed its views about dissidents.

In just about every country Sanchez visited, pro-Cuban forces showed up calling her a tool or mercenary of the United States. In Brazil, she was not able to view a film about her and other dissidents because of the demonstrations. At least Yoani saw the demonstrations for what they were: examples of people exercising their democratic rights to demonstrate for or against a particular point of view. Of course, the irony of the situation was lost on the pro-Cuba demonstrators. They would never have been able to mount similar demonstrations against a Cuban policy in Cuba. 

Cuban diplomats around the world were always suspected of being behind demonstrations. (The themes were universal around the world and the props were all the same. Too much uniformity for “spontaneous” demonstrations of “outrage” against Sanchez.) Finally, in New York, the Cuban government came out from behind the curtain.

The UNCA sponsored a press conference for Sanchez in the United Nations building, something that is pretty common.

Cuban Ambassador Rodolfo Reyes sent a letter to the U.N. Secretary General complaining the news conference would be “an anti-Cuban action” and a “grave attack” on the spirit of the United Nations. (He did not mention how dictatorships, such as Cuba’s, are also an attack on the spirit of the United Nations.) The ambassador continued that the U.N. should “not allow that the organization’s spaces to be tarnished and their use manipulated by spurious interests.”

Havana diplomats at UN try to block Cuban blogger’s news conference

Sanchez responded simply that it was time for the United Nations to “come out of its lethargy and recognize that the Cuban government is a dictatorship.”

“If this meeting was being held in the bottom of an elevator shaft, we would have more freedom than in Cuba,” she added. “I am proud that my first time in this very significant U.N. building is with my journalism colleagues.”

It is a pity that the Sanchez world tour — hell, even the U.S portion — is getting so little coverage by U.S. media. The exceptions are The Miami Herald (duh!) and Fox News Latino (double duh!). There are the occasional wire stories — as in McClatchy story linked above — but other than that, the presence of one of the most powerful and rational voices against the Cuban dictatorship is moving through Washington and New York with little attention by the mainstream press.

Why is her visit important?

To begin with Sanchez could only leave once Cuba repealed the exit visa requirement. That requirement alone should tell people more about what Cuba was and is than anything else. Only dictatorships require exit visas of its people. The fact that the Cuban government eliminated the exit requirement is a story about changes taking place in that country.

While the exit visa requirement removal is a big deal, the increased repression of freedom of expression activists in Cuba is also news. More people can leave (if they can get a passport, another problem), but only if they are not in jail or under indictment for “activities against the state.”

Freedom of expression is still stifled:

  • Committee to Protect Journalists: Though Cuba projected an image of a nation opening up economically and politically, it took no substantive steps to promote freedom of expression.
  • Freedom House: Cuba has the most restrictive laws on free speech and press freedom in the Americas. The constitution prohibits private ownership of media outlets and allows free speech and journalism only if they “conform to the aims of a socialist society.”
  • Human Rights Watch: Cuba remains the only country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent.
  • Amnesty International: The Cuban authorities continued to stifle freedom of expression, association and assembly, in spite of the much publicized releases of prominent dissidents. Hundreds of pro-democracy activists and dissidents suffered harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrest.

What does this mean to the average person in the United States?

For too many people in the U.S. population (and in Congress) the only Latin American countries worth noting are Cuba and Mexico, and Mexico often comes in as a second thought.

Irrational and emotional arguments are a dime a dozen when dealing with Cuba. Finally, there is a rational voice from Cuba that is highly critical of the Cuban government allowed to travel and she gets little or no coverage — again, with the exception of the Miami Herald.

The Herald sees the immediate connection between the Sanchez tour and its audience. But where are the stories from the New Jersey/New York papers? The second largest Cuban population in the United States is in New Jersey.

Apologists for Cuba (and Venezuela and Ecuador) will not want to hear what Sanchez has to say, nor will they agree with it. Likewise, the rabid right-wing anti-Castro crowd will have difficulties with some of what Sanchez is saying — other than her unwavering belief in freedom of expression and democracy. Too many of the older anti-Castro group are hung up on returning property taken in the 1959 revolution. The issues are different now and many younger Cuban Americans know that. The anti-Castro lobby in Congress has not yet seemed to catch up.

It would be nice to see some stories of Cuban immigrants in the United States about how they got into the country, why the came and what they see as their future and the future of Cuba. I have talked with younger Cuban immigrants. They came to the States for the same reason most immigrants come: freedom and a better life. They are not from the elite families of the old dictatorship looking to return to power. They are immigrants, pure and simple.

Yes, they have opinions about the changes that should be made in Cuba — after all they still have family there. But if reporters took a few minutes to think about it, the stories of the 21st century immigrants will be different from those of the mid-20th century.

And once their stories are heard, then more people will stop thinking about Cuba and relations with Cuba with a Cold War mentality. They might even start looking at Cuba the same way the look at China, another brutal dictatorship that is famous for repression of freedom of speech and press, but with whom the U.S. is more than happy to deal with on the international scene.

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Filed under Censorship, Connections, Cuba, International News Coverage, Press Freedom, South America

UPDATE: Yoani Sanchez heckled & praised in Brazilian congress

The latest in the Sanchez world trip has the blog writer and Cuban dissident showing that many in Brazil have not grown past the rhetoric of the Cold War.

[T]hose on the left hailing Cuba as a victim of U.S. aggression against communism while others praised Sanchez for fighting against political repression on the island.

“Mercenary, go to Disney,” shouted those opposed to her visit, repeating the Cuban government’s view that all dissidents on the island are on the payroll of its ideological archenemy, the United States.

At the same time others called out the Castro government as a dictatorship.

Cuban dissident blogger inflames splits in Brazil’s Congress

It is just as sad to see so many on the left in the Brazilian Congress fail to see reality and to get past the rhetoric of the Cold War as it is to see conservatives in the U.S. Congress also fail to get past the rhetoric of the Cold War.

Guess refusal to see facts is not limited to just one ideology.

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Filed under Cuba, Harassment

Yoani Sanchez’s world tour starts with protests in Brazil

Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez was blocked from seeing a film that featured her by protesters supporting the Cuban government. According the AP reports in Brazil say the Cuban embassy in Brasilia was instrumental in helping organize the demonstrations.

Oddly enough those complaining about Sanchez — for pointing out the lack of freedom in Cuba — have the right to demonstrate against here because Brazil is a democracy that tolerates dissent. Too bad that Pres. Dilma Rouseff did not speak out against this violation of Sanchez’s right to speak. (There are also reports that help for the demonstrators came from the president’s office.) Rousseff was also quite about the Cuban government suppression and arrests of dissident bloggers during her visit to Cuba last year.

Sanchez was recently allowed to leave Cuba after the Raul Castro government changed its travel rules allowing people to now get passports without having to first pass a loyalty test.

She will move on to about a dozen other countries to talk with free speech/press organizations and supporters. In the United States she will visit the offices of Google and Twitter.

Sanchez regularly blogs at Generation Y.

Here’s hoping she gets the kind of coverage a brave person like her deserves in the U.S. media — and I mean the real press, not the right-wing blogs.

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Filed under Cuba, Freedom of Information, Harassment, Press Freedom

Gen Y Blogger Arrested in Cuba; Held 30 Hours

Thorn in the side of the Cuban government blogger Yaoni Sanchez was arrested the city of Bayamo. She and her husband, journalist Reinaldo Escobar who was also arrested, went to Bayamo to cover the trial of Spanish citizen Miguel Angel Carromero who is accused of being responsible for the death of well-known Cuban political dissident Oswaldo Paya.

Yoani Sánchez, released after being held for 30 hours

The official government line is that Sanchez and Escobar were arrested because they were going to “disrupt”the trial and provoke the people of Bayamo into anti-government activity.

Sanchez is a world-renowned blogger whose work at Generation Y is translated and posted by friends outside Cuba.

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