Cuban blogger pays price for her opinions
Cuban native Yoani Sanchez isn't known for holding her tongue, even in a
country without freedom of expression. Her outspokenness has earned her
the label of "mercenary of imperialism" and around-the-clock surveillance.
There are some lessons we learn without needing a teacher. They're the
lessons that get passed on through whispers at home.
It's thanks to these kinds of lessons that I realized, even as a young
person in the 80s, that we Cubans would only be allowed to have a voice
as a state-organized group. We had to be members of an official
organization or face punishment. Forming our our own groups or clubs was
out of the question. It's a lesson we learned and learned well.
As children we were automatically part of the Young Pioneers and when
girls turned 14 they became members of the Women's Club. The neighbors
went to the meeting for the Committee to Protect the Revolution and
workers were part of the national union. There was an organization for
students and another for farmers.
All of our names showed up on the memberships lists for any number of
state organizations. But none of them allowed us to determine how things
were run, or organized. Instead, they were designed to instill order -
from the top down.
A desire to integrate
As a girl, I was impressed by the annual celebrations marking the Cuban
revolution. All of the big organizations were called to the Plaza de la
Revolución where at some point, the crowd would begin singing song with
names like "Cuba, yes! Yankees, no!" and "Fidel knows how to send the
Yankees to hell."
Every time you applied for a job, for a spot at a university or for the
right to buy a house, you had to fill out a long form. But all the
questions really boiled down to one: Which state organizations do you
The most important ones - the Communist Party and the Union of Young
Communists - were at the top of the list. Now when I think back to how I
automatically checked the boxes with abbreviations like OPJM, CDR and
FMC, it all seems so silly. I was like a machine, a so-called
"integrated citizen" – a "normal revolutionary."
The truth comes to light
I can't remember the exact moment when I suddenly felt the desire to
speak my mind and let my opinions be heard, the moment when I wanted to
say things that differed from the ubiquitous slogans, when I wanted to
belong to groups that truly had shared interests.
But what I do remember is that my problems started as soon as I started
speaking my mind. I was at university and published a magazine titled
"Letter for Letter."
It was an alternative publication made up of poetry, personal essays and
prose. At some point I was summoned to the university dean's office. He
told me I couldn't hand out "that stuff" to students anymore.
Even after this run-in, I still believed the state's stories: "Political
prisoners are in jail in Cuba because they are agents of imperialism."
The truth finally came out during the "Black Spring" in 2003. Within two
weeks, 75 people who were critical of the regime were taken into custody
and sentenced to between 15 and 28 years in prison - all for speaking
their mind and organizing meetings not sponsored by the state.
I knew some of those people and what they had at their disposal:
typewriters, tape recorders, words.
The state strikes back
It wasn't long after that I myself was labeled a "mercenary of
imperialism" for having the audacity to put my blog, "Generation Y,"
online. I used the blog to write about everyday things I noticed in the
world around me.
The simple fact that I published my opinions and pointed out that all
these organizations did more to control rather than represent us carried
serious consequences. Even now, I can't leave the country. The state is
seeking revenge because I contradicted it. People follow me on the
street, watching my every move. My telephone has been tapped.
Opinions are not crimes
I stopped parroting the government's slogans years ago and I no longer
belong to any official organizations. I am a free citizen, a free
radical. My blog, my political platform, consists of a single demand:
the diversity of opinion can no longer be a crime!
But we in Cuba are still far from reaching this goal. Regardless of the
slight opening up that has taken place, criticism remains unwelcome -
whether it's questioning a minister's management or a school's curriculum.
In Cuba, since the government makes it impossible to start something as
banal as a fan club for salamanders, there's no chance anyone is going
to found a new political party anytime soon.
Author: Yoani Sanchez / sms
Editor: Kyle James