A blogger's snapshots of life in Cuba
Castro critic Yoani Sánchez writes about daily struggles and work-arounds.
By Juan O. Tamayo
Yoani Sánchez, Cuba's best-known blogger, is a tough critic of the
island's government, blasting it regularly for a long string of economic
failings and human rights abuses.
She's also a heckuva writer. She wrote, for example, that she reaches
out to the outside world "on a raft made of binary code," and that her
greatest affront to Cuba's rulers is that she "joined together words and
phrases without their permission." After the notoriously long-winded
Fidel Castro announced in 2008 that he would not seek reelection as
president, she wrote about the succession: "I hope not to have another
competent orator, but rather … a politician who knows how to listen."
Anyone who likes her writing or her political message will like Havana
Real, a collection of some of her best blog posts, usually just five or
six paragraphs long. Each item is a sharp-edged snapshot of life in
Cuba, say, the peasants who register their newborn cows as bulls so they
can later sell the milk on the black market instead of being forced to
deliver it to a government agency.
Then there are the train drivers who don't stop for farm animals on the
rails because they know the owners want them "killed accidentally " so
their meat can be sold legally. Killing a cow illegally can land a Cuban
in prison for many years.
Like real-life snapshots, some of the posts in the book suffer from a
lack of context. Only those familiar with the island's Soviet-era
economic controls can truly appreciate her reference to home
construction materials as "lunar dust."
But her writing —at times angry, cynical or funny — earned her Spain's
most important literary prize and Columbia University's coveted Maria
Moors Cabot prize for journalists in 2008. That same year, she also made
Time magazine's list of the 100 most influential people in the world.
The 36-year-old philologist — her dissertation was titled "Dictatorships
in Latin America Literature" — started out as an "alternative blogger,"
writing about the struggles of daily life but identified with neither
dissidents nor the officially permitted pro-government bloggers.
Today she runs a "Bloggers' Academy" so that other Cubans can launch
their own "binary rafts," and her Twitter account has the most followers
of any Cuban. She's also writing on more political issues, but has not
joined any dissident group.
"I am living in a time in which all definitions fall short," she told El
Nuevo Herald from her home in Havana on a phone line that government
censors sometimes cut off when foreign journalists try to call her.
Sánchez wrote in one post that in Cuba, where the Castro governments
have been talking about "building socialism" since 1959, its people
"have seen its future already exhausted before we got there."
In another, she wrote that she favored a "revolution.com in which
commanders are not bearded, have no guns" and instead "carry strange
names like Gmail, Wordpress, Skype and Facebook. They do not create
divisions, but rather unite people."
Thankfully, for those who believe there's a profound shortage of good
literature about Cuba, Sánchez's progression from blog posts of five to
six paragraphs to Tweets of no more than 140 characters will be reversed
some time in the not too distant future. She's slowing down a bit, she
said, "to take a breath and dive deeper" into Cuba's reality and
continue work on a book that will be "a national biography mixed with a
Note to Sánchez: Don't keep it short.
Juan Tamayo is an El Nuevo Herald staff writer.