Sunday, October 27, 2013

Be vigilant for those who remain in Cuba

Posted on Saturday, 10.26.13

Be vigilant for those who remain in Cuba
Yoani was here again.

I don't say that lightly, and I don't take it for granted. That the
blogger can leave Cuba and return safely is a profound change. I marvel
at and applaud the changes that allow her to come and go freely, normally.

That I can get away without writing her last name in that first sentence
— Sánchez, for the non-initiated — is also a breakthrough, surely one of
the happiest outcomes of the technology that has come to define and
dominate our lives: we follow her on Twitter; we read her blogs; we
think we know her; we feel protective.

And that's all good. For without the watchful eye of thousands, Yoani
could have easily disappeared already. Our vigilance keeps her afloat.
Her talent and enormous courage keeps us vigilant.

She came to New York, among other things, to personally receive the
Maria Moors Cabot special citation for excellence in journalism in the
coverage and understanding of the Americas that she won in 2009, at a
time when she was not allowed to leave the island. The certificate was
awarded by the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University.

This year she's been in New York twice.

She was as calm as ever, as articulate as the last time, as full of
optimism and ideas. Her newest venture: She is hoping to launch a modern
and digital newspaper from the island in December. "A newspaper of
transition," she called it.

I told her I thought she had been unusually quiet lately. She said she
had been busy getting the newspaper ready to launch. Among other things,
she has been pouring cement, transforming a small space into a newsroom.
She has eight reporters, and she wants to cover Cuba, from potholes to
theater openings, from human rights to cooking recipes. A normal newspaper.

In Cuba, to gather and transmit information outside the parameters of
the government is a profoundly subversive act.

When she took the podium, with her long hair swept to one side and her
Mona Lisa smile, she was met with a thunderous applause. People in the
audience, most of them journalists from the Americas, understood her
courage and her quest.

She said that when she learned she had won the citation four years ago,
she felt elated at first. But, later, she felt the weight of a sense of

"The responsibility of knowing that I am exercising journalism within a
very battered society," she said. "In a country where a strict control
over information has been erected as one of the most important
mechanisms of political control."

And she went on: "I have never understood the role of a journalist to be
that of the entomologist who looks down on the ant colony from above.
Writing in her fine notebook filled with white pages while down below,
the ants live, kill, and die. I am an ant and I want to write about life
in the ant colony from within."

Her hope, she said, is not only to narrate the Cuba of today but also to
rescue "those moments of history that were stolen from us."

She said that the idea for the digital newspaper came about precisely in
November of 2009, shortly after she had learned of the Cabot citation
and around the time when three men dragged her from the street to a car
and proceeded to beat her up before letting her go, pained and bruised
but untamed.

Earlier, in a panel before the ceremony, she talked about the importance
of the Internet and the impossibility of censorship at a time when very
little, if anything, can be kept private.

She told me how, more 20 years after his death, she learned who Pedro
Luis Boitel was and how he died after a hunger strike in a Cuban prison
in 1972. Yet, she learned that Orlando Zapata had died an hour after he
succumbed to his own hunger strike in 2010.

Censorship nowadays, she said, is "like placing a door in the open sea."

Attempting to stop Yoani is like that too. She's placed her foot firmly
against the crack in the door the government of Raúl Castro has created,
and she's pushing it open with all her might. There is no telling what
she might do or how far she can get if she keeps pushing against that
door, but not alone.

It is said that ants can lift many times their body weight, but it is
also known that ants of the same colony work together. Yoani and others
like her, who have chosen to remain in Cuba to transform the island from
within, need our help and our vigilance.

Source: Be vigilant for those who remain in Cuba - Other Views - -

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