Thursday, March 28, 2013

Welcome to Miami Yoani Sanchez: A Reflection on Social Media

"I look around and it is the other blockade which affects us most, that of censorship, intolerance and punishment to those that opine differently." Yoani Sanchez (2009)

With the Archbishop of Miami and the pastor of the Ermita de la Caridad

 This afternoon Yoani Sanchez arrived in Miami, Florida and one of her first stops was to Our Lady of Charity (La Ermita de la Caridad). Seeing the pictures posted over twitter left me with a bittersweet feeling. She hadn't seen her family outside Cuba in years and had been denied the right to travel outside of Cuba on more than 20 occasions. Because of this delay she missed the opportunity to have met Bishop Agustín Román, who had been forced at gun point to leave Cuba and died in exile on April 11, 2012. Arhbishop Wenski gave the homily at the Funeral Mass for Bishop Agustín Román. Seeing the Archbishop photographed with Yoani Sanchez at La Ermita brought back powerful memories. Hard to believe its been less than a year.

Her arrival in Miami, recalled another moment that was relayed over twitter that made a powerful impact. 

Less than three months after starting this blog an event took place that dramatized the importance of social media.

It was on November 6, 2009 that we saw in action what we'd just discussed and speculated about before. The power of social media to burst the veil of impunity and provide with a few quick key strokes a measure of protection for activists in Cuba. 

A friend and colleague, Aramis L. Perez,  told me late on that Friday afternoon that something appeared wrong with Claudia Cadelo's tweets. He realized that she and other activists were being abducted and that she was tweeting about it in real time. In short order he was able to ascertain that the others being taken were Yoani Sanchez and Orlando Luis Pardo.

Claudia Cadelo and Orlando Luis Pardo
 He began to retweet Claudia's messages and addressed it to other activists and media outlets. Usually it would take hours or days to report on a human rights violation that had taken place in Cuba, but in this case it was being done in seconds and minutes.

Below Aramis's tweets are reproduced from that day:

RT : A yoani la metieron arrastrada con olpl en un carro de la seguridad

RT : Me montaron a la fuerza en una patrulla y me soltaron en nuevo vedado

Repression of = taste of systematic rights violations. :

Live interview w , WJAN Miami. detained beaten by plainclothes State Security, uniformed police 4 Claudia

Yoani Sanchez recuperating from the November 6, 2009 attack and in the upper right hand photo she is missing a tooth from an attack in 2012

Friday at the Blogger Academy, we finished the class on Cuban culture with Miriam. Relaxed atmosphere: the Tainos and their myths. Before leaving Ivan told me, “See you at five-thirty.” We had found out from friends we knew that Aldo, Luis Eligio, Amaury and other young people were going to walk today from 23rd and G Street to L Street, with signs against violence. A civic march in a country where public spirit has been kidnapped by totalitarianism, where power has grown old and the ultimate death rattles of a collapsing system are a blind response, pure temper tantrum.

We stayed, Orlando Luis (Pardo Lazo), his girlfriend, Yoani and I, cleaning up until it was time for the march. We left the house nervous, but convinced that we wouldn’t be alone. By G Street Orlando was making jokes that I don’t remember but I was falling out laughing. A man was masturbating in broad daylight in Zapata, Havana looked the same as always.

The bus stop for the P11 was full, at 27th and G, the only corner from where you can catch something to take you to Alamar. The car appeared from nowhere, a yellow plate, a new Chinese model: money for repression. “Let’s go in comfort,” Yoani said to me jokingly, and the guys got out with faces that were not pleasant, it must be sad to be a thug. We refused to get in the car, there were three of them and they threatened us:

“Get in the car, now.”
“Let us see your documents, or bring a policeman.”

Orlando had his cell phone in his hand. “Pardo, don’t record,” said the one in the orange shirt, and I got my cell out. Nobody noticed me, I sent the first Tweet… In less than three minutes a patrol car came up with a couple of cops—a woman and a man—completely dumbstruck by the scene. The carried out their orders almost in slow motion, the woman told me:

“Don’t resist.”

“They are undocumented,” it occurred to me to enlighten her.

Yoani was clinging to a bush, I was clinging to her waist, and the woman was pulling me by the leg. They had already dragged Orlando off, outside my field of vision. A man at the bus-stop looked on with an expression of terror, people didn’t say a single word. The officer, very young, got me in an armlock that immobilized me. I could have kicked a little but I was too astonished at seeing Yoani’s legs sticking out the rear window of the State Security car.

They shoved me into the patrol car while I was screaming, “Yoani! Yoani!” But I realized that no one could hear me, everything was hermetically sealed, Orlando’s girlfriend was struggling with the police, Yoani’s body was being pushed headfirst into the car, and Orlando’s telephone flew out through the window… I sent the second Tweet hoping someone would be able to understand it with my terrible typing. The girl cop got in the patrol car and said to me:

“Why did you resist? We don’t want to hit you.”

“You almost ripped my shirt,” said the other PNR (National Revolutionary Police), meanwhile putting Orlando’s girlfriend in the car.

They looked embarrassed, for a moment I thought they were going to apologize:

“Do you have your identity cards on you,” she said, almost sweetly, and passed us Orlando’s phone which wouldn’t stop ringing.

Unfortunately, the one in the orange shirt got in and shut the door. He sat next to me. The police fell silent and started the dialogue.

“Claudia, turn off the telephone.”

“Forget it.”

“How disgusting,” said Orlando’s girlfriend.

The rest was pure insult, a surrealistic rage.

“Your name is not going to go down in history,” he said.

“I don't care, you don’t even have a name. When I get out of the car I'm going back to G Street."

“Then it will be worse.”

“Your threats are your fear. That’s their purpose.”


Stepping foot on the corner by Yoani's house made me dizzy, but there was no light in the building. I couldn't get anyone's cell, and I was losing my balance. The the first call came, with a 00 international prefix, and I knew nothing had been in vain, even if we had all been arrested and the march suspended. When, later, I saw the video that Ciro brought me, I knew for certain: They lost; it's the countdown.

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