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Cuba: Yoani Sanchez & Other Bloggers Seized

Perhaps it was only a matter of time, but Yoaní Sánchez, Cuba's most famous blogger, who has received countless international awards for her activism, was detained briefly and beaten by Cuban authorities on November 6, along with fellow bloggers, Claudia Cadelo (a Global Voices contributor) and Orlando Luís Pardo Lazo. The three were on their way to an anti-violence march in the Cuban capital, Havana.

Spanish blogger Rosa Jiménez Cano, who works at the Spanish news daily El País, reported that she received the following SMS text meessage from Yoaní around 2am Madrid time:

Fui detenida junto a Orlando L. Pardo y Claudia Cadelo nos llevaron a la fuerza estilo siciliano. Golpes. Nos dejaron tirados en una esquina.

I was arrested along with Orlando L. Pardo and Claudia Cadelo they carried us off sicilian style. Knocks. We were left lying in a corner.

The morning after the events, Yoaní posted the following account on her blog:

Cerca de la calle 23 y justo en la rotonda de la Avenida de los Presidente, fue que vimos llegar en un auto negro –de fabricación china– a tres fornidos desconocidos: ‘Yoani, móntate en el auto’ me dijo uno mientras me aguantaba fuertemente por la muñeca. Los otros dos rodeaban a Claudia Cadelo, Orlando Luís Pardo Lazo y una amiga que nos acompañaba a una marcha contra la violencia. Ironías de la vida, fue una tarde cargada de golpes, gritos y malas palabras la que debió transcurrir como una jornada de paz y concordia.  Los mismos ‘agresores’ llamaron a una patrulla que se llevó a mis otras dos acompañantes, Orlando y yo estábamos condenados al auto de matrícula amarilla, al pavoroso terreno de la ilegalidad y la impunidad del Armagedón.

Me negué a subir al brillante Geely y exigimos nos mostraran una identificación o una orden judicial para llevarnos. Claro que no enseñaron ningún papel que probara la legitimidad de nuestro arresto. Los curiosos se agolpaban alrededor y yo gritaba ‘Auxilio, estos hombres nos quieren secuestrar', pero ellos pararon a los que querían intervenir con un grito que revelaba todo el trasfondo ideológico de la operación: ‘No se metan, estos son unos contrarrevolucionarios'. Ante nuestra resistencia verbal, tomaron el teléfono y dijeron a alguien que debió ser su jefe: ‘¿Qué hacemos? No quieren subir al auto'. Imagino que del otro lado la respuesta fue tajante, porque después vino una andanada de golpes, empujones, me cargaron con la cabeza hacia abajo e intentaron colarme en el carro. Me aguanté de la puerta… golpes en los nudillos… alcancé a quitarle un papel que uno de ellos llevaba en el bolsillo y me lo metí en la boca. Otra andanada de golpes para que les devolviera el documento.

Near 23rd Street, just at the Avenida de los Presidentes roundabout, we saw a black car, made in China, pull up with three heavily built strangers. ‘Yoani, get in the car,’ one told me while grabbing me forcefully by the wrist. The other two surrounded Claudia Cadelo, Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, and a friend who was accompanying us to the march against violence. The ironies of life, it was an evening filled with punches, shouts and obscenities on what should have passed as a day of peace and harmony. The same ‘aggressors’ called for a patrol car which took my other two companions, Orlando and I were condemned to the car with yellow plates, the terrifying world of lawlessness and the impunity of Armageddon.

I refused to get into the bright Geely-made car and we demanded they show us identification or a warrant to take us. Of course they didn’t show us any papers to prove the legitimacy of our arrest. The curious crowded around and I shouted, ‘Help, these men want to kidnap us,’ but they stopped those who wanted to intervene with a shout that revealed the whole ideological background of the operation, ‘Don’t mess with it, these are counterrevolutionaries.’ In the face of our verbal resistance they made a phone call and said to someone who must have been the boss, ‘What do we do? They don’t want to get in the car.’ I imagine the answer from the other side was unequivocal, because then came a flurry of punches and pushes, they got me with my head down and tried to push me into the car. I held onto the door… blows to my knuckles… I managed to take a paper one of them had in his pocket and put it in my mouth. Another flurry of punches so I would return the document to them.

Yoaní's post goes on to describe further brutality inflicted on herself and Orlando, and their eventual release:

Nos dejaron tirados y adoloridos en una calle de la Timba, una mujer se acercó ‘¿Qué les ha pasado?'… ‘Un secuestro', atiné a decir. Lloramos abrazados en medio de la acera, pensaba en Teo, por Dios cómo voy a explicarle todos estos morados. Cómo voy a decirle que vive en un país donde ocurre esto, cómo voy a mirarlo y contarle que a su madre, por escribir un blog y poner sus opiniones en kilobytes, la han violentado en plena calle. Cómo describirle la cara despótica de quienes nos montaron a la fuerza en aquel auto, el disfrute que se les notaba al pegarnos, al levantar mi saya y arrastrarme semidesnuda hasta el auto.

We were left aching, lying in a street in Timba, a woman approached, ‘What has happened?'… ‘A kidnapping,’ I managed to say. We cried in each others arms in the middle of the sidewalk, thinking about Teo, for God’s sake how am I going to explain all these bruises. How am I going to tell him that we live in a country where this can happen, how will I look at him and tell him that his mother, for writing a blog and putting her opinions in kilobytes, has been beaten up on a public street. How to describe the despotic faces of those who forced us into that car, their enjoyment that I could see as they beat us, their lifting my skirt as they dragged me half naked to the car.

At the time of writing, Yoaní's post had attracted 1,412 comments.

Claudia also quickly entered her version of the incident on her blog:

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. They 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.

Her post goes on to relate the chain of events in great detail, but she ends on a triumphant note:

Then 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.

Commenting on the incident, diaspora blogger Uncommon Sense expresses some surprise, since “those of us overseas who presume that because Yoani, Claudia and the others are so well known, the Castro dictatorship would never dare arrest them.” Yet arrest them they reportedly did. He continues:

Of course, we should never be surprised at what the regime does when it comes to trying to silence its opposition on the island.

And we should never underestimate the importance of the protection we provide every time we read one of their blogs. Obviously, it doesn't provide them absolute immunity, but it is conceivable that someone like Yoani Sanchez would have a long ago been locked away in the Castro gulag were it not for the fact that she is so well known.

What you provide them with each click is the moral support vital for their continuing struggle for freedom.

Meanwhile, Babalu Blog, after publishing the story as breaking news, kept updating the post as more details became available, including an 8:15 am entry showing evidence of physical abuse via a photo that was sent to Penultimos Dias by Orlando Luis Pardo.  Cuban American Pundits‘ John R. learned of Yoani's detention from Babalu and goes on to comment:

It can only be said that the Cuba Governement is afraid, and that these heirs to Cuba's future are extremely brave.

The blog also searched mainstream media sites to determine how big the story was and was disappointed to learn that “the only thing CNN is covering on Cuba is how Miller Beer and Haagen Dazs ice cream may be sold in Cuba — for a premium nonetheless. As Cuban citizens are sequestered and beaten for their exercising of free speech, Chicago Foods (and other companies) are negotiating how beer and ice cream are to be sold on the island.” (CNN eventually went on to cover the story of the bloggers’ seizure.)  The post goes on to comment on the U.S. economic embargo against the island, saying:

For those who claim that a new era has dawned on Cuba should take a close look at the incident that happened with a peaceful group of Cuban bloggers. Nothing has changed. Oppression remains in the cities while luxury and freedom exudes in the resorts.

I don't know about you, but I'm no longer eating Hagen Dazs ice cream nor drinking Miller beer.

Oswaldo Payá of the Movimiento Cristiano Liberación issued a statement expressing solidarity with Sánchez and other victims of repression. My big, fat Cuban family is also standing in solidarity with her Cuban sisters:

I have the supreme luxury of writing about anything that excites or amuses me at any given time. And I do.

Today I want to make you aware if you're not already, of a group of dissident bloggers presently under fire for blogging in Cuba.

Unlike me, they write about the everyday indignities of living in castro's gulag. You understand, of course, that in a communist country, dissension is not just discouraged, it is oftentimes attacked.

Yet these brave bloggers persist…Tonight, Yoani Sanchez and a group of dissidents were picked up, harassed, detained and beaten as they prepared to attend, ironically, a demonstration against the use of violence.

They knew and called her by name and forced her into a car where she figured that this was a kidnapping  which would end in her execution. Although she and her dissident companions were beaten severely they were subsequently released.

Her safety lies here. On blogs like mine.


Along the Malecon
gives some background to the incident and firmly believes that “the legend of Yoani Sanchez grew Friday after Cuban authorities snatched her off the street, shoved her into a car and roughed her up before freeing her”:

Luis Eligio, of the counterculture group OMNI-Zona Franca, and two rappers organized the march. On Oct. 20, Sanchez was one of more than 10 bloggers who staged a ‘virtual protest’ using Tweets, cell phone text messages and blog posts to call for the release of political prisoners. All this puts the socialist government in a tough spot. The more force authorities use, the easier it will be for opposition activists to recruit followers. These incidents also help galvanize international support for Sanchez and other bloggers. This support grows at an exponential rate, colonizing cyberspace and making it difficult for the Cuban government to effectively counter.

In a separate post, the blogger highlights the views of those who are a tad sceptical about the whole event, one of whom is Cuban journalist Vladia Rubio Jiménez, who writes in her blog:

Francamente, me resulta bien oscuro el asunto. ¿A partir de ahora seremos testigos de “espontáneas” marchas de protesta? ¿Contra qué violencia estaban pronunciándose esos muchachos con sus abstractos carteles? ¿Sería contra la que está ocurriendo en Afganistán, Honduras,  o contra lo acontecido en la más importante base militar norteamericana donde un enloquecido disparó y dejó muertas a 13 personas y varios heridos?

Frankly, I find the matter rather shady. From now on will we have to witness ‘spontaneous’ protest marches? Violence against what were these guys demonstrating with their signs? Would it be against what is happening in Afghanistan, Honduras, or against what happened on the biggest U.S. military base where a madman shot and left 13 people dead and several injured?

She continues:

Por lo que leo, parece haber sido una manifestación organizada sobre todo a través de algunos blogs, entre ellos Octavo Cerco; y también me asombra ver las posibilidades tecnológicas de que disponen: teléfonos celulares, rápidas conexiones a Internet que incluso les permiten subir los videos… En ninguna parte dice con claridad quién convocó esa marcha.

From what I read, it seems to have been a demonstration organized mainly through some blogs, including Octavo Cerco and it also amazes me to see the available technology at their disposal: cell phones, fast Internet connections that even allow them to upload videos… Nowhere does it say clearly who called for that march.

Yohandry's Weblog echoes her sceptisicm:

Pero bien, Claudia Cadelo dejó este vídeo en su blog. No comprendo cómo pueden subir sus videos a Youtube tan rápido, pero allí está. Ella misma por Twitter dijo que no había llegado hasta el performance, además de que explicó que estaba detenida.

Cómo pudo hacer Twitter detenida, cómo subió el video desde un carro de la policía?

Entra en acción Yoani Sánchez. Ahora bien, Yoani Sánchez cuenta a las siempre listas agencias y emisoras que tienen la misión de cubrir sus actividades lo ocurrido con ella y otros bloggers que se encaminaban al performance, quizás con el objetivo de provocar, nadie sabe.

Les dejo la grabación, ¡esos medios tan ágiles al servicio de Yoani! Adelanto que cuenta que ella tiene celular, computadora y seguirá haciendo Twitter, cosa que no acabo de comprender, cuando ella misma dice que no tiene libertad para trabajar en Cuba.

Y yo esperaré ahora la otra versión de lo ocurrido. Como dice el dicho, siempre hay un ojo que te ve.

But well, Claudia Cadelo left this video on her blog. I do not understand how they can upload their videos on YouTube so fast, but there it is. She even said on Twitter that she had not been able to get to the performance, and she explained why she was detained.

How could she have been on Twitter while she was detained? How did she upload the video from a police car?

Yoani Sánchez enters the scene. Well, lets see, Yoani Sánchez tells the agencies and stations, whose mission is to readily cover her events, what happened to her and to other bloggers who were going to the performance. Maybe with the intention of provoking. No one knows.

Here is the recording. These media act so rapidly to service Yoani! I must say that she has a cell phone, a computer, and she will keep on using Twitter, something I simply cannot understand when she says that she has no freedom to work in Cuba.

And I will wait for the next version of the incident. Like the saying says: there is always an eye that sees you.

Social media users are certainly keeping a close eye on developments.  Even as Claudia tweeted about the incident, apparently while it was happening – “Estoy detenida” was her first entry – her Twitter followers have shown their support, with one user calling her “muy valiente” (“very brave”).

The thumbnail image used in this post, “The Freedom of Speech”, is by Caveman 92223, used under a Creative Commons license. Visit Caveman 92223′s flickr photostream.

Georgia Popplewell and Firuzeh Shokooh Valle contributed to this post.

  • http://www.vistatradegroup.com Milton Sanchez-Parodi

    Yoani may be just a dissatisfied young adult like many throughout the world, including the USA and Europe. The thing is that she obviously benefits by those fostering discontent in Cuba.

    Does she think that all those thousands of US dollars and awards come to her for free? Obviously she is selling out her and her country to all those foreign interest. Her behavior is actually worse than the \jineteras\ and jineteros.

    What is very remarkable is that in Cuba of all places she was attending a \non-violent\ demonstration. Perhaps she should bone up on World History and look at the violent societies. Perhaps she should watch CNN and look at the violence not only social but governmental of the US. I do not think she was attending a non-violent demonstration condemning the US. On whose service is she anyway.

    The remarkable thing about Yoani Sanchez’s blog is not what she says but what she doesn’t say.

    Milton Sanchez-Parodi

    • http://bluelephant.blogspot.com Javier Moreno

      Yes, of course, she is a dissatisfied adult in a free society and thus she deserves to be beaten up from time to time so she can remember her position and rank within the socialist hierarchy.

      Cynic.

      • http://www.vistatradegroup.com Milton Sanchez-Parodi

        Thanks for your comment, obviously you did not read the entire piece.

        No one got beaten up, even by her account. One thing is to be pushed into a car due to her resistance, another is beaten up ala Rodney King. Try it next time you get stopped for a minor traffic violation, refuse to follow the police orders and then refuse to get into the car and see what happens.

        Her story has grown into assaulted while strolling down a Havana street to beaten up.

        The key to Yoani is one at the service of the empire.

    • A Milton Sanchez-Parodi

      Milton,

      You either have absolutely no idea what goes on in Cuba, or worse, you do but since your company does business with the Cuban regime you prefer to turn a blind eye.

      Since when do you have to be in someone’s service to express your opinion?

      Being able to express disagreement with your government’s policies is the foundation of all free countries. Since when did it become “fostering discontent” and “selling your country”?

      Your comments are ignorant and hypocritical. If you sympathize with the Cuban regime so much why don’t you go and live there?

      • http://www.vistatradegroup.com Milton Sanchez-Parodi

        Thanks for your lesson in democracy and freedom of speech.

        Perhaps you forget the “no free speech zone” of the Bush years.

        Perhaps you forget the Supreme Court denial of the five Cuban prisoners in US jails. Perhaps you forget the CIA renditions and tortures perpetuated in Guantanamo and Abu Graib. Perhaps you forget the free terrorist of Miami and the accused of bombing a civilian Cuban airliner. Where is Yoani’s blog on this?

        It is her country that is being blockaded. It is her people that are being pressured from the outside in the hope they revolt against their government. Why is Yoani silent on this happening to her countrymen and women?

        As for anyone promoting any issue, full disclosure is imperative. Yoani’s subsistence is through foreign entities and awards that are in turn funded by the enemy of Cuba.

        That goes beyond expressing disagreement. She is funded and utilized by a government set on toppling the government of Cuba. The US policy is regime change and has budgeted over 40 million dollars a year for said purpose, that is in addition to the badly called Radio and TV Marti and in addition to all other political and economic pressures of the blockade and monetary control of third countries. Wow, what an industry!

        My company has not made a nickel in since it was formed. The purpose of it is to promote understanding and, under US law, sales of goods to Cuba. My subsistence does not derive from Cuba and unlike Yoani does not benefit from the anti-Cuban industry.

        My interest in Cuba is to change the failed policies of our government and the unjust stance reflected on US policy towards Cuba.

        It is not that I like Cuba and not the US it is that I the US policy towards Cuba does not reflect the American values of freedom and justice. It is what the US does that interest me.

        Cuba, a blockaded and threatened country must defend itself against the aggression stemming from this country for over 50 years. My interest is one of justice.

        It is not what Yoani says, is what she does not say that I object to. It is also her portrayal of a dissident when a more accurate description is one of a paid agent.

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  • http://almiraatblog.wordpress.com/ Hisham

    There is no proper word to qualify the imbecility of the Cuban regime in face of dissent. As much as I, for a long time, felt compassion and empathy with the Cuban people and thought that the regime, allured as I was by its propaganda, was in fact for and from the people, I do now feel contempt for the oppressive regime in Havana. I feel sorry for what happened to Yoani and her friends. It would be naive to think that their release means the immediate end of the ordeal facing free speakers in the island, but I like to beleive that the very fact of reading Yoani again is a very good news indeed.

    • http://www.vistatradegroup.com Milton Sanchez-Parodi

      What dissident are you talking about, Hisham?

      Yoani is well paid for her well maintained blog by foreign entities, including those monetary awards. Should she not be a registered foreign agent instead?

      Demonstrating in Cuba against violence should be directed towards Miami, not the Cuban society. Where is her blog exposing terrorist free in Miami? Where is her outrage at the death of women and children as well as young athletes at the hands of Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch again free in Miami? Where is her compassion and empathy with the five Cuban prisoners held in the USA who were defending civilians against terrorist attacks form abroad? Where is her call to end the blockade against her country? It seems that she is certainly not working for the Cuban people. She seems to be working for the enemies of Cuba.

      Is not what Yoani says in her paid blog, is what she fails to say.

      • http://artedosaudade@mac.com saudade

        well said! i concur.

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  • Fabienne Flessel

    What a strange coincidence! On Saturday, I saw a documentary about Cuba on the French national television, in which they concluded with a quotation from Yoani Sanchez, calling her “the Ultimate Free Cuban Voice”. Freedom of Speech!!!

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  • http://peruanista.blogspot.com/ Peruanista

    I’m tired of the Yoani drama, so far she only complains about the failures of the Cuban system but she remains silent about the abuses of the U.S. blockade which forces Cubans into poverty.

    Cuba is not a perfect society but it has some good things, that Yoani never mentions on her mediocre blog. All the awards and sponsorship she gets are obviously coming from Miami and Madrid, so this story sounds hard to believe to me.

    All violence should be protested, and no one should be intimidated by their ideas or opinions. But I just wonder why would the Cuban government send thugs to beat up a group of bloggers? who wins from this? This makes no sense.

    • http://womanishwords.blogspot.com Lynn Sweeting

      I am very surprised at these sentiments. I ask, why does it negate her if she is paid? In my view she is even more admirable if she has found a way to be paid to write her blog. I would also comment that she seems to be attempting to simply write the truth about her daily life as a woman in Cuba, not policy analysis, the embargo etc. This is exactly why her blog is unique, important and powerful. The writer Muriel Rukeyser said: “When a woman tells the truth about her life the world splits open.” The voice of a single, ordinary woman telling the truth is a huge threat to all systems of oppression at work in the world. For women, the personal is the most political, the most powerful story they have to tell. Also, your dismissal of them as just “a group of bloggers” the inference being they are irrelevant, I must protest. One free voice can topple a government, one true story can depose a king. They are young people who are bringing the empowerment and connectedness of the web to an island nation cut off from the world by the sea and by the silence. Being from the Bahamas, i know about that kind of isolation, the apathy and helplessness it can breed into your brain, making you perfect victims for a corrupt government to exploit. Many corrupt Caribbean governments have used the isolation and disconnection of island life to sedate and disempower the people to prolong their power. Many have tried to stem the flow of free and clear information, different ideas and points of view. I do believe her story, I believe her government knows full well that Sanchez and her compatriots are no longer willing to be victims and that her stories have the power to bring them down. Thanks for considering my opinion.
      Respectfully.

      • http://www.vistatradegroup.com Milton Sanchez-Parodi

        It negates her because she is at the service of foreigners manipulated and controlled by a very rich neighbor that uses over 40 million US dollars a year through grants and foundations pledged to undermine and change the Cuban government.

        It negates her for it aids the stated policy of the US to by economic blockade and political pressure world-wide it seeks to force the Cuban people to rebel against their government.

        It negates her for in the end she serves an empire that controls the media and leaves very little room for free expression.

        When was the last time that the main-stream media published any substantial news about the terrorist free in Miami?

        When was the last time that the main-stream media published anything about the five Cubans in jail denied a hearing by the Supreme Court of the United States?

        When was the last time that in the blog of Yoani any mentioned of the cruel economic embargo against her country or the injustice
        perpetuated against the Cuban Five or the cuddling of terrorist in Miami?

        Then you ask why does getting paid negates her? Simply because her work is at the service on an empire.

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