This is the real Cuba — not the one of circular and unproductive policy debate in Miami and Washington, D.C., but the one people suffer and endure.
Already virtual a prisoner in her own country — her requests to travel abroad denied or ignored by the government — Cuba’s best-known journalist, blogger Yoani Sánchez, and husband Reynaldo Escobar were arrested Friday, communication cut off.
Sánchez, who pens the internationally read blog Generación Y, and her husband were on their way to the eastern town of Bayamo to report on the trial of Angel Carromero.
He’s the 27-year-old Spaniard blamed by the Cuban government for the death of dissident leader Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and dissident Harold Cepero in a car accident in July.
Carromero, the driver, faces manslaughter charges and a possible seven-year sentence. Payá’s family doesn’t blame Carromero, and has called for an independent investigation.
Unbelievable to those of us in the free world, Payá’s three grown children were also kept Friday from the first day of trial by police who blocked them at the courthouse entrance.
Adding to the absurdity, news of Sánchez’s arrest was posted by pro-government bloggers, part of a government campaign to steer public opinion away from Sánchez’s popular and intimate reports of what she calls “my reality.”
One blog dubbed Sánchez “pro-American” and accused her of traveling to Bayamo to stage a “provocative show and hurt the Carromero trial.”
Despite its inventive propaganda machine, the Cuban government can’t hide its totalitarian face the way it flagrantly did before the age of the Internet. In this connected world, news of detentions, abuses, and suspicious deaths like Payá’s travel the world in seconds.
From the BBC to the Spanish news agency EFE to the Huffington Post, news of Sánchez’s arrest spread Friday. Spain’s El País newspaper said Sánchez was their correspondent and confirmed the arrest.
“Yoani has always been aware of the dangers she faces, and that is, in part, what makes her work all the more fascinating and admirable,” Columbia University professor Mirta Ojito, who interviewed Sánchez last December for the blogtalkradio webcast Tweeting Under Castro, told me Friday. “No one who lives in a dictatorship is exempt from punishment — of one kind or another. For years, they have tried to silence her by refusing to give her exit visas. Now, it’s come to this. Let’s hope the government of Cuba understands that the world is watching and that Yoani is not alone.”
As she traveled Thursday from her Havana home to Bayamo, Sánchez reported via Twitter what she was experiencing, doing what she does best in her blog: lift the curtain on Cuban life.
In Camaguey, she tweeted, police frequently stopped her car to spray it inside.
“I ask the policeman if it’s because of the dengue and he stays silent,” she said.
Now the world needs to speak up, and energetically condemn this brave journalist’s detention, and the farce of a trial designed to deliver a public relations show for the dictatorship, but certainly not justice.