Yoani Sánchez’s right to speak her mind



For years I have followed Yoani Sánchez’s blog and comments on Twitter. Her writings portray a very accurate picture of the daily life of Cubans on the island. Her stance for freedom of expression has caused her many problems with Cuba’s totalitarian government. Yet she has continued to express her views, openly defying the Castro brothers’ regime.

Yoani has been recognized worldwide for her efforts and writings. She has received many awards and gained supporters across the globe while few Cubans on the island know her name or her writings — all due to the tight control they have on information and the lack of access to social media.

In South Florida many Cubans see her as the voice against the government, one of the leading dissidents and opposition leaders — titles that Yoani never gave herself. She describes herself as a journalist. Yoani had tried to leave the island many times to receive the awards she had been given for her writings and was always denied by the Cuban government until recently.

We all saw the pictures and read the reports as she arrived in Brazil. A mob greeted her and accused her of being a traitor and a U.S. agent. This type of demonstration did not surprise me or many in South Florida. We have seen it before. We waited in much anticipation for her comments condemning the Cuban regime and its atrocities against their people. Yet some of Yoani’s first comments shocked many in our community when she called for lifting the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba and freeing the so called “Cuban Five,” the five men found guilty in U.S. courts for being agents of the Cuban government. How can Yoani make these comments?

In an instant, Yoani became a person no longer regarded as a leader, a dissident or opposition leader. She was accused on Miami radio stations of being a Cuban agent. I asked myself whether she is a product of the system, a system that has ideologically shaped the mind of most Cubans.

I have seen the effect when I interview recent arrivals. I had one young man who wanted to return to Cuba after living six months in Miami because he “did not know what to do with his freedom.” Why didn’t Yoani speak of freeing USAID worker Alan Gross, who has been in prison in Cuba since 2009, or the rest of the political prisoners? Her initial argument was that by lifting the embargo and freeing the “Cuban Five” it would help the lives of the Cuban people and destroy the propaganda machine of the Cuban government. You know, I can buy both arguments. But in reality, it’s tough to swallow, and it’s not going to happen.

The embargo is weak, but it remains the last piece of paper we have to negotiate with the Cuban government when its officials get ready to recognize individual freedoms, human rights and private property, to mention just a few necessary changes. On the “Cuban Five,” they were given all the rights allowed by U.S. law, and more than what Alan Gross or any prisoner in Cuba has ever received.

Later, Yoani posted on ElNuevoHerald.com that her comments were not properly interpreted. On Twitter, she posted: “I was using irony to express my views that if they’re freed right now, the government would save millions of dollars . . . If the words I used were not the right ones, I apologize.”

Can she be this naive? I don’t think so. The money the Cuban government would save would not be used to improve the lives of the people, in any case. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt until she can explain herself further.

Even so, I can understand and respect Yoani’s point of view. She is expressing her right to speak freely and in a free country for the first time, and it must feel good. This is a right we have learned to cherish and protect each day of our lives in this country. I just don’t know how tolerant we are when somebody says something we do not agree with.

When Yoani comes to Miami in April, let’s listen to what she has to say before we disagree with her views entirely. These are her views, not those of an entire nation. Let her explain the positions and comments she makes. Afterward, we can debate the issues and decide whether we agree or not.

No matter what, I will continue to read her blogs and tweets. It is her right to say what she wants, and it is my right to agree or disagree. That’s what a democracy is all about, and that’s the message I want her to take back to Cuba.

Andy Gomez is a senior fellow at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami.

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