The Cuban bloggers, bold chroniclers of totalitarian rule, are traveling in winter, an apt metaphor for the old order they’re challenging back home, and to a smaller but no less significant extent, for that of the traditional exile.
Yoani Sánchez. Eliécer Avila. Orlando Luis Pardo.
The weather casts a gray patina on their photos from Europe and New York, but their tongues are as sharp abroad as they are inside Cuba when they denounce the arrests of dissidents or illustrate — as they’re doing now with Cuba’s new travel policy — what it’s like to live in their world.
In one word: Treacherous. Whether inside Cuba or out.
Their words are dissected: Do they call it “the embargo,” as in the United States, or “the blockade,” as in Cuba?
Their motives are questioned: Are they true opponents of the regime, or useful fools?
Criticism comes at the ready from all sides, including from Cuban-government-planted bloggers and from those competing for attention and prominence — some of them exiles who were once branded Communist sympathizers themselves.
It’s nasty and dangerous out there, yet the bloggers cross borders, participate in panels, collect prizes for their work that they were given years ago, when the government denied them permission to leave.
“Their humanity shines through,” Ted Henken, a “ cubanólogo” and professor at Baruch College in New York, tells me. He knows the bloggers well. He’s hosting Pardo and Sánchez in New York, and pens the blog El Yuma, titled after the affectionate street term in Cuba for the United States.
Along with their discoveries, the traveling bloggers retweet news that the Spaniard Angel Carromero has confirmed that the deaths of opposition leader Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero in a car crash in Cuba were caused by Cuban government operatives. Carromero, who was driving the car and says he was rammed from behind by another car, told Payá’s daughter and The Washington Post that his trial in Cuba for negligent driving was a sham, his confession coerced.
And the bloggers retweet news of new politically motivated arrests and beatings in Cuba — 504, a record number, in February, according to the Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission on the island — evidence that, despite the image Raúl Castro wants to portray of reform, the government crackdown on freedoms remains firm.
They’re clever: They tweet and retweet each other and their cohorts, staying on message and seldom respond to criticism.
“My only commitment is with the freedom of Cuba,” Yoani Sánchez, the best-known blogger, said when asked to define herself in Brazil, where she faced pro-Cuban government mobs from the moment she landed.
Soon after that, she became the target of criticism in the exiled diaspora when she said she was worried that the Cuban government was spending too much money on promoting the freedom of five Cuban spies serving sentences in U.S. prisons.
“Ouch,” a Cuban colleague emailed.
But her commentary, obvious sarcasm to those who follow her closely, was misunderstood.
The war of words against her, however, had been unleashed.
On Facebook, a Cuban-American critic began to take apart Sánchez’s choice of words in Brazil. They were too similar to Cuba’s officialdom speech for her taste — as if the Cuban government has exclusive rights to some verbs in the Spanish language. More criticism followed when Sanchez said she favors lifting the U.S. embargo on Cuba.