The Risks of Journalism / Yoani Sanchez

Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 21 May 2015 – If you has asked me a year ago what would be the three greatest challenges of the digital newspaper 14ymedio, I would have said repression, lack of connection to the Internet, and media professionals being afraid to work on our team. I did not imagine that the another obstacle would become the principal headache of this informative little paper: the lack of transparency in Cuban institutions, which has found us many times before a closed door and no matter how hard we knock, no one opens or provides answers.

In a country where State institutions refuse to provide the citizen with certain information that should be public, the situation becomes much more complicated for the reporter. Dealing with the secrecy turns out to be as difficult as evading the political police, tweeting “blind,” or becoming used to the opportunism and silence of so many colleagues. Information is militarized and guarded in Cuba as if there is a war of technology, which is why those who try to find out are taken, at the very least, as spies. Continue reading

From “White Udder” to the seven-legged bull / Yoani Sanchez

Illustration of a cow. (14ymedio)

Illustration of a cow. (14ymedio)

Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 5 May 2015 – For a long time the extraordinary, the unusual, was our hope. On this Island which must have been Atlantis, the reincarnation of Alexander the Great was born and there lived a cow who gave the most quarts of milk in the history of humanity. Like all childish people we needed to feel that nobody surpassed us and that the ordinary rested far from our borders. White Udder, the cow that still owns the Guinness World Record, was a sacrificial victim on the altar of this national and political vanity. Gone are the times of those exaggerated ranching achievements, now we can only crow about our anomalies.

Muñeco is a bull with seven legs. The local press just narrated his story, a wild yearling born from two commercial zebu breed cattle, and ultimately adopted by the cattle rancher Diego Vera Hernandez in the Trinidad area. What distinguishes this exemplar from so many others that die of hunger and thirst in the Cuban countryside is that springing from its back, near the shoulder hump, are three additional legs and one testicle. Its anatomy includes everything the official rhetoric needs: on the one hand the inconceivable, on the other, this piece of virility that should not be lacking in anyone or anything that wants to brag about being made in Cuba.

Gone are the times of those exaggerated ranching achievements, now we can only crow about our anomalies.

Muñeco’s three legs have saved him from the illegal slaughter to which so many of his peers succumb due to the needs and poor livestock management displayed by the current system. That piece of another bull hanging from his back has freed him from the middle-of-the-night butcher’s knife because a clever farmer realizes that he has before his eyes a fair animal, a circus creature, to show off to journalists at the agricultural fairs. But there is not much difference from this pet with mischievous genes and that cow that represented all our hopes of seeing milk run in the streets and factories drowning in cheese and yogurt.

White Udder died from the excesses of a leader who needed results, but Muñeco has lived for the pride of this nation burdened by its own malformations.

Welcome Hollande, Goodbye Hollande / Yoani Sanchez

François Hollande and Raul Castro, at their meeting at the Palace of the Revolution. (EFE)

François Hollande and Raul Castro, at their meeting at the Palace of the Revolution. (EFE)

Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 12 May 2015 — The official reception at the airport, the photo shaking hands with the host, the wreath laid at the statue of José Martí and the expected lecture at the University of Havana. How many foreign politicians have followed this script in recent months? So many that we have lost count.

A true shower of presidents, foreign ministers and deputies has intensified over Cuba without daily life feeling any kind of relief from such illustrious presences. To this parade of world leaders has been added, this week, the French president François Hollande, who assured us that his country wants to “strengthen ties with Cuba” so that both nations, “assume greater international leadership.

During his stay, the politician met with Raul Castro, visited Fidel Castro in his home, and awarded the Legion of Honor to Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino. The agenda did not include, however, any meeting with dissidents and activists. His vision of the Cuban stage could not be completed with a critical eye on the Government’s relationship with its own people. As the presidential plane lifted off, the official version of events barely registered on the retinas and ears of the French. Continue reading

Our Children Make Us Less Cowardly / Yoani Sanchez

Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 10 May 2015 – There is a memory I often escape into. At times of greatest tension, I travel back to that August morning when I held my son for the first time. If I feel overcome by fear, I visualize the tiny fingernails that had grown inside my womb, soft and bent around the tips of his fingers. I also calm myself evoking the backs of his hands, with the marks of amniotic fluid in which they were submerged for so long. I take refuge in the memory, feeling that no repression nor hatred can reach me, because I am protected by his birth.

Our children give us the gift of will. When our eyelids are heavy and the most powerful alarm clock cannot get us out of bed, it’s enough for them to whimper in their crib for us to wake up. If they come into the world while we ourselves are still students, they give us the confidence to believe that standing up to the test of motherhood means that no diploma can resist us. They, with their gaze and their questions, also force us to be less cowardly. How can we explain to a child the opportunistic silence, the masks, the faking it… without destroying, in these declarations, a part of the paradigm we represent for them?

Our children are always better than we are. So today, while in Cuban homes mothers celebrate their day, some surrounded by their loved ones and others with the sadness of distance, I am going to give my “little boy” a gift. It will be a small present, simply making lunch together, which will allow us to talk while he chops the spices and I start to heat the pan. Perhaps he will tell me about last week, or about some book or a girl that he knows. While we chat, I will sneak a peek at his hands, now larger and stronger than mine. I will compare the sounds of a baby with his current deep voice, and conclude that this man of today also gives me strength to continue, a great strength.

Twenty years have passed and I still don’t need any other present for Mother’s Day… I already have it, standing in front of me.

From Ferry Line to Internet Line / Yoani Sanchez

Key West-Havana Ferry, takein in 1951 (Miami History Archives and Research Center)

Key West-Havana Ferry, taken in 1951 (Miami History Archives and Research Center)

Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 7 May 2015 – Toward the other side of the sea, that point on the horizon that so many Cubans dream of, several of the curious were gazing yesterday as they sat along Havana’s Malecon. Hours earlier word begun to spread that the United States has authorized “certain specific licenses for passenger ferry service” to Cuba. The rumor was enough for many to play with the idea of how this country would change if it were connected by boat to the other shore. A thousand and one illusions have been unleashed in recent hours, although the four ferry companies authorized by the U.S. Department of the Treasury have yet to receive approval from the Cuban authorities. Continue reading

A Flooded May Day in Havana / Yoani Sanchez

The sewers can barely deal with the mud from the storm (14ymedio)

The sewers can barely deal with the mud from the storm (14ymedio)

Yoani Sanchez, 1 May 2015 – The El Cerro neighborhood is mud and tears right now. One of Havana’s most populous municipalities is trying to recover from the surprise rains that left three dead in the city, more than 1,400 houses affected and 27 partial or total building collapses. Many families lost their most precious belonging and the whole city has that smell that is left after floods, a mixture of sewage, garbage and pain.

The main scene of the tragedy experienced in the Havana capital is indoors, in the homes where they couldn’t save even a chair, but the official press tries to minimize it because it happened a few hours before the “triumphant” First of May, which is meant to show the world “the Cuban people’s attachment to the socialist system.” Continue reading

Video of “Act of Repudiation” by Cubans Against Cubans in Panama

The video shows Cubans affiliated with the Castro regime screaming “GET OUT!” and “Down with the worms!” and “Murderer!” and singing Cuba’s National Anthem at Cubans not affiliated with the Castro regime, in the Hotel Panama during the Americas Summit

Published on 10 April 2015 on Yoani Sanchez’s Twitter account

The Curse of the Cursed / Yoani Sanchez

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Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 1 April 2015 – Imagine that after a flight of more than nine hours, you arrive at your destination but they don’t let you get off the plane. Your legs are numb from the journey, your relatives are waiting for you out there, your suitcases are full of gifts for friends… but an immigration official informs you that you will not be allowed to enter the country of your birth. You have to stay in your seat, tired and frustrated, while they clean the plane for the next passengers. In the time you wait for it to return to the airport from whence you came, you can’t stop asking yourself, “How could this happen to me in my own country?”

That nightmare, was just experienced by the artist Aldo (Maldito) Menendez – whose nickname means “cursed” – as he tried to visit Cuba to participate in the Cervantes Alternate Lives Festival of Camagüey (FIVAC). The Cuban consulate in Spain had already warned him that he was not welcome on the Island and had even stamped his passport with an authoritarian “annulled” on the so-called “empowerment” that Cuban emigrants need to enter their own country. But… the truly Maldito was not satisfied and wanted to experience firsthand whether they really wouldn’t let him cross the border. Continue reading

What remains after the tragedy / Yoani Sanchez

The location in the Alps where the remains of the Germanwing plane are strewn (Ministry of the Interior)

The location in the Alps where the remains of the Germanwing plane are strewn (Ministry of the Interior)

Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 30 March 2015 — There are clothes scattered across the mountains, open suitcases, children’s dolls that will never be played with again. Things that belonged to people who until recently were alive and of whom barely a memory is left, a trail of goods that will be sorted and conveyed to the families of the victims. The tragedy of Germanwings A320, crashed in the French Alps, makes me reflect, like many others, on the brief second that separates us from death. A suicidal leader, a madman at the helm, a war unleashed by others … a thousand and one ways to die that life brings us.

One evening in 1985 my family sat around the set table, waiting for Grandma. She never came, because two drunks in the middle of a brawl fatally wounded her in a nearby café. Her plate remained on the table. Cold, alone, with the spoon to its side and a glass of water making a wet round mark on the wood. Continue reading

The Day Peace Broke Out / Yoani Sanchez

Generation Y*, Yoani Sanchez, 25 March 2015 – “Peace broke out!” the old teacher was heard to say, on the day that Barack Obama and Raul Castro reported the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States. The phrase captured the symbolism of a moment that had all the connotations of an armistice reached after a long war.

Three months after that December 17th, the soldiers of the finished contest don’t know whether to lay down their arms, offer them to the enemy, or reproach the Government for so many decades of a useless conflagration. Everyone experiences the ceasefire in his or her own way, but the indelible timestamp is already established in the history of the Island. Children born in recent weeks will study the conflict with our neighbor to the north in textbooks, not experience it every day as the center of ideological propaganda. That is a big difference. Even the stars-and-stripes flag has been flying over Havana lately, without the Revolutionary fire that made it burn on the pyre of some anti-imperialist act.

For millions of people in the world, this is a chapter that puts an end to the last vestige of the Cold War, but for Cubans it is a question still unresolved. Reality moves more slowly than the headlines triggered by an agreement between David and Goliath, because the effects of the new diplomatic mood have not yet been noticed on our plates, in our wallets, nor in the expansion of civil liberties. Continue reading

A Robinson Crusoe-like Singularity / Yoani Sanchez

An illustration of Robinson Crusoe.

An illustration of Robinson Crusoe.

Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 23 March 2015 — A young Panamanian told me in detail about the two weeks he spent in Havana, the new family that welcomed him here, and his surprise at a coastal city with almost no boats. His story resembled those of many who arrive on the Island for the first time, ranging from amazement to happiness, passing through tears.

However, his most astonishing conclusion was that that, thanks to the country’s disconnection, he had been able to live that long without Internet. Fifteen days without sending an email, reading a tweet, or worrying about a “like” on Facebook. On returning to his own country, he felt as if he’d been at a technology rehab clinic. Continue reading