Yoani Sanchez Talks about Cuba’s Changes

By Almudena de Cabo (dpa)

Yoani Sánchez: Foto: alemaniaparati.diplo.de

HAVANA TIMES – Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez on Monday decried the fact that Cuban reality has barely changed nearly two years after the thawing of relations with the United States.  She warned that the process of change would be delayed for “the entire lifespan of those who control Cuba.”

During her participation in the Global Media Forum gathering in the German city of Bonn, Sanchez held a telephone interview with DPA.  During this, she analyzed the current situation in her country and insisted that at present the new openness in Cuba is more a headline than a reality.

How do you see the current situation in Cuba?  Do you believe that the thaw in relations with the United States favors the Cuban opposition?

Yoani Sanchez: All the expectations that have been raised since December 17, 2014, are still facing a lot of obstacles.  We expected at the time that Cuba, and above all the Cubans’ lives, would have improved a lot by now (…)  Nevertheless, right now there are still a lot of expectations pending for the lives of Cubans. (..) It’s not only a question of how the opposition is doing, or how the opposition is seen – without a doubt it continues to suffer repression-, but also how the Cuban population sees it.

They look on the process with hope, although a bit of disappointment for the slow pace in which it’s moving.

So it’s more expectation than reality?

YS:  Exactly.  I’ve repeated a phrase several times: it’s more headlines than realities.  Myself, I’d like to live in the Cuba of those headlines (…) I believe that December 17 has also created a media avalanche feeding the belief that Cuba is changing; reality though is a little more obstinate.

Photo: Caridad

And how much time do you think is needed to make it a reality?

YS: Unfortunately, that’s in the hands of the people that now govern the country.  It’s a generation very obsessed with not allowing a transition towards democracy, towards a market economy, towards freedom and towards respect for opposition parties.  It will take the entire lifespan of those who control Cuba.

Are you afraid that in Cuba a kind of “Vietnam model” will be established with a market economy but a one-party regime? Or do you believe that the economic and social opening can lead to a political change?

YS: Clearly, Raul Castro is a bit obsessed with the Vietnam model and believes that he can carry Cuba in that direction.  But even in terms of taking Cuba in that direction, they’re going very slowly. (…) Of course that fear exists, and also a fear of following the Russian model with a totalitarian figure in power, and economic freedom within a system very controlled by political dictates.

And what do you think is the model to follow?

YS: Well, I hope that it’s neither of those two.  That would scare me a lot (…) I hope that our idiosyncrasies as well as the experience that we’ve had in these years keep the government from turning its steps towards those paths.  And there you have the great importance of the opposition: to denounce any intent towards that direction.

How do you view Raul Castro’s administration in the last years, especially with regard to the thaw in relations with the US?

YS: He’s an opportunist.  On the one hand, he offers his hand to the government in the White House and displays himself in public as a David reconciling with Goliath; on the other, he maintains control, vigilance and repression for those who are different within his own country.  It seems totally ironic to me, and even contradictory, that they should be capable of reconciling with the great enemy to the north and not be able to reconcile with those who differ with them within the island.

Photo: Caridad

What role does Fidel Castro still play in Cuban politics?  Do you think that there’s a “Raul-ism” and a “Fidel-ism” in the upper echelons of Cuban politics, and what might be the discrepancy?

YS: I think that they play very astutely the roles of good policeman and bad policeman to keep the media and the population entertained.  I believe that Fidel Castro is right now the big brake on any Cuban transition.

And regarding relations with the United States, for example?

YS:  It’s very difficult to know about this, because Fidel Castro makes very sporadic appearances and expresses himself via written reflections that are ever more meandering and chaotic; he’s been very ambiguous on the topic of relations with the United States.  I think he tries to play the part of the old 20th century anti-imperialist, but Cuban diplomacy clearly contradicts him because there are ever more photos of smiling politicians on one side and the other.

Do you believe that those relations will take yet another turn if Republican candidate Donald Trump is chosen in November?

YS: It’s difficult to foresee.  Up until now, the Republican candidate has said that he would explore the topic of maintaining the thaw and rapprochement.  In his case, the reasoning could be for economic reasons.

But it’s possible that everything would delay more?

YS: That could be, but right now the decision doesn’t lie so much with the White House.  My impression is that the White House has been giving in, putting substantial benefits on the negotiating table(…) and that nevertheless, Havana has given very little.  Now the ball is in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution.  I believe that more than what Trump does, the most important thing is what Raul Castro is going to do.

Chanel fashion show, Rolling Stones concert… What do you think of the new flood of companies, tourists and foreign personalities to a Cuba that seems to be “in vogue”?

YS: The problem with things in fashion is that later they’re out (…)  We need to move that notion of trendiness beyond frivolity and photos, and into a demand for a Cuba that is no longer a sepia-colored postcard that pleases tourists.  We’re not a Vintage country although we may have ancient facades and cars from the mid-twentieth century.  There’s also a need to promote a modern Cuba, a connected Cuba, a Cuba of young people who want to feel part of the 21st century, and not to see us as a theme park of the past.

Photo: Caridad

What do you think about the continual flight of performers, like the recent desertion of ballerinas from the Cuban National Ballet?

YS: The flight of the artists and of thousands of Cubans (…) is due to the lack of hope within the country, which is the worst failure of Raul Castro’s government, and also of the negotiations between the US and Cuba.  Almost two years after those relations began, Cubans are still fleeing because they believe that they’ll be able to live better in any other country than in their own. This is also an indicator of how little everything has advanced.

Your digital site “14yMedio” has been around for two years.  What’s the balance up until now?

YS: Well, we’ve survived, which seems to be the most heroic thing I’ve done all my life, following two years of government censorship (…) I think that’s something to congratulate ourselves about, but we want more.  We want to reach everyone so that Cubans could use the internet without being censored for it.  We want there to be a press law.  There’s a lot left to do.

Is independent journalism possible today in Cuba?

Sánchez: It’s possible, it’s possible and “14yMedio” demonstrates that.  We’re a daily that not only focuses its sights on improving the quality of the journalism we do, but in addition we’re financially autonomous.  We don’t receive a cent from the Cuban government nor from any government in the world.  You can produce free, autonomous, independent journalism of quality from the island.

YOANI SANCHEZ became known in 2006 as a Cuban who wrote in secret in her blog about the Cuban reality, dodging the censorship.  In May of 2014 she founded “14yMedio” the first independent communications media in Cuba.  Beginning in April, she moderates the weekly program “The voice of your rights” on the German television station “Deutsche Welle”.

32 thoughts on “Yoani Sanchez Talks about Cuba’s Changes

  • Fidel lives in a time warp and I honestly believe that he still believes that he is still the saviour of the Cuban people. Time to ride off into the sunset Mr Castro , o and take your brother as well , please. The Cuban people deserve so much better, retire and give them a chance for a future!

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  • I am aware that the dissidents on the island, like those in Miami, prefer a revival of the Batista-Mafia dictatorship, which they seem never to criticize, of course. I closely monitor what Josefina Vidal and Cristina Escobar have to say but understand why the mainstream U. S. media, as well as venues such as Havana Times.org, totally ignore Vidal’s and Escobar’s views. Also, the rampant political correctness that treats whatever high-profile Cuban dissidents say as the pure and absolute gospel is both cowardly and counter-productive, I believe. Occasionally providing anti-dissident points would at least indicate some fairness. There are times I disagree with Vidal and Escobar but I believe their views of Cuba are sincere…and intelligent. Thus, if either of them becomes a dissident, so will I. In the meantime, I agree with their basic philosophy, which is that Cubans on the island should predicate Cuba’s present and future, not foreigners nor cozy Cubans on the island powerfully supported by foreigners. I don’t think, for example, that Vidal or Escobar are funded from abroad. Of course, to hear or read their views, one must go to YouTube or the BBC, REUTERS, El Pais, The Guardian, etc. We all know, I reckon, what happened to top Miami journalists such as Emilio Milian and Jim DeFede when they disagreed with the Miami dissidents in regards to terror against innocent Cubans. Cowardice aligned with either political correctness or self-serving coercion demeans democratic tenets such as Freedom of the Press, Freedom of Speech, etc. That’s why I believe, as a democracy-loving American, that Cuba says a lot more about the United States than it says about Cuba.

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    • …you are aware of nothing of the sort. You lay out a false premise. The Cuba issue is not a zero sum game as you lay it out. But then again, you know this. Whatever demons are haunting you have poised your mind.

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    • You Mr. Haney have no basis whatever for declaring that dissidents in Cuba “prefer a revival of the Batista-Mafia dictatorship” You insult their intellect and indeed that of those who read your comment.

      Cubans seek to be released from Dictatorship and to experience liberty and that is what Fidel Castro promised when he said on March 16, 1959:

      “There can be no danger if we do what Cubans want, if we provide social practice and solve the substantial social problems of all Cubans of liberty, of respect for individual rights, of freedom of the press and thought, of democracy, of liberty to select their own government.”

      Obviously he was lying about his intentions.

      Accusing those with whom you disagree in pursuit of the promotion of the Castro Communist Dictatorship of “cowardice” is sinking into a moronic abyss. But that Sir, is undoubtedly where you belong.

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      • Fidel was not lying about his intentions, but when Ike turned his back on Fidel after he first asked for the help of the US government, post revolution, the US government canceled all contracts to import Cuban sugar and literally pushed Fidel and Cuba into the waiting arms of the Soviets who were more than willing to help support Cuba financially… for a price in return, of course.

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        • Reflect upon the following.
          In 1952, Fidel Castro became a candidate for the Cuban Peoples Party founded by Eduard Chibas in 1947 which had defined aims of: national identity, economic independence, social reforms, corporation and labour rights, direct democracy and respect for private ownership.
          You say that when Fidel Castro said following the revolution that: “if we do what Cubans want…..respect for individual rights, of freedom , of liberty of the press and thought, of democracy, of liberty to select their own government” that he wasn’t lying.
          In early 1961, Fidel Castro said:

          “I have been a Marxist-Leninist all along and will remain one until I die.”
          So the simple question is whether he was lying in 1959 or in 1961, for his statements are a direct contradiction.

          Further, in 1959 following the Matos ‘trial’ which he personally conducted, Fidel Castro said:

          “They have no right to accuse the revolution of being communist.”

          When during the Matos trial, Fidel Castro was questioned by Faustino Perez asking:

          ‘Is this Batistiano terror?”

          Fidel Castro responded:

          ” No, this is revolutionary terror.”

          Whichever way one contrasts these statements it is impossible to deny that the views expressed by Fidel Castro are in contradiction. I leave it up to others to decide which in their view is the lie.

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          • BOOM! ….Drop the mic!

          • I think lie is bit too strong a word. I think that the majority of historians are agreed that Fidel wasn’t a fully-fledged Marxist-Leninist in his early days. That’s why he joined the Orthodox party and there are no Marxist references in his early speeches. The change happened as part of a process which US policy played no small part. The comment about always being a Marxist can be seen as bravado after the fact as a way of sticking up two fingers to the US.

          • Those historians to whom you refer don’t believe Fidel Castro himself? So who do they believe or are they trying to re-write history?

          • I don’t know why anyone should be surprised when someone changes their mind and utters contradictory statements… politicians around the globe do this everyday. In the case of Fidel, it’s important to keep in mind that by 1961, the US had forfeited their opportunity to financially support and influence Cuba’s political direction, and Fidel was now in bed with the Soviets, and of course expected to bring Cuba into Moscow’s membership of communist satellites in exchange for financial support. The rejection of Fidel by the Eisenhower administration is something that has impacted the course of history in no uncertain terms. Fidel will no doubt pass away soon with that same resentment still festering in his heart. Had Ike supported Fidel, there is no doubt that Cuba would be a democracy today… as that is what Fidel originally wanted. The Cuban missile crisis would have never happened.

          • Not a very good or objective analysis Terry.

          • the Cuban Peoples Party was an alternate name for the Partido Ortodoxos. Fidel Castro was a candidate for that Party in 1952. The election did not take place because of the Batista coup of that year.

        • Terry, you are repeating the false narrative that it was US rejection of Fidel which drove him to the Russians. There is no evidence to support that myth.

          There is plenty of evidence to support the facts that Fidel, through his brother Raul, was in contact with the Soviets from 1955 onward. Within days of seizing power, Fidel began a series of secret meeting with top members of the Cuban Communist Party at his private villa in Cojimar. Here Fidel mapped out his strategy for directing the Revolution into a Communist dictatorship.

          For example, you stated that when Eisenhower cut the US imports of Cuban sugar, Fidel was forced to turn to the USSR for markets.

          In fact, it was in January 1960 that Fidel contracted to sell 425,000 tons of sugar to the Soviet Union and 1,000,000 tons in each of the following four years.

          The Soviet visit was followed by the arrival of an East German trade mission. In late March, Poland signed a trade agreement with Cuba.

          Several weeks later, Cuba and the Soviet Union resumed diplomatic relations which had been suspended since 1952.

          In May, Cuban authorities ordered Standard Oil, Texaco, and Shell to refine Soviet petroleum. On June 7 the companies refused, in part, because the $600,000,000 the Cuban government owed the oil companies now exceeded the value of their facilities.

          Three weeks later Cuba nationalized foreign refineries.

          Only then, in July 1960, the US retaliated by cutting Cuba’s sugar quota.

          Fidel was already in bed with the Russians in January, the US didn’t cut off Cuba until 7 months later.

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          • Griffin, please provide me with the links that document what you’ve indicated to be “plenty of evidence” to support the facts about Fidel. Thanks.

          • Just a minor correction Griffin. Raul Castro established the link with the KGB in April, 1953 a month after Stalin’s death on March 5, when he first met with Nickolai S. Leonov. This was prior to the Fidel led raid of July 26 1953 in which Raul also took part. When the brothers went to Mexico in 1955 (Raul went first followed by Fidel some six weeks later) Leonov popped up again and following the revolution became the KGB’s “Man in Havana” to pull Raul’s strings.

          • Thank you, Carlyle. An interesting thing about Leonov: he later became a senior officer in the KGB and trained a young protege, Vladimir Putin, Leonov is still alive, holds a seat in the Russian Duma, and is known to be a close advisor of Putin.

            Terry, here’s a quick set of links, which if you wish to inform yourself, you could have easily googled up:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raúl_Castro

            http://www.coldwarstudies.com/2010/12/13/cold-war-havana-prelude-to-american-sanctions/

            The important detail is the timeline of events. Fidel was already working with the Soviets, seizing US property, and installing Cuban Communists into positions of power BEFORE Eisenhower cut the sugar quotas. Therefore, it is illogical for you to argue that Castro only turned to the Russians AFTER the US cut the sugar quotas. This was Fidel’s plan all along.

            By Fidel’s own comments, he knew that his Revolucion would not survive if Cuba & the US came into open conflict. There’s no way the US would have allowed an openly Communist government to set up shop 90 miles south of Florida. Cuba needed a protector, and the USSR was the obvious choice.

            Fidel expertly manipulated both the US & the USSR. First, Fidel courted US media to convince them he was a “democrat” and certainly no communist. This bought him time before the US government would act against him. Meantime, Fidel courted trade & weapons deals with Russia as a means of binding the USSR to Cuba. The US for its part played the role of regional bully, rather ineptly as it happens, which helped Fidel radicalize the Revolution and cement his grip on power & seal the Cuba-USSR military alliance.

            Mack Lack: Contrary to the official hagiography, the Cuban Revolution did not even start until 1959. A “revolution” includes a change in the existing power structures of a given society, not just a change in the ruler. The rebellion against Batista, which had supporters from many sectors of society, had as it’s goals the removal of a dictator and the restoration of the 1940 constitution. The 26th of July Movement called themselves “rebels” not “revolutionaries”.

            Notably, the Cuban Communist Party and the trade unions which they controlled did not support the rebellion against Batista. They did not consider it a true proletarian revolution.

            It was not until after Batista had fled, Fidel seized power and sidelined his rivals that the real Cuban Revolution began. It was only when Fidel publicly declared his revolution to have a “socialist character” that the revolutionary processes began.

          • Further to Leonov Griffin, on 11th March, 2016 he gave an hour long interview on Mesa Redondo carefully and well conducted by Arleen Rodriguez not the usual rather tedious smirking Randy Falcon. At a spry 87 years of age, Leonov was carefully introduced on the program by Rodriguez as a “writer and historian” not as a retired KGB officer or as the tail that formerly wagged the Cuban revolutionary dog, he has enviably fluent Spanish and clearly had the approval of Raul Castro having just completed a biography of him in Spanish which includes numerous family photographs some with Raul actually smiling. In the course of the interview there was discussion about Raul’s marriage to Vilma Espin and the photographs include ones of them with their children, but not Raul’s others who were not mentioned. A happy Leonov was obviously enjoying the occasion and ended by noting with satisfaction: “Now the whole world is coming to Cuba.”
            He has previously written a biography of Fidel. Few realize the extent of the KGB involvement in the Cuban revolution.
            As reference for the above I can only modestly refer to “Cuba Lifting the Veil” pages 17 and 18 of the chapter on Raul Castro.

          • Very interesting! Thank you for sharing it.

            Another interesting character lurking in the background of the Cuban Revolution is Fabio Grobart (aka Antonio Blanco, aka Abraham Simjovitch).

            He was a Polish born Communist who travelled to Cuba as an agent of Stalin in order to help found the Cuban Communist Party. It has been claimed that Grobart recruited Fidel Castro as an agent in 1948. Grobart fled Cuba during the Batista dictatorship and in 1959 Che Guevara and Raúl Castro travelled to Prague and brought him back to Cuba.

            Again, it must be pointed out, Grobart’s return to Cuba, where he is credited with helping to fuse the Cuban Communist Party with Castro’s rebels, predated the US isolation of Cuba.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fabio_Grobart

      • Carlyle, we agree and disagree but this, in my opinion is an excellent post.

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      • I wouldn’t lump all dissidents in the same boat. However you just need to read their comments to see that quite a number of them are Batista sympathizers as well as being very Plattist and pro-embargo. The same can be said of a lot of the commentators on this site.

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        • How do you “see” when someone is a “Batista sympathizer”? “A Plattist”? I support the embargo but I am against all dictatorships, including the Batista dictatorship that preceded the Castro dictatorship.

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        • In Cuba dani dissidents are locked up and I was unaware that they are subsequently able to express their views. Where can I read their comments?

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    • “I am aware that the dissidents on the island, like those in Miami, prefer a revival of the Batista-Mafia dictatorship”. You apparently do not understand the causes of the Cuban Revolution, which lasted from 1953 through 1959. Fulgencio Batista’s political coup and imposed dictatorship, were the factors which led to a revolution led by Fidel Castro to overthrow Batista and his government. Unfortunately, Castro in 1961 revealed himself as a communist and with support of the USSR hijacked the revolution…

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      • Oh, he know. It’s just that this false narrative of his fits his agenda…..

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    • BREAKING NEWS: Fulgencio Batista & Meyer Lansky are long dead.

      The real Cuban dictators and gangsters are the Castros who you defend at every turn.

      Josefina Vidal and Cristina Escobar are paid mouthpieces of the Castro regime. Their job is to fool fools like you. It’s money well spent, from the Castros’ point of view.

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  • I share many of the views given by Yoani Sanchez for It was the much promoted myth over the last three years that undefined change is occurring within Cuba for Cubans which motivated me to write a book analyzing and explaining the current reality of life in Cuba and providing some historical background.
    Most visitors to Cuba are short term tourists who having received service at all inclusive tourist resorts from Doctors, teachers and other professionally qualified people attracted by the additional income from tips, are curious about the underlying causes and politics which lead to such peculiar behaviour and waste of talents and education.
    As one who has the privilege of knowing Cuba and its people well and actually experiencing and sharing their lifestyle well away from the tourist resorts and Havana, I have endeavored to write upon their behalf. I know that the Castro communist regime sycophants will instantly dismiss that which I have written without reading, but it was not my purpose to address their closed minds. If they think that my views are without basis or incorrect, they too can write a book and deny the reality.
    “Cuba, Lifting the Veil” can be found on the web. It is dedicated to the people of Cuba.
    Perhaps providing one sentence from the book explaining the requirements for Cubans seeking a quiet life, will suffice:
    “Don’t challenge the system, stay mute and exist.”
    I agree with Yoani Sanchez saying:
    “It’s a generation (the octogenearians) very obsessed with not allowing transition towards democracy, towards a market economy, towards freedom and towards respect for opposition parties.”
    The Castro communist regime rigidly demands conformity to their view, no other is permitted. That imposition has not changed over the last few years and there is no indication of any such change being introduced or anticipated.

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    • And the US government has rigidly demanded conformity to their view, no other permitted, of what’s good for Cuba too for well over 5 decades. I firmly believe the two opposing views are rigidly intertwined. The Cuban government has remained resolute in their position, and maintained their hold on power out of necessity, “in spite” of the US government and their endless attempts at unseating the Castros and destroying the revolution and the sovereignty for Cuba that they have established. I’ll always maintain that “one thing begets another”… or in this case, 3 things. If the US would simply end their economic embargo, cease all other interventionist policies, and return Guantanamo Bay to Cuba, the rest would take care of itself in due time… totally unmolested. The Cuban government, even post Castro, will never evolve politically as long as the US government continues to DEMAND that they do so, while also holding the future of Cuba’s political evolution hostage at the same time.

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    • You are writing “on the behalf” of the Cuban people ? Por favor.

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      • Yes Dan, “I have endeavored to write upon their behalf.” For Cubans living in Cuba, it is impossible for them to write about their plight. My efforts may not fully describe their difficulties, but that is what I have tried to do and to clarify that the western world’s media and politicians are misinformed about “change” occurring in the life of the average Cuban. The Castro family communist regime has not relinquished one iota of it’s control and power and there is no indication whatever that it intends so to do!

        There are those who think that the eventual passing of the Castro brothers will bring about the “change”, but they have failed to examine the records of Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, Marino Murillo Jorge and Bruno Rodriguez Carilles. The “Troika”.

        Nor have the optimists considered the members of Raul Castro’s immediate family, son General Alejandro Castro Espin and son-in-law General Rodriguez Callejas. Between them, they control over 80% of Cuba’s economy (GAESA) and its internal and external security services.

        The combination of the “Troika” and the Raul Castro family form the “Gang of Five” and if they collaborate, they will continue to hold total power. However in a Dictatorship – and Cuba is one, only one person can hold absolute power and there may be more than one of the five with that aggressive lust for personal power previously demonstrated by each of the brothers Castro.

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  • Yoani Sanchez reminds me of a Cuban friend who said to me ” When the Americans take over Cuba they will give 7us plastic cards so me can get free money just like you . ” I said ” Get me a couple of those card that will give me free money – Si !!! “

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