Yoani Sanchez’s Direct Line to Obama

By Circles Robinson

From Havanas west side.  Photo: Caridad
From Havana's west side. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, Nov. 19 – How many people in the United States and the world would like to send a list of questions directly to Barack Obama?

Most would just assume that the US president himself would never see their questions, much less give them a direct answer.

However, that wasn’t the case for Cuba’s hottest blogger, Yoani Sanchez.

The Havana resident’s blog Generation Y is a scathing condemnation of the Cuban government that presents grim descriptions of daily life on the island while accenting antiquated aspects and contradictions in the system to get her message across.

Shortly after Sanchez won the first in a series of foreign journalism awards in early 2008, her site – now published in 18 languages- was blocked from viewing in Cuba, but she and her supporters have managed to circulate her writings and those of other blocked bloggers on discs and memory sticks to a limited number of islanders.

The following are the verbatim questions that Sanchez sent to President Obama, as well as the full response from the White House.  We also include another list of questions that Sanchez says she sent to Cuban President Raul Castro.

From President Obama:

Thank you for this opportunity to exchange views with you and your readers in Cuba and around the world and congratulations on receiving the Maria Moore Cabot Prize award from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism for coverage of Latin America that furthers inter-American understanding. You richly deserve the award. I was disappointed you were denied the ability to travel to receive the award in person.

Your blog provides the world a unique window into the realities of daily life in Cuba. It is telling that the Internet has provided you and other courageous Cuban bloggers with an outlet to express yourself so freely, and I applaud your collective efforts to empower fellow Cubans to express themselves through the use of technology. The government and people of the United States join all of you in looking forward to the day all Cubans can freely express themselves in public without fear and without reprisals.

Yoani Sanchez:  For years, Cuba has been a U.S. foreign policy issue as well as a domestic one, in particular because of the large Cuban American community.  From your perspective, in which of the two categories should the Cuban issue fit?

Barack Obama: All foreign policy issues involve domestic components, especially issues concerning neighbors like Cuba from which the United States has a large immigrant population and with which we have a long history of relations. Our commitment to protect and support free speech, human rights, and democratic governance at home and around the world also cuts across the foreign policy/domestic policy divide. Also, many of the challenges shared by our two countries, including migration, drug trafficking, and economic issues, involve traditional domestic and foreign policy concerns. Thus, U.S. relations with Cuba are rightly seen in both a foreign and domestic policy context.

YS: Should your administration be willing to put an end to this dispute, would it recognize the legitimacy of the Raul Castro government as the only valid interlocutor in the eventual talks?

BO: As I have said before, I am prepared to have my administration engage with the Cuban government on a range of issues of mutual interest as we have already done in the migration and direct mail talks. It is also my intent to facilitate greater contact with the Cuban people, especially among divided Cuban families, which I have done by removing U.S. restrictions on family visits and remittances.

We seek to engage with Cubans outside of government as we do elsewhere around the world, as the government, of course, is not the only voice that matters in Cuba. We take every opportunity to interact with the full range of Cuban society and look forward to the day when the government reflects the freely expressed will of the Cuban people.

YS: has the U.S. government renounced the use of military force as the way to end the dispute?

BO: The United States has no intention of using military force in Cuba. The United States supports increased respect for human rights and for political and economic freedoms in Cuba, and hopes that the Cuban government will respond to the desire of the Cuban people to enjoy the benefits of democracy and be able to freely determine Cuba’s future. Only the Cuban people can bring about positive change in Cuba and it is our hope that they will soon be able to exercise their full potential.

YS: Raul Castro has said publicly that he is open to discuss any topic with the U.S. provided there is mutual respect and a level playing field.  Is Raul asking too much?

BO: For years, I have said that it is time to pursue direct diplomacy, without preconditions, with friends and foes alike. I am not interested, however, in talking for the sake of talking. In the case of Cuba, such diplomacy should create opportunities to advance the interests of the United States and the cause of freedom for the Cuban people.

We have already initiated a dialogue on areas of mutual concern – safe, legal, and orderly migration, and reestablishing direct mail service. These are small steps, but an important part of a process to move U.S.-Cuban relations in a new and more positive, direction. Achieving a more normal relationship, however, will require action by the Cuban government.

YS: In a hypothetical U.S.-Cuba dialogue, would you entertain participation from the Cuban exile community, the Cuba-based opposition groups and nascent Cuban civil society groups?

BO: When considering any policy decision, it is critical to listen to as many diverse voices as possible. When it comes to Cuba, we do exactly that. The U.S. government regularly talks with groups and individuals inside and outside of Cuba that have an interest in our relations. Many do not always agree with the Cuban government; many do not always agree with the United States government; and many do not agree with each other. What we should all be able to agree on moving forward is the need to listen to the concerns of Cubans who live on the island. This is why everything you are doing to project your voice is so important – not just for the advancement of the freedom of expression itself, but also for people outside of Cuba to gain a better understanding of the life, struggles, joys, and dreams of Cubans on the island.

YS: You strongly support the development of new communication and information technologies. but, Cubans continue to have limited access to the internet.  How much of this is due to the U.S. embargo and how much of it is the responsibility of the Cuban government?

BO: My administration has taken important steps to promote the free flow of information to and from the Cuban people particularly through new technologies. We have made possible greater telecommunications links to advance interaction between Cuban citizens and the outside world. This will increase the means through which Cubans on the island can communicate with each other and with persons outside of Cuba, for example, by expanding opportunities for fiber optic and satellite transmissions to and from Cuba. This will not happen overnight. Nor will it have its full effect without positive actions by the Cuban government. I understand the Cuban government has announced a plan to provide Cubans greater access to the Internet at post offices. I am following this development with interest and urge the government to allow its people to enjoy unrestricted access to the internet and to information. In addition, we welcome suggestions regarding areas in which we can further support the free flow of information within, from, and to Cuba.

YS: Would you be willing to travel to our country?

BO: I would never rule out a course of action that could advance the interests of the United States and advance the cause of freedom for the Cuban people. At the same time, diplomatic tools should only be used after careful preparation and as part of a clear strategy. I look forward to visit a Cuba in which all citizens enjoy the same rights and opportunities as other citizens in the hemisphere.

Questions for Raul Castro, president of Cuba:

  1. What negative influences on the ideological structure of the Cuban revolution might there be from an eventual improvement in relations with the United States?
  2. You have demonstrated on several occasions your willingness to talk with the American government. Are you alone in this proposition? Have you discussed it with the other members of the Politburo to convince them of the need to talk? Does your brother Fidel Castro agree with regards to ending the conflict between the two governments?
  3. You are seated at a table opposite Obama. What are the three major achievements you would wish to get from that conversation? What do you think would be the three major achievements that the American side would wish to get?
  4. Can you list the concrete advantages the Cuban people would have in the present and in the future, if this long dispute between the two governments ended?
  5. If the American side wanted to include a round of negotiations with the Cuban community in exile, members of opposition parties within the Island, and representatives of civil society, would you accept that proposal?
  6. Do you think there is a real possibility that the current United States government would opt to use military force against Cuba?
  7. Would you invite Obama to visit Cuba, as a gesture of good will?

9 thoughts on “Yoani Sanchez’s Direct Line to Obama

  • Dear Elaine, no since 46 years ago there is no direct mail service between the US and Cuba. Officials from the two countries met not long ago to discuss the possibility of reopening up the service. So far no decision or action has been taken. Best, Circles

  • Is there really direct mail serivce between Cuba y los EEUU? How can it be addressed ?

  • A cursory reading of Yoani’s website & videos makes clear that she, knowlingly or otherwise, is being made use of by those forces who specialize in staging “color revolutions” worldwide. This confirms what I reasonably assumed both from reading postings on this website & elsewhere, & from simple logic of imperialist praxis. These people, whatever their legitimate grievances, are being manipulated by outside forces — as the cuban government is clearly well aware of. However, the proper response is NOT for the State to create situations whereby priests & nuns et al. (do nuns still exist in Cuba? Ick.) can thus portray themselves as latter-day saints & martyrs — as was so wildly successful with the imperialist manipulation of e.g. Solidarnos’c’ in Poland & middling-so elsewhere since. Fidel Castro called for a “Battle of Ideas”? Well, a battle of IDEAS it must be now — since any underdog who has lost that, will certainly lose the more concrete battles which will follow.

  • Yoani Sanchez has many admirers on the political left including myself. Yoani advocates democratic governance, civil liberties and social justice for all Cubans, rather than the political tyranny, repression and the convertible currency/Cuban peso class system that has been imposed by the Castro regime.

  • Here’s one concrete option open to cuban socialists and their friends, in any uncensored cuban “blogosphere”: go onto these Reichwing blog sites, and try to reason with these rabid, unhinged people in the comments sections… That is what ‘dialog’ is all about, right? And when they — invariably — start censoring *your* comments; well, then you have them, don’t you..?

  • Obama was chosen by the Wall St. imperialists for exactly the reason that his ‘persona’ confuses people about the true nature of the U.S. régime and finally offers “hope” and “change” — where there is in fact little chance of either. Barack Obama is a liar and a war criminal, like those who occupied his position before him; and all you need is to see U.S. actions in the World — and specifically in América Latina — to know that he is a liar.

    And the cuban government should indeed let the rightwingers blogger blog on, uncensored. There is no other way to march towards any true socialism that is open and freer than anything the capitalists have to offer. Criticism, fair or foul, must be allowed. Open subversion OTOH is another matter entirely. But then, the cuban state and its supporters have many resources at their disposal to handle that, right?

    So stop with the petty bureaucratic harrassment — or police provocations. It is wrong, un-socialist, policy.

  • Hmmm…wonder if Obama actually read/answered Yoani’s questions, or if this is the work of one of his PR flacks? The circumscribed language certainly sounds like Obama’s; yet at the same time, it is also that painfully convoluted line of Obama’s administration (at least an improvement on the outright hostility of the previous administration). Whether Bush or Obama, however, they both smack of hypocracy, since both current and past U.S. administrations embrace nations whose policies on human rights make Cuba’s seem like a joint convention of the A.C.L.U. and A.I.. Incidentally, I think it an error in practice for the Cuban government to surpress Yoani in any way. Let her rant on! Who listens to her, anyway, or comments on her blog? For the most part those who get all their news from the Fox Channel, old Miami troglodytes, and others with an axe to grind against the Revolution. By only accentuating the negative in her nightmarish immages of Cuba, she looses credibility.

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