Yoani Sanchez: “Raul Castro’s Reforms Undermine His Power”

Sara Barderas (dpa)

Yoani Sanchez. Photo from her blog Generation Y.

HAVANA TIMES —  “Raul Castro’s reforms are a step in the right direction. The problem is the pace and the scope of these reforms.” This is how Cuban blogger and activist Yoani Sanchez refers to the economic changes and other measures which Castro is introducing in Cuba, today under the close scrutiny of the international community.

Though Sanchez does not believe these reforms are the beginning of any end, she feels that, combined with other elements that could coincide with them over the course of time, they could lead to “change”, she said during an interview with DPA held in Madrid.

The 37-year-old Sanchez has been on an international tour since February 18, the day in which, after years of trying, she was finally able to travel outside of Cuba thanks to one of these reforms: the island’s new migratory policy, which does away with the exit permit and letter of invitation that, for decades, Cubans had required to set foot outside their country.

Her tour has included the United States, Peru, Brazil and other countries. There, she spoke of her experiences as someone who uses new technologies to criticize the Cuban government. Her blog, “Generation Y”, receives over 14 million visits a month and has been translated into 20 languages. She has half a million followers on Twitter.

Sánchez is currently in Madrid, launching her book “Speaking to the World Through WordPress” (“Wordpress: Un blog para hablar al mundo”) and offering talks on Internet activism. “Technological breakthroughs, not political reforms, were what opened up a crack through which I could glimpse at the outside world and expose my reality, as I saw it.”

After Spain, the blogger will visit Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and Poland before returning to Cuba. “People have said to me I shouldn’t return to Cuba, but that has never crossed my mind,” she stresses.

Yoani is convinced this situation will now change, because “there’s no Chavismo without Chavez.” “Also, Chavez’ death means the death of the one person who could have been Fidel Castro’s symbolic heir.”

Calling what Raul Castro has been doing “reforms” is “a bit of an exaggeration”, she says, but these changes “are a step in the right direction: greater flexibility, the creation of new spaces, some economic freedom…the problem is the speed and scope of these changes. They are too slow and superficial.”

According to Sanchez, Raul Castro conceived the reforms “to remain in power”, because he lacks the “charisma” and the ability to “hypnotize the masses” his brother Fidel had. “He has to govern through concrete results. These results are still very limited, and he has had to implement a series of economic adjustments” which have become the opposite of what he intended: “reforms that undermine his power.”

And this, combined “with the crisis in Venezuela and the potential suspension of the subsidy Havana receives from that country, combined with the growth of civil society and sectors that are increasingly critical of the government, as well as with biological inevitability (the people in power are dying), will lead us to change,” she affirms.

Sanchez believes Hugo Chavez’ death dealt “the Cuban government a rather powerful blow”, at both the economic and ideological level. “Over the past 13 or 14 years, the Cuban State has remained afloat chiefly thanks to Chávez’ economic and political aid, thanks to his oil shipments,” the activist explains.

Yoani is convinced this situation will now change, because “there’s no Chavismo without Chavez.” “Also, Chavez’ death means the death of the one person who could have been Fidel Castro’s symbolic heir.”

Sánchez compares Fidel’s and Raul’s style of leadership: “There’s been a change in the repressive tone of government discourse. It’s neither better nor worse. Fidel’s administration was more of a reality show: he liked to impose harsh sentences on dissidents. Raul prefers more concealed forms of repression. They’re doing the good-cop-bad-cop routine. They’re trying to present Fidel as the stumbling block which prevents the reforms from having a greater scope and faster pace. It’s a huge farce.”

Sanchez notes that the tour has served to “confirm the absurdities” one experiences in Cuba. “It’s as though I’ve stepped into a time machine and leaped from medieval times to the present”.

The blogger’s international tour is coming to an end. She will soon return to Cuba, where she fears she will face reprisals for everything she has been saying during her trip. “You come, you get everything off your chest, you feel like a free person, you’re given a chance to express yourself, but, once you set foot in Havana, it’s as though you were physically gagged.”

“There are hard times ahead. There’s probably a mud-slinging campaign in store for me, a massive, ferocious program that will hurl all imaginable insults at me on national television. I have the feeling, though, that I’ going to be spared a considerable number of arrests and even some beatings thanks to the exposure I’ve gotten during this trip, at least for a few months,” Sanchez muses.

Sanchez notes that the tour has served to “confirm the absurdities” one experiences in Cuba. “It’s as though I’ve stepped into a time machine and leaped from medieval times to the present”. The activist has a new project in the works: the creation of a digital journal that will also be available as a PDF, to be distributed among Cubans on flash drives or CDs.

Sánchez, who writes articles for the Spanish paper El País, knows such a project is prohibited in Cuba. “Most of the things I do professionally are prohibited in Cuba. I’ve learned to work clandestinely.” She’s already got the name for her publication. “I can’t tell you what it is yet. When you see it, you’ll say: ‘That’s the perfect name for it’.”

Despite the visibility she has achieved through her activism, Sánchez does not see herself becoming a politician in the future. “I lack the hypocrisy for that,” she tells us. “I can be of greater use to my country in the press, that’s where you can put politicians back in their place.”


9 thoughts on “Yoani Sanchez: “Raul Castro’s Reforms Undermine His Power”

  • April 26, 2013 at 5:18 am
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    Functioning, but not efficient. In Cuba’s case, the black market is a black hole that eats a significant portion of the production without leaving a revenue trail to the government.

    Of course corrupted officers love it, but those are unlikely to be at the political decision-making level. At least Raul is trying hard to tackle corruption, and this is the kind of action that tends to solve naturally the issue without even trying.

    Besides, right now they are at a crossroad, with an important opening in the private sector and having a workforce divided in two types, the state employee with all the fees magically applied and the heavily taxed self-employed where all money flows are explicit.

    They can’t keep up that situation for any prolonged amount of time, at some time the onerous tax will become a social justice issue and the only fair solution I can see is to make explicit the hidden social tax in the state employee paycheck and introduce a GST for everyone (most likely by raising state employee salaries a certain percent and charging that extra percent in ALL transactions, for everyone).

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