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).

  • April 25, 2013 at 8:18 am
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    Cuba certainly does need to modernize their banking system, and your suggestions are interesting. But you assume the regime actually wants to end the black market. As it stands, the black market is the only functioning efficient segment of the Cuban economy. And a number of well connected managers and officers benefit from the black market, diverting products and supplies to the shady network. That is the corrosive effect of corruption: it gets to a point where it’s not in the regime’s best interest to stop it.

  • April 24, 2013 at 6:38 pm
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    You make a good point, the recent economic changes are more significant than anything Fidel did in the previous 30 years. Are they enough? No, but it’s silly to say they’re not reforms. Perhaps Sanchez meant that the economic changes have not been accompanied by political reforms. In that case, she is correct. The govt has ruled out any political reforms.

    She is right about the difference in style. Fidel could gloss over any shortcoming by the force of his personality. Raul does command loyalty among the old guard, but he also needs actual results.

  • April 24, 2013 at 6:54 am
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    Moses: As Ac said you were partially right. So how much do you know about Cuba?

  • April 23, 2013 at 3:58 pm
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    You are right, but only partially. Before getting to that point, they have to create a banking culture from scratch, including trusting their customers. Basically they need some kind of provisions in place to prevent a person from getting a large loan, exchanging the money in USD, getting a raft and leaving the country. In the mean time, they are forced to deal with relatively modest loans at lower risk, then build the bank infrastructure from the scratch.

    They should start by implementing ancient technologies like debit cards and credit cards, then building a credit history on their customers before jumping to loans and mortgages, That would minimize the losses right now and once they manage to integrate into the world banking system sometime in the future, it will cripple for life the credit score of the customers that engage in such schemes, making the whole more honest,

    Also, as a nice side effect of that, they can use secure electronic transfers (cards) to put a significant dent in the black market by simply making paying with a card universally available at all shops and reducing the physical cash flow. It also makes easier the introduction of a goods and services tax (GST), a prerequisite to normalize the gap between the state employed and the self-employed and something that sooner or later must come down the line.

    Yet, after all that is said, it was a significant first step in the right direction that needs to be encouraged and expanded, not dismissed as insufficient.

  • April 23, 2013 at 3:03 pm
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    You obviously only read the headlines. Bank ‘loans’ are very small and based upon current incomes. There are NO loans based upon projected future revenues as exists elsewhere in the world. So, if all you have is your government salary and you quit your job to start a business, guess what? You don’t get the loan. You really don’t know much about the real Cuba.

  • April 23, 2013 at 1:34 pm
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    I agree with you. Typical “Sanchezisms.”. Notking new. Quite boring, the same speculations. A movement never depends on one person. So her hopes might not be fullfilled I´m afraid. And as far as ro Moses: you write that selfemployment was limitied to the ones who had the funds to start up. Its simply not true , becaus of course you didn`t bother to tell, that Banks are allowed to furnish credits to people.

  • April 23, 2013 at 10:47 am
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    So, once again we are forced to deal with her ignorant ramblings. Just for fun, here we go (again)

    “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 (…) he problem is the speed and scope of these changes. They are too slow and superficial.”

    No, is not. Besides the stupid restrictions, Raul has:
    -Created a legal framework for self-employment vs the crappy ass opening from Fidel in 2004
    -Allowed the transfer of land in usufruct to whoever wants to work it
    -Allowed the buying and selling of Houses and Cars
    -Allowed bank loans to encourage private initiative
    -Allowed the creation of worker cooperatives
    -Immigration reform

    Most of those where unthinkable under Fidel’s rule and are truly reforms. They don’t go as deep as everyone wants and don’t even start dealing with the critical issues they have, but not calling them for what they are is misleading.

    “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.”

    She is wrong again, Raul grip on power has never been linked to carisma and there is very little that anyone could have done to remove him from power. As Moses likes to point out, a seizable portion of the party echelons are his cronies and completely loyal to him and nothing but a general uprising is going to dislodge them from power.

    “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.”

    Here we go again with stupid arguments. To play good cop-bad cop, you need to alternate between harsh methods and soft methods between two cops, but Fidel is gone for good and won’t be returning anymore. So for the foreseeable future is going to be Raul style only, learn to live with it.

    “Most of the things I do professionally are prohibited in Cuba. I’ve learned to work clandestinely.”

    In other words, she is stating publicly that she knowingly violates Cuban laws and of course, once the Cuban authorities charge her with those, she will scream repression to whoever wants to hear.

    “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.”

    It never crossed mine either. Something to do with earning the bread with the sweat of your brow.

  • April 23, 2013 at 10:11 am
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    Excellent post. I could not agree with Yoani’s comments regarding Castro II reforms. His economic baby steps are obviously intended to placate a restless Cuban working class that has lost faith with the “New Man” and the triumph of the revolution. Without family support from abroad or an illegal business to generate the money to pay for a passport, let alone the foreign visa and airline ticket, most Cubans see immigration reforms as window dressing. Likewise, the ability to buy and sell cars and homes is meaningful only if you have large sums of money to do so. Even the ability to become a “cuentapropista” which means being self-employed is limited to those Cubans with the funds to pay the start-up and initial operating expenses. The average Cuban has seen little benefit from these economic tweaks. In addition, Yoani has correctly pointed out the difference between the former Venezuelan wetnurse Chavez and his acolyte Maduro with regards to Cuba’s economic future. No one realistically believes that Maduro will be able to sustain the high level of support to Cuba if he is too seriously address his own country’s internal economic woes. Finally, one can only hope that even the most dastardly of Cuban State Security agents will think twice about acosting Cuba’s most widely known citizen not named Castro. Still, I would advise her against road trips in blue sedans just yet.

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