Monday, August 2, 2010

The New Challenge to Repressive Cuba

by Daniel Wilkinson

New York Review of Books
August 17, 2010

For decades, the Castro government has been very effective in repressing dissent in Cuba by, among other things, preventing its critics from publishing or broadcasting their views on the island. Yet in recent years the blogosphere has created an outlet for a new kind of political criticism that is harder to control. Can it make a difference?

There are more than one hundred unauthorized bloggers in Cuba, including at least two dozen who are openly critical of the government. The best known of their blogs, Generation Y, gets more than a million visitors a month and is translated into fifteen languages. Its author, thirty-four-year-old Yoani Sánchez, has won major journalism awards in the US and Europe and in 2008 Time magazine named her one of the world’s one hundred most influential people. Sánchez has set up a “blogger academy” in her apartment, and she helped found the website, Voces Cubanas, which hosts the work of thirty independent bloggers.

Like other government critics, these bloggers face reprisals. Last November, for example, Sánchez reported being detained and beaten by Cuban security agents. Weeks later, her husband and fellow blogger, Reinaldo Escobar, was subject to an “act of repudiation” by an angry mob of government supporters on a Havana street. Such public harassment, as Nik Steinberg and I reported in our recent New York Review piece, is commonly used against “dissidents” on the island, along with police surveillance, loss of employment, and restrictions on travel.1
(The Cuban government requires its citizens to obtain permission to leave the island, and those marked as “counterrevolutionaries” are generally denied it.)