Cuba: Yoani Sanchez & Other Bloggers Seized

Perhaps it was only a matter of time, but Yoaní Sánchez, Cuba's most famous blogger, who has received countless international awards for her activism, was detained briefly and beaten by Cuban authorities on November 6, along with fellow bloggers, Claudia Cadelo (a Global Voices contributor) and Orlando Luís Pardo Lazo. The three were on their way to an anti-violence march in the Cuban capital, Havana.

Spanish blogger Rosa Jiménez Cano, who works at the Spanish news daily El País, reported that she received the following SMS text meessage from Yoaní around 2am Madrid time:

Fui detenida junto a Orlando L. Pardo y Claudia Cadelo nos llevaron a la fuerza estilo siciliano. Golpes. Nos dejaron tirados en una esquina.

I was arrested along with Orlando L. Pardo and Claudia Cadelo they carried us off sicilian style. Knocks. We were left lying in a corner.

The morning after the events, Yoaní posted the following account on her blog:

Cerca de la calle 23 y justo en la rotonda de la Avenida de los Presidente, fue que vimos llegar en un auto negro –de fabricación china– a tres fornidos desconocidos: ‘Yoani, móntate en el auto’ me dijo uno mientras me aguantaba fuertemente por la muñeca. Los otros dos rodeaban a Claudia Cadelo, Orlando Luís Pardo Lazo y una amiga que nos acompañaba a una marcha contra la violencia. Ironías de la vida, fue una tarde cargada de golpes, gritos y malas palabras la que debió transcurrir como una jornada de paz y concordia. Los mismos ‘agresores’ llamaron a una patrulla que se llevó a mis otras dos acompañantes, Orlando y yo estábamos condenados al auto de matrícula amarilla, al pavoroso terreno de la ilegalidad y la impunidad del Armagedón.

Me negué a subir al brillante Geely y exigimos nos mostraran una identificación o una orden judicial para llevarnos. Claro que no enseñaron ningún papel que probara la legitimidad de nuestro arresto. Los curiosos se agolpaban alrededor y yo gritaba ‘Auxilio, estos hombres nos quieren secuestrar’, pero ellos pararon a los que querían intervenir con un grito que revelaba todo el trasfondo ideológico de la operación: ‘No se metan, estos son unos contrarrevolucionarios’. Ante nuestra resistencia verbal, tomaron el teléfono y dijeron a alguien que debió ser su jefe: ‘¿Qué hacemos? No quieren subir al auto’. Imagino que del otro lado la respuesta fue tajante, porque después vino una andanada de golpes, empujones, me cargaron con la cabeza hacia abajo e intentaron colarme en el carro. Me aguanté de la puerta… golpes en los nudillos… alcancé a quitarle un papel que uno de ellos llevaba en el bolsillo y me lo metí en la boca. Otra andanada de golpes para que les devolviera el documento.

Near 23rd Street, just at the Avenida de los Presidentes roundabout, we saw a black car, made in China, pull up with three heavily built strangers. ‘Yoani, get in the car,’ one told me while grabbing me forcefully by the wrist. The other two surrounded Claudia Cadelo, Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, and a friend who was accompanying us to the march against violence. The ironies of life, it was an evening filled with punches, shouts and obscenities on what should have passed as a day of peace and harmony. The same ‘aggressors’ called for a patrol car which took my other two companions, Orlando and I were condemned to the car with yellow plates, the terrifying world of lawlessness and the impunity of Armageddon.

I refused to get into the bright Geely-made car and we demanded they show us identification or a warrant to take us. Of course they didn’t show us any papers to prove the legitimacy of our arrest. The curious crowded around and I shouted, ‘Help, these men want to kidnap us,’ but they stopped those who wanted to intervene with a shout that revealed the whole ideological background of the operation, ‘Don’t mess with it, these are counterrevolutionaries.’ In the face of our verbal resistance they made a phone call and said to someone who must have been the boss, ‘What do we do? They don’t want to get in the car.’ I imagine the answer from the other side was unequivocal, because then came a flurry of punches and pushes, they got me with my head down and tried to push me into the car. I held onto the door… blows to my knuckles… I managed to take a paper one of them had in his pocket and put it in my mouth. Another flurry of punches so I would return the document to them.

Yoaní's post goes on to describe further brutality inflicted on herself and Orlando, and their eventual release:

Nos dejaron tirados y adoloridos en una calle de la Timba, una mujer se acercó ‘¿Qué les ha pasado?'… ‘Un secuestro’, atiné a decir. Lloramos abrazados en medio de la acera, pensaba en Teo, por Dios cómo voy a explicarle todos estos morados. Cómo voy a decirle que vive en un país donde ocurre esto, cómo voy a mirarlo y contarle que a su madre, por escribir un blog y poner sus opiniones en kilobytes, la han violentado en plena calle. Cómo describirle la cara despótica de quienes nos montaron a la fuerza en aquel auto, el disfrute que se les notaba al pegarnos, al levantar mi saya y arrastrarme semidesnuda hasta el auto.

We were left aching, lying in a street in Timba, a woman approached, ‘What has happened?'… ‘A kidnapping,’ I managed to say. We cried in each others arms in the middle of the sidewalk, thinking about Teo, for God’s sake how am I going to explain all these bruises. How am I going to tell him that we live in a country where this can happen, how will I look at him and tell him that his mother, for writing a blog and putting her opinions in kilobytes, has been beaten up on a public street. How to describe the despotic faces of those who forced us into that car, their enjoyment that I could see as they beat us, their lifting my skirt as they dragged me half naked to the car.

At the time of writing, Yoaní's post had attracted 1,412 comments.

Claudia also quickly entered her version of the incident on her blog:

We refused to get in the car, there were three of them and they threatened us:

‘Get in the car, now.’
‘Let us see your documents, or bring a policeman.’

Orlando had his cell phone in his hand. ‘Pardo, don’t record,’ said the one in the orange shirt, and I got my cell out. Nobody noticed me, I sent the first Tweet… In less than three minutes a patrol car came up with a couple of cops—a woman and a man—completely dumbstruck by the scene. The carried out their orders almost in slow motion, the woman told me:

‘Don’t resist.’

‘They are undocumented,’ it occurred to me to enlighten her.

Yoani was clinging to a bush, I was clinging to her waist, and the woman was pulling me by the leg. They had already dragged Orlando off, outside my field of vision. A man at the bus-stop looked on with an expression of terror, people didn’t say a single word. The officer, very young, got me in an armlock that immobilized me. I could have kicked a little but I was too astonished at seeing Yoani’s legs sticking out the rear window of the State Security car.

Her post goes on to relate the chain of events in great detail, but she ends on a triumphant note:

Then the first call came, with a 00 international prefix, and I knew nothing had been in vain, even if we had all been arrested and the march suspended. When, later, I saw the video that Ciro brought me, I knew for certain: They lost; it's the countdown.

Commenting on the incident, diaspora blogger Uncommon Sense expresses some surprise, since “those of us overseas who presume that because Yoani, Claudia and the others are so well known, the Castro dictatorship would never dare arrest them.” Yet arrest them they reportedly did. He continues:

Of course, we should never be surprised at what the regime does when it comes to trying to silence its opposition on the island.

And we should never underestimate the importance of the protection we provide every time we read one of their blogs. Obviously, it doesn't provide them absolute immunity, but it is conceivable that someone like Yoani Sanchez would have a long ago been locked away in the Castro gulag were it not for the fact that she is so well known.

What you provide them with each click is the moral support vital for their continuing struggle for freedom.

Meanwhile, Babalu Blog, after publishing the story as breaking news, kept updating the post as more details became available, including an 8:15 am entry showing evidence of physical abuse via a photo that was sent to Penultimos Dias by Orlando Luis Pardo. Cuban American Pundits‘ John R. learned of Yoani's detention from Babalu and goes on to comment:

It can only be said that the Cuba Governement is afraid, and that these heirs to Cuba's future are extremely brave.

The blog also searched mainstream media sites to determine how big the story was and was disappointed to learn that “the only thing CNN is covering on Cuba is how Miller Beer and Haagen Dazs ice cream may be sold in Cuba — for a premium nonetheless. As Cuban citizens are sequestered and beaten for their exercising of free speech, Chicago food (and other companies) are negotiating how beer and ice cream are to be sold on the island.” (CNN eventually went on to cover the story of the bloggers’ seizure.) The post goes on to comment on the U.S. economic embargo against the island, saying:

For those who claim that a new era has dawned on Cuba should take a close look at the incident that happened with a peaceful group of Cuban bloggers. Nothing has changed. Oppression remains in the cities while luxury and freedom exudes in the resorts.

I don't know about you, but I'm no longer eating Hagen Dazs ice cream nor drinking Miller beer.

Oswaldo Payá of the Movimiento Cristiano Liberación issued a statement expressing solidarity with Sánchez and other victims of repression. My big, fat Cuban family is also standing in solidarity with her Cuban sisters:

I have the supreme luxury of writing about anything that excites or amuses me at any given time. And I do.

Today I want to make you aware if you're not already, of a group of dissident bloggers presently under fire for blogging in Cuba.

Unlike me, they write about the everyday indignities of living in castro's gulag. You understand, of course, that in a communist country, dissension is not just discouraged, it is oftentimes attacked.

Yet these brave bloggers persist…Tonight, Yoani Sanchez and a group of dissidents were picked up, harassed, detained and beaten as they prepared to attend, ironically, a demonstration against the use of violence.

They knew and called her by name and forced her into a car where she figured that this was a kidnapping which would end in her execution. Although she and her dissident companions were beaten severely they were subsequently released.

Her safety lies here. On blogs like mine.

Along the Malecon
gives some background to the incident and firmly believes that “the legend of Yoani Sanchez grew Friday after Cuban authorities snatched her off the street, shoved her into a car and roughed her up before freeing her”:

Luis Eligio, of the counterculture group OMNI-Zona Franca, and two rappers organized the march. On Oct. 20, Sanchez was one of more than 10 bloggers who staged a ‘virtual protest’ using Tweets, cell phone text messages and blog posts to call for the release of political prisoners. All this puts the socialist government in a tough spot. The more force authorities use, the easier it will be for opposition activists to recruit followers. These incidents also help galvanize international support for Sanchez and other bloggers. This support grows at an exponential rate, colonizing cyberspace and making it difficult for the Cuban government to effectively counter.

In a separate post, the blogger highlights the views of those who are a tad sceptical about the whole event, one of whom is Cuban journalist Vladia Rubio Jiménez, who writes in her blog:

Francamente, me resulta bien oscuro el asunto. ¿A partir de ahora seremos testigos de “espontáneas” marchas de protesta? ¿Contra qué violencia estaban pronunciándose esos muchachos con sus abstractos carteles? ¿Sería contra la que está ocurriendo en Afganistán, Honduras, o contra lo acontecido en la más importante base militar norteamericana donde un enloquecido disparó y dejó muertas a 13 personas y varios heridos?

Frankly, I find the matter rather shady. From now on will we ‘spontaneous’ protest marches? Violence against what were these guys demonstrating with their signs? Would it be against what is happening in Afghanistan, Honduras, or against what happened on the biggest U.S. military base where a madman shot and left 13 people dead and several injured?

She continues:

Por lo que leo, parece haber sido una manifestación organizada sobre todo a través de algunos blogs, entre ellos Octavo Cerco; y también me asombra ver las posibilidades tecnológicas de que disponen: teléfonos celulares, rápidas conexiones a Internet que incluso les permiten subir los videos… En ninguna parte dice con claridad quién convocó esa marcha.

From what I read, it seems to have been a demonstration organized mainly through some blogs, including Octavo Cerco and it also amazes me to see the available technology at their disposal: cell phones, fast Internet connections that even allow them to upload videos… Nowhere does it say clearly who called for that march.

Yohandry's Weblog echoes her sceptisicm:

Pero bien, Claudia Cadelo dejó este vídeo en su blog. No comprendo cómo pueden subir sus videos a Youtube tan rápido, pero allí está. Ella misma por Twitter dijo que no había llegado hasta el performance, además de que explicó que estaba detenida.

Cómo pudo hacer Twitter detenida, cómo subió el video desde un carro de la policía?

Entra en acción Yoani Sánchez. Ahora bien, Yoani Sánchez cuenta a las siempre listas agencias y emisoras que tienen la misión de cubrir sus actividades lo ocurrido con ella y otros bloggers que se encaminaban al performance, quizás con el objetivo de provocar, nadie sabe.

Les dejo la grabación, ¡esos medios tan ágiles al servicio de Yoani! Adelanto que cuenta que ella tiene celular, computadora y seguirá haciendo Twitter, cosa que no acabo de comprender, cuando ella misma dice que no tiene libertad para trabajar en Cuba.

Y yo esperaré ahora la otra versión de lo ocurrido. Como dice el dicho, siempre hay un ojo que te ve.

But well, Claudia Cadelo left this video on her blog. I do not understand how they can upload their videos on YouTube so fast, but there it is. She even said on Twitter that she had not been able to get to the performance, and she explained why she was detained.

How could she have been on Twitter while she was detained? How did she upload the video from a police car?

Yoani Sánchez enters the scene. Well, lets see, Yoani Sánchez tells the agencies and stations, whose mission is to readily cover her events, what happened to her and to other bloggers who were going to the performance. Maybe with the intention of provoking. No one knows.

Here is the recording. These media act so rapidly to service Yoani! I must say that she has a cell phone, a computer, and she will keep on using Twitter, something I simply cannot understand when she says that she has no freedom to work in Cuba.

And I will wait for the next version of the incident. Like the saying says: there is always an eye that sees you.

Social media users are certainly keeping a close eye on developments. Even as Claudia tweeted about the incident, apparently while it was happening – “Estoy detenida” was her first entry – her Twitter followers have shown their support, with one user calling her “muy valiente” (“very brave”).

The thumbnail image used in this post, “The Freedom of Speech”, is by Caveman 92223, used under a Creative Commons license. Visit Caveman 92223's flickr photostream.

Georgia Popplewell and Firuzeh Shokooh Valle contributed to this post.


  • John R. Bomar

    …With worsening conditions on the Animal Farm Island some animals, the young brave ones, began to speak out against the tyranny of the ruling pigs and the desperate conditions among most of the farm animals. This blatent and outrageous “treason” enraged the enforcer pig bosses and they sent word out that they would turn a blind eye to anyone who wanted to “re-educate” the dissenters. So three of the most privileged and dedicated dead-in-the-face enforcers watched and waited, eventually catching a small group of the most prominant “counter-revoltionaries” on their way to a public march. With professional zeal the fat curly-tails inflicted terrible pain on the group, careful to leave no marks of their brutality.

    To “make them pay” in suffering — without any evidence of the terror was their goal. The enforcers had been well trained, and their clever and ruthless scheeming did not show, only recorded in the ethers of heaven above.

  • brainfood

    On Yohandry and Vladia Rubio blogs: Those blogs are known Cuba’s dictatorship apologist entities (notice the .cu location, which identifies a site as property of the Cuban government, also the obvious naming wordplay, aimed to stir identity confusion)

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