Connect to share and comment

Yoani Sanchez vs. the state

How will Cuba deal with a 34-year-old blogger with spotty internet and a massive global following?

The incident was the first serious retribution Sanchez has faced for her activities, and condemnation has been raining down on the Cuban government all week — from U.S.-based human rights groups, Democratic and Republican leaders and the Obama administration, which has taken incremental steps in recent months to improve relations with Havana.

“The U.S. government strongly deplores the assault on bloggers Yoani Sanchez, Orlando Luis Pardo, and Claudia Cadelo,” said State Department spokesman Ian Kelly, listing the names of other bloggers who were detained with Sanchez. “We call on the Government of Cuba to ensure the full respect of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all its citizens.”

In recent months, a confrontation with Cuban authorities has been building, as Sanchez made several forays from the virtual world of her blog into real world forms of activism. She has organized blogging workshops, staged small protest actions and wore a blond wig to sneak into a discussion forum on the internet last month, where she delivered a blistering critique of government censorship.

Sanchez’s actions hardly amount to full-fledged street protest or serious political organization. But the Cuban government has responded harshly to organized dissent in the past, especially when Castro opponents on the island develop the kind of international profile Sanchez has.

To some Cuba observers, Sanchez’s trajectory parallels previous crackdowns on Castro government opponents. When Cuban dissidents grew increasingly outspoken and organized earlier this decade, their movement was squashed in a March 2003 roundup. In summary trials, 75 were convicted of working in league with U.S. and foreign diplomats trying undermine the government. Several received sentences of 20 years or more.

Baruch College professor Ted Henken, who studies Cuba’s blogger movement and has interviewed Sanchez, wrote Tuesday that her detention fits a familiar pattern in the long U.S.-Cuba standoff. Whenever relations with the U.S. seem to be on the mend, the process is derailed by an incident in Cuba that provokes an international outcry.

“These cases teach us that Obama should move forward on further engagement and dialogue based not on the good or bad behavior of Havana, but on the interests of the United States and the well being of the Cuban people,” Hencken said. “Conditioning future steps toward a better relationship on actions in Havana only puts the Cuban government, not the U.S. government or the Cuban people, in the driver's seat.”