Cuban bloggers under attack
An alleged assault on Generación Y's Yoani Sánchez demonstrates the Castro regime's fear of free expression on the web. Nick Caistor reports
16 Nov 09

An alleged assault on Generación Y’s Yoani Sánchez demonstrates the Castro regime’s fear of free expression on the web. Nick Caistor reports

Two of Cuba’s most prominent bloggers have alleged they were apprehended, taken into unmarked cars and beaten up as they were on their way to a peaceful demonstration in the Cuban capital Havana on 6 November.

The attacks left Yoani Sánchez (whose blog Generación Y has won her the Spanish Ortega y Gasset prize in 2008 and the Mary Moors Cabot award from Columbia University for Internet journalism) needing to walk with a crutch for several days.

Yoani wrote that she was bundled into a car by two men, “one of whom put his knee on my chest while the other, from the seat next to me, kept punching me in the face”. The men warned her to stop “clowning around” before dropping her off back near her home. Her companion Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo was also seized, and has posted images of the damage to his neck on his blog.

Another Cuban blogger, Claudia Cadelo, is reported to have been picked up by a police car at the same time.
The two bloggers were walking to Calle 23 and Avenue G where up to one hundred demonstrators were calling for an end to violence against anyone expressing dissenting views on the island, now ruled by Ráúl Castro, the younger brother of Fidel Castro.

According to Yoani, passers-by were told not to interfere because “these people are counter-revolutionaries”. In response, she has posted photos of the people she says keep her under constant surveillance.

Under Raúl Castro, it is no longer illegal for private individuals to own a computer, but the internet networks are kept under close watch by the Cuban Supervision and Control Agency, run by the Cuban Information Ministry. The internet situation in Cuba is complicated by the US embargo on trading with the island, which means that search engines such as Yahoo! And Google are not directly accessible.

According to Reporters without Borders, Cuban internet users face up to 20 years in prison if they post an article considered to be “counter-revolutionary” on a foreign-hosted website, and five years if they connect illegally to the international network. In one such case in 2007, Oscar Sánchez Madan, correspondent for Cubanet in Matanzas province, was sentenced to four years in prison “for tendency to social dangerousness”.

Yoani Sanchez is 32 years old, and has been posting daily on her blog since early 2007. She says Generacion Y is written “for those born in Cuba in the 70s and 80s, those marked by school camps in the countryside, Russian dolls, illegal exits, frustration”. It provides an individual, honest and often very funny comment on everyday life in Cuba, with all the hardships, petty restrictions and lack of possibilities.

Her blog is reported to receive more than a million hits per month, and is translated into 15 or more languages. This gives her many more readers outside Cuba, where Generación Y has been blocked by the authorities since March 2008.

Since the incident on 6 November, Yoani has not been able to re-establish internet connections. She now blogs via SMS messaging.

“I don’t think their attack is against the person of Yoani Sánchez, but rather against the blogger phenomenon, a phenomenon of different opinions that is taking place in Cuba,” Yoani Sánchez said in an interview with the blog Mediaite. “They still haven’t understood the potential of the web, and that these repressive measures do nothing but increase the number of hits on my blog,” she said.

There has been no official comment on the incident inside Cuba, and there is no independent confirmation of Yoani’s claims, but the Cuban authorities, under Raúl Castro, as much as when his brother was in power, continue to clamp down hard on dissenting political voices.