Faithful to Fidel

A profile of the Castro dictatorship’s operatives in Mexico by Carlos Puig in The New York Times:

Faithful to Fidel
Mexican pro-Cuba activists burned a U.S. flag outside Mexico City's Senate building on March 12 while Cuba's best-known dissident, the blogger Yoani Sánchez, gave a lecture inside.

MEXICO CITY — In a country with barely any Internet access, the activist Yoani Sánchez has managed, with a blog and a Twitter account as her only tools, to tell the outside world about repression in Cuba. This has brought her a couple of arrests and a dozen international awards, including a special mention from the Maria Moors Cabot Prize committee and the Ortega y Gasset prize for online journalism.

But in Mexico, Cuba’s most famous dissident was given a decidedly a cool welcome.

A couple of weeks ago, Sánchez finally got an exit visa to leave Cuba and started a three-month tour that will take her across Latin America, the United States and Europe. Her first stop in Mexico was in Puebla, two hours from Mexico City, at the annual meeting of the Inter American Press Association. When some of her Mexican friends asked politicians and nongovernmental organizations to host an event in her honor, they found no takers. At the conference itself she was harassed and insulted. Organizations no one had ever heard of published manifestos in local newspapers repudiating her visit.

Earlier this week, Senator Roberto Gil Zuarth invited Sánchez to the Senate in Mexico City to give a lecture on freedom of expression and social media. When, well past the announced starting time, Gil finally opened the talk, the room had filled up with journalists and civilians but only four of the 20 front-row seats reserved for senators were occupied.

Sánchez is tall and thin. She writes well and speaks even better. Her Cuban accent sweetened her acid take on the Castros’ regime. She said she would never permanently leave Cuba. She said she would not stop writing on her blog or tweeting. She said she wanted to see an end to the U.S. embargo. She got a round of applause.

When the time came for the Q. and A., a man asked, “How many of your 450,000 Twitter followers are real?” The tone of challenge was unmistakable.

The second question was also provocative: “If you really want to change Cuba, why don’t you do it from the inside, working from inside the Cuban Communist Party? You would not be as famous, or make so much money, but it may work better.”

The third question was about Sánchez’s supposedly close relationship with the U.S. Interest Section in Havana.

Sánchez smiled. As she began to answer the questions, a woman in the audience stood up, an American flag in one hand and a bunch of fake $100 bills in the other. The woman yelled: “Sánchez no es Cubana. Es una gusana.” (“Sánchez is not Cuban. She is a worm.”) A second woman stood up and said the same.

Did the Cuban government orchestrate the incident? Possibly. The Brazilian magazine Veja reported that the Cuban ambassador in Brazil organized a smear campaign for Sánchez’s visit to that country the third week of February.

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