Yoani Sánchez and Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, Cuban dissident bloggers and writers, visited Georgetown on Wednesday to discuss the uses and benefits of social media under the Castro regime in the context of freedom of speech. The event, “Cuba and the Digital Revolution,” was organized by the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy, the Georgetown Government Department, and several student groups.
Pardo Lazo, who is also known for being a freelance writer and photographer, spoke about the power blogging can bring in a society where free expression, even if it is not critical of the government, is repressed.
Blogging critically has led to his being arrested several times without charges as a threat, but he finds the benefits of such expression worth it. He discussed a blog’s ability to create bridges not only between Cubans and between Cuban-Americans, but also among people around the world.
“In the middle of repression, in the middle of stigmatization … I have been enjoying making my blog,” said Pardo Lazo, known for his blog, Lunes de Post-Revolución. He stressed that the price for such dissidence could be as high as his life as he introduced Sánchez, who has also experienced such instances of intimidation for her critical writing.
Sánchez is best known for her blog, Generación Y, on which she is often critical of the government and depicts daily Cuban life to millions of people each day. She has won numerous awards for her work supporting free expression from groups like Time magazine, Foreign Policy magazine, and Columbia University, among others. Because the Cuban government would not allow her to travel, she has not been able to collect the awards or the money she earned with them (which she hopes to use to create a free press in Cuba) until now, as the Cuban government has previously denied her requests to travel. Revisions under Raul Castro’s government now allow many Cubans to travel, though many other dissidents have still not been able to.
Sánchez said her international following, thanks to the blog and her Twitter account, which reaches over 450,000 followers, is a means of protection for her and other dissidents like her, though she could still face consequences for her 80-day, international tour upon returning to Cuba. For her, the danger is well worth it, as Twitter allows her to tell the story of the silenced Cuba.
“The root of my satisfaction is very beautiful. … The ability for a lot people around the world to read me as well as my compatriots, the possibility to build a movement that I started much like a pioneer, and that I have been able to … motivate a lot of people inside of Cuba,” Sánchez said, comparing the benefits of the blog to the Cuban government’s threats.
She believes that the “virtual Cuba” has helped open up her many other Cubans’ worlds. By taking advantage of the internet, she has won many awards and has been able to travel abroad. She hopes that U.S. lawmakers, some of whom she met with Wednesday, will reconsider the parts of the embargo that block certain American webpages and will help make internet more accessible on the island.
As of now, most Cubans cannot afford internet access, and those who can face slow and limited access. Sánchez is forced to email her blog posts to friends who post them online for her. But she believes that by opening up the internet, Cubans can find their own voices and a (somewhat) safe place to protest and complain about the government.
She hopes that this cyber movement can eventually cascade into a unification of the “two Cubas”– the Cuba where one must speak in whispers to avoid attention from the government and the Cuba where one can express him or herself freely, whether that includes criticizing the government or not.
“My dream is that the two Cubas unite, that the technological revolution finally permits that all that expression, that all that civic action that we do… we can do in a public square in Cuba one day,” Sánchez said at the end of her speech.
This event was held in both Spanish and English. The portions that were in Spanish have been translated by the author.
Photo: Miles Gavin Meng/Georgetown Voice