New York Times Writer Gets Earful From Cuban Dissidents

Thursday, December 4, 2014
By Guillermo I. Martinez in Sun-Sentinel:

Times writer gets Earful from Cuba dissidents

Cuban dissidents don't see lifting embargo as way to help

Once again Ernesto Londoño, the newest member of The New York Times Editorial Board, writes about Cuba. That makes it four editorials and now three columns in less than two months.

This time he writes how U.S. sanctions make it more difficult and expensive for ordinary Americans to travel to Cuba. Of course, the Cuban government bears no blame for the outlandish costs of these trips.

But this is not another column criticizing Londoño. This one is to encourage him, for the Colombian-born editorial writer has done something few of those that clamor for the U.S. to lift the embargo has done — he has gone out and met for two hours with people inside the island who are against the Castro government.

The information on the meeting comes from Yoani Sánchez, the award-winning Cuban blogger who now publishes an online newspaper called 14ymedio. It was her staff that peppered The New York Times editorialist with a different perspective on Cuba — one that Londoño has not written about in his pro-Castro editorials.

It was a one-way conversation as Londoño said his paper did not allow him to grant interviews without permission. But he did listen. And for two hours the staff of 14ymedio gave him an earful about life in Cuba, the lack of democracy or a free press; how changes in Cuba were more in name only and not meaningful; how young Cubans are continuing to flee the island in ever greater numbers because they don't see a future in their own country.

One of those asking questions was Eliécer Avila, the student who, in 2008, asked Ricardo Alarcon, the President of Cuba's National Assembly of People's Power, several difficult questions:

Why do Cubans have to work several days to earn enough money to buy a toothbrush? Why can't Cubans travel freely? Why is access to the Internet restricted and censored?

Those are questions the American editorialist should try to answer when he publishes an account of his encounter with these dissenting Cubans. I am sure he will, and he will explain that all this can also be blamed on the embargo. Sorry, I shouldn't presume what Londoño is going to write — even if what he had written before has been slanted to an anti-American, pro-Cuban point of view.

The group tried explaining to Londoño why the embargo would not solve the problems of the ordinary Cubans, who according to Sánchez "have fear ingrained in their genes."

"People in this country are very scared," Sanchez said. They fear those who tell the government what they say in private; they are afraid of not being allowed to leave the country; of being rejected for a better job; of being told that their children cannot go to the university because "the university is for revolutionaries," Sánchez added.

Miriam Celaya, an independent journalist, pointed out the government had allowed foreigners to invest in Cuba and grants them permits to import what they need. The same benefits are not granted to Cubans, she told Londoño.

Recently more than 30 Cuban dissidents explained why they did not agree with the premise that the solution to Cuba's problems was for the United States to lift the embargo. They all pointed to many of the same reasons this group of six staffers from 14ymedio told Londoño.

Both groups said the changes Cuba is making are more cosmetic than real; they say the embargo has little to do the shortages the everyday Cuban suffers, and the ruling class does not have to endure any shortages. They want access to the Internet. They want freedom of expression; multi-party elections with more than one candidate running for each office; they want an end to the repression they suffer daily.

If Londoño went to Cuba with a preconceived point of view, I doubt these Cubans will be able to convince him. But if he is an honest broker of ideas, I hope he has the decency to publish what these Cuban dissidents told him.

Now all one can do is sit and wait and see what Londoño writes.