Yoani Sanchez Talks About Cuba’s 'Changes'

Thursday, June 16, 2016
Interview from Germany's DPA news agency (via The Havana Times):

Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez on Monday decried the fact that Cuban reality has barely changed nearly two years after the thawing of relations with the United States. She warned that the process of change would be delayed for “the entire lifespan of those who control Cuba.”

During her participation in the Global Media Forum gathering in the German city of Bonn, Sanchez held a telephone interview with DPA. During this, she analyzed the current situation in her country and insisted that at present the new openness in Cuba is more a headline than a reality.

How do you see the current situation in Cuba?  Do you believe that the thaw in relations with the United States favors the Cuban opposition?

Yoani Sanchez: All the expectations that have been raised since December 17, 2014, are still facing a lot of obstacles. We expected at the time that Cuba, and above all the Cubans’ lives, would have improved a lot by now (…) Nevertheless, right now there are still a lot of expectations pending for the lives of Cubans. (...) It’s not only a question of how the opposition is doing, or how the opposition is seen – without a doubt it continues to suffer repression- but also how the Cuban population sees it.

They look on the process with hope, although a bit of disappointment for the slow pace in which it’s moving.

So it’s more expectation than reality?

YS:  Exactly. I’ve repeated a phrase several times: it’s more headlines than realities. Myself, I’d like to live in the Cuba of those headlines (…) I believe that December 17 has also created a media avalanche feeding the belief that Cuba is changing; reality though is a little more obstinate.

And how much time do you think is needed to make it a reality?

YS: Unfortunately, that’s in the hands of the people that now govern the country. It’s a generation very obsessed with not allowing a transition towards democracy, towards a market economy, towards freedom and towards respect for opposition parties. It will take the entire lifespan of those who control Cuba.

Are you afraid that in Cuba a kind of “Vietnam model” will be established with a market economy but a one-party regime? Or do you believe that the economic and social opening can lead to a political change?

YS: Clearly, Raul Castro is a bit obsessed with the Vietnam model and believes that he can carry Cuba in that direction. But even in terms of taking Cuba in that direction, they’re going very slowly. (…) Of course that fear exists, and also a fear of following the Russian model with a totalitarian figure in power, and economic freedom within a system very controlled by political dictates.

And what do you think is the model to follow?

YS: Well, I hope that it’s neither of those two. That would scare me a lot (…) I hope that our idiosyncrasies as well as the experience that we’ve had in these years keep the government from turning its steps towards those paths. And there you have the great importance of the opposition: to denounce any intent towards that direction.

How do you view Raul Castro’s administration in the last years, especially with regard to the thaw in relations with the US?

YS: He’s an opportunist. On the one hand, he offers his hand to the government in the White House and displays himself in public as a David reconciling with Goliath; on the other, he maintains control, vigilance and repression for those who are different within his own country. It seems totally ironic to me, and even contradictory, that they should be capable of reconciling with the great enemy to the north and not be able to reconcile with those who differ with them within the island.

What role does Fidel Castro still play in Cuban politics?  Do you think that there’s a “Raul-ism” and a “Fidel-ism” in the upper echelons of Cuban politics, and what might be the discrepancy?

YS: I think that they play very astutely the roles of good policeman and bad policeman to keep the media and the population entertained. I believe that Fidel Castro is right now the big brake on any Cuban transition.

And regarding relations with the United States, for example?

YS: It’s very difficult to know about this, because Fidel Castro makes very sporadic appearances and expresses himself via written reflections that are ever more meandering and chaotic; he’s been very ambiguous on the topic of relations with the United States. I think he tries to play the part of the old 20th century anti-imperialist, but Cuban diplomacy clearly contradicts him because there are ever more photos of smiling politicians on one side and the other.

Do you believe that those relations will take yet another turn if Republican candidate Donald Trump is chosen in November?

YS: It’s difficult to foresee. Up until now, the Republican candidate has said that he would explore the topic of maintaining the thaw and rapprochement. In his case, the reasoning could be for economic reasons.

But it’s possible that everything would delay more?

YS: That could be, but right now the decision doesn’t lie so much with the White House. My impression is that the White House has been giving in, putting substantial benefits on the negotiating table (…) and that nevertheless, Havana has given very little.  Now the ball is in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution. I believe that more than what Trump does, the most important thing is what Raul Castro is going to do.

Chanel fashion show, Rolling Stones concert… What do you think of the new flood of companies, tourists and foreign personalities to a Cuba that seems to be “in vogue”?

YS: The problem with things in fashion is that later they’re out (…) We need to move that notion of trendiness beyond frivolity and photos, and into a demand for a Cuba that is no longer a sepia-colored postcard that pleases tourists. We’re not a Vintage country although we may have ancient facades and cars from the mid-twentieth century. There’s also a need to promote a modern Cuba, a connected Cuba, a Cuba of young people who want to feel part of the 21st century, and not to see us as a theme park of the past.

What do you think about the continual flight of performers, like the recent defection of ballerinas from the Cuban National Ballet?

YS: The flight of the artists and of thousands of Cubans (…) is due to the lack of hope within the country, which is the worst failure of Raul Castro’s government, and also of the negotiations between the US and Cuba. Almost two years after those relations began, Cubans are still fleeing because they believe that they’ll be able to live better in any other country than in their own. This is also an indicator of how little everything has advanced.

Your digital site “14yMedio” has been around for two years.  What’s the balance up until now?

YS: Well, we’ve survived, which seems to be the most heroic thing I’ve done all my life, following two years of government censorship (…) I think that’s something to congratulate ourselves about, but we want more. We want to reach everyone so that Cubans could use the internet without being censored for it. We want there to be a press law. There’s a lot left to do.

Is independent journalism possible today in Cuba?

Sánchez: It’s possible, it’s possible and “14yMedio” demonstrates that. We’re a daily that not only focuses its sights on improving the quality of the journalism we do, but in addition we’re financially autonomous. We don’t receive a cent from the Cuban government nor from any government in the world. You can produce free, autonomous, independent journalism of quality from the island.