Last Friday, November 13, Cuban bloggers Yoani Sanchez and Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo were on their way to a march in downtown Havana when they were forced into an unmarked car by plainclothes police agents and beaten up. Juan O. Tamayo of the Miami Herald notes:
Blogger Claudia Cadelo and another woman were detained in the incident, but without violence.
“The U.S. government strongly deplores the assault,” said a State Department statement issued late Monday. “We have expressed to the Cuban government our deep concern . . . and we are following up with inquiries to [the three bloggers] . . . regarding their personal well-being and access to medical care.”
Sánchez’ husband, Reynaldo Escobar, told El Nuevo Herald she’s walking with a crutch and taking medicines for a backache, the result of being thrown head-first into a car and punched in the back by the three men in plainclothes who detained her for 20 minutes. There was no word on Pardo’s health.
Cuba’s government-controlled mass media has made no mention of the incident, which received wide coverage abroad because of Sanchez’s fame as the prize-winning author of the blog Generación Y, which regularly criticizes the ruling system.
“The Cuban authorities are using brute force to try to silence Yoani Sanchez’s only weapon: her ideas,” said José Miguel Vivanco, head of the New York-based Americas section of Human Rights Watch. “The international community must send a firm message to Raúl Castro that such attacks on independent voices are completely unacceptable.
“This brazen attack makes clear that no one in Cuba who voices dissent is safe from violent reprisals,” Vivanco added.
The Human Rights Foundation, an independent group also based in New York, decried the “blatant attempt by the Cuban government to silence independent thought and speech” and added: “Does the Cuban government realize the preposterous irony of violently assaulting citizens who were on their way to protest violence?”
Seven U.S. senators from both parties, meanwhile, issued statements Tuesday condemning the incident, with New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez calling it “yet another indication that despite all the hoped-for change on the island, the regime continues to rule with an iron fist that crushes any seed of free speech or human rights.”
The Cato Institute’s Ian Vasquez opines:
It’s the 490th anniversary of Havana today and the Cuban government has arranged for celebratory activities. Ordinary residents of Havana and all Cubans who cherish their civil and human rights have less to celebrate, however, as Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez regularly reminds us. Sanchez has become a major irritant of the regime because of her penetrating posts about the absurdities and injustices of everyday life in communist Cuba. You can see her blog in Spanish here, and in English here.
Just over a week ago, in an incident that was widely reported in the international press and that reveals the threat to the Cuban regime of the growing Cuban blogger movement, Sanchez was assaulted in Havana by plain-clothed government agents. Though she was forcefully beaten, she and her friends managed to fight back and get away. More than that, they took pictures of their assailants and of the incident for posting on the blog, prompting the government thugs to leave the scene. One photo of an agent features the caption “She is covering her face…Perhaps afraid of the future.” Another photo features Sanchez pursuing her assailants with the caption: “They have watched us for decades. Now we are watching them.” Very smart.
Now her husband has been attacked. Reuters reports:
The husband of Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez said he was attacked by government supporters as he waited on Friday to confront state security agents accused of detaining and beating his wife two weeks ago.
Sanchez, whose writing about the hardships of Cuban life were praised this week by President Barack Obama, said men believed to be government agents forced her into a car and hit her repeatedly in a brief detention on November 6.
Reinaldo Escobar, also a blogger, said he had gone to a Havana intersection hoping that state security agents would respond to a challenge he issued earlier to meet there for a “verbal duel” about his wife’s incident.
He said he was speaking to reporters when, in what appeared to be an orchestrated event, several hundred people gathered and began shouting “Viva Fidel” and “Viva la Revolucion.”
About 20 of his supporters began shouting back and the situation turned violent, he said.
“They pulled my hair, hit me with a shoe, tore my shirt, pulled away my bag of books. I lost my glasses,” Escobar, aged 62, told Reuters.
His wife, who was not with him at the attack, wrote on Twitter: “Until when will the language of force, of intolerance and disrespect for the opinion of others be the one that prevails in my country?”
The Cuban government responded quickly to Escobar’s accusations, emailing to foreign journalists a story published in the website laRepublica.es with the headline “The Cuban people are tired of Yoani Sanchez.”
“Your blog provides the world a unique window into the realities of daily life in Cuba. It is telling that the Internet has provided you and other courageous Cuban bloggers with an outlet to express yourself so freely,” Obama wrote.
“The government and people of the United States join all of you in looking forward to the day all Cubans can freely express themselves in public without fear and without reprisals,” Obama said.
Sanchez, 34, has won several international awards and was named by Time Magazine last year as one of the world’s 100 most influential people.
Obama’s response added to her international stature as Cuba’s leading dissident voice, but she is little known on the island where Internet access is limited.
The Cuban government has made no secret of its distaste for her, but she is among a growing group of young Cubans who have taken to the Internet to express their desire for change on the island.