Yoani Sanchez is the blogmother of Cuban dissidents. Her blog, Generacion Y (in Spanish), receives hundreds of comments – most of them from other countries, as Cubans generally lack access to the internet. Yoani’s posts are models of clarity and restraint. She never rants, she never whines: she just describes. The reality on the ground in Cuba is depressing enough that calm description counts as persuasive condemnation.
From photos and her own self-descriptions, Yoani appears to be a thin sliver of a woman. Yet that small frame holds boundless energy and courage. She has gathered around her a community of like-minded Cuban bloggers, many of whom have learned the trade from her. She has stood up in public to Raul Castro’s daughter, demanding why all the ideals the latter spouted never translated to political freedom. And she’s earned the doubtful privilege of being the subject of a published tirade by the Dying One himself.
Freedom frightens totalitarians. They recognize the power of courage over regimes ruled by terror, and they seek to pound it into submission.
Two days ago, Yoani was kidnapped and brutally beaten by regime thugs. She was eventually released, bruised and half naked, and she has posted the experience on her blog.
I originally planned for this to be my tribute and memorial to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Instead, I want to reproduce a translation of Yoani’s post, to alert those of us who live in ease and bounty that there are many places where the Wall remains, many populations which are still enslaved by despots, and many courageous souls who wield their lives as weapons to bring down the last barriers to freedom.
The post is titled “Mafia-style kidnapping”; the scene is a gathering of dissidents and bloggers in downtown Havana – marching, as it happened, against violence. Teo is Yoani’s son.
Near 23rd St. and in the Avenida de los Presidentes traffic circle we saw arrive, in a black, Chinese-made car, three burly strangers. “Yoani, get in the car,” one of them told me while grabbing me powerfully by the wrist. The other two moved behind Claudia Cadelo, Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, and a friend who accompanied us to a march against violence. It’s one of life’s ironies that it was to be an afternoon filled by blows, screams, and dirty words, what should have been a day of peace and concord. The same “attackers” called in a patrol car that took away my two companions, while Orlando and I were condemned to the car with yellow license plates, to the terrifying landscape of illegality and impunity of Armageddon.
I refused to climb into the shining Geely, and we demanded that we be shown ID or a warrant to take us away. Of course they didn’t show us any paper proving the legitimacy of our arrest. Curious bystanders crowded behind, and I was shouting, “Help, these men are trying to kidnap us.” But they stopped those who tried to interfere with a shout that revealed the ideological context of the operation: “Don’t get involved, they are counterrevolutionaries.” Faced with our resistance, they got on the phone and called someone who must have been their boss. “What do we do? They don’t want to get in the car.” I imagine the response from the other side must have been sharp, because immediately after came a frenzy of punches, shovings, they picked me up with my head facing down and tried to shove me into the car. I grabbed the door . . . they hit my knuckles . . . I managed to snatch a paper from one of them and stuffed it inside my mouth. Another frenzy of punches to make us return the document.
Orlando was already inside, immobilized by a karate hold which kept him with his face flattened against the floorboard. One of the men put his knee against my breast and the other man, from the front seat, was hitting me in the kidneys and punching my head to make me open my mouth and release the paper. In that moment, I felt I would never leave that car. “This is as far as you go, Yoani,” “This is the end of your clowning around,” said the man sitting next to the driver, who was pulling on my hair. In the back seat, a rare spectacle took place: my legs were up, my face reddened by the pressure, and my body hurting, while on the other side Orlando stunned by a man whose profession was to deliver beatings. All I could do was to grab, through his pants, that one’s testicles, in an act of desperation. I sunk in my fingernails, supposing he was going to keep crushing my breast until my last gasp. “Kill me already,” I shouted with the last breath I had, and the man from the front seat told the younger one, “Let her breathe.”
I could hear Orlando panting while the punches kept raining down on us, I thought to open the car door and leap out but there was no handle to open it from inside. We were at their mercy, and hearing Orlando’s voice encouraged me. Later he told me that he felt the same when he heard my attempts to speak . . . it said “Yoani is still alive.” They threw us out in a street of the Timba area, and a woman came near: “What’s happened to you?” . . . “A kidnapping,” I managed to say. We wept, hugging, in the middle of the sidewalk, I was thinking of Teo, God, how can I explain to him all these bruises. How can I say to him that he lives in a country where this happens, how can I look at him and tell him that his mother, for writing a blog and putting her opinions in kylobytes, has been attacked in the open street. How can I describe to him the despotic faces of those men who used violence to throw us into that car, the pleasure they took in beating us, in lifting up my skirt and dragging me half naked to the car.
I managed to see, however, a degree of fright among our attackers, the fear of the new, of what they can’t destroy because they do not understand, the terror of the bully who knows his days are numbered.