Saturday, November 21, 2009

Real and virtual mobs clash in Cuba

Reinaldo Escobar is shown just above the woman who is shouting. Photo credit: Associated Press
The blogosphere is the Cuban government's worst nightmare.
No matter how hard authorities try, they will not be able to tame the passionate and furious masses roaming the blogosphere.
But on the streets of Havana, it's a different story - at least for now.
Reinaldo Escobar found that out Friday when a hoard of Castro loyalists swallowed him up and spit him out.
And yes, they spit on him, too.
Escobar is the husband of Yoani Sanchez, the Cuban blogger who is now so influential that when she sent a letter to Barack Obama, he actually answered it.
Escobar, a journalist who is three decades or so older than Sanchez, wanted to talk to a security agent who roughed up his wife on Nov. 6. So he posted a note on his blog challenging him to a "verbal duel."
But dozens of government supporters showed up instead, surrounded Escobar and screamed at him, according to the blog Penultimos Dias. Videos showing the action are here and here and here. A man with a megaphone yells "Down with the worms!" and calls the dissident bloggers "sellouts."
Government supporters chanted:
* Cuba is socialist!
* Cuba sí!
* Raul is present!
* Long live Raul!
* Long live Fidel!
* This street belongs to Fidel!
* This country is Fidel's!
Snapshots of the chaotic scene

The Associated Press said some of the Castro loyalists hit and slapped Escobar:
Escobar was waiting with at least two companions when he got into an argument with another man. What appeared to a prearranged group of government supporters then moved in, screaming obscenities. They hit him and slapped him in the head and pulled his hair and shirt, but never knocked him down.
Soon, Escobar and the others were surrounded by men thought to be state security agents who protected them as they walked about two blocks. All around, Cubans pushed and screamed "Fidel! Fidel! Fidel!" and "Get out worm!" slang for Cuban-American exiles.
I don't know that the men really were state security agents, as the AP reported. In an interview after the incident, Escobar thanked some friends for shielding him from the crowd. He said he was not hurt and he said he had no anger toward the people who yelled at him, saying they, too, are "victims" of the socialist government.

Reinaldo Escobar is helped awayAlign Center

Castro loyalists likely see this as a victory, a rejection of not just of Escobar, but of Yoani Sanchez and independent bloggers in Cuba.
But the bloggers aren't going away. The Internet has changed the world forever and it's changing Cuba.
No one owns the blogosphere.
No one controls it.
No one tells it how think or what to do.
Blogs - and other stations in cyberspace - help level the playing field. Almost anyone can publish words or share photos and video anytime, anywhere. That is beginning to transform Cuba, but has already changed much of the world.
One by one, the masses have flocked to the Internet. Consider the numbers: some 300 million people are on Facebook, 50 million are LinkedIn, more than 100 million Americans have blogs.
More Americans now read blogs than print newspapers. And all those souls sitting at their computers have the power to sway public opinion.
This so-called "smart mob" of Internet users can make or break corporations. The mob can help launch the careers of aspiring singers, models and actors. It can expose corruption and wrongdoing in government.
The mob tears down walls, says Jeff Jarvis, author of the book, What Would Google Do? It values transparency. It puts collaboration ahead of ownership. And no big company or government can control it or hide from it.
The only answer, I think, is to be a part of it.
That way, you can turn your worst enemy, your nightmare, into your best friend.
Or if you're sure you've got the answer and you've got the support, then give everyone Internet access and let the virtual mobs fight it out.
Instead, Castro loyalists try to discredit and intimidate the bloggers. They call Sanchez a foreign-paid "mercenary" fabricated abroad, for instance, and say she faked injuries after her run-in with security agents.
I'd consider another approach, including these steps:
* Stop treating Cuban bloggers as adversaries,
* Start listening to what they say,
* Work to solve some of the social, economic and political problems that give bloggers a steady supply of material.
That said, I am not in a position to know what happened to Sanchez on Nov. 6. I don't know if she faked or exaggerated any injuries. Nor do I know if a foreign government or organization is behind her. She has told me they are not. Cuban officials say they are not so sure.

Link:
Along the Malecon's Yoani & other bloggers page
A phone interview with Reinaldo Escobar after the incident

9 comments:

Zacaman said...

Tracey, I urge a bit of caution in your praising of the blogosphere. Bloggers have their agendas, and no truth filters. Few are trained journalists who know proper investigative / interview techniques. Few know about fact-checking. Few are interested in representing a balanced viewpoint.

In all of my years of working in and studying the Cuban phenomena, I have come to one conclusion that is relevant here: When a citizen in any other country has a complaint about their government, they can scream at the moon for years and get nowhere. A cuban, by contrast, has the lights of the world media and a microphone in their face 24/7.

Cuba isn't perfect. And Sanchez and her fellow "dissidents" are far from the righteous crusaders they are portrayed to be.

readerman said...

Zacaman leaves a curious comment. Tracey may disregard a little too much the technological controls over the internet that can moderate its democratic force, but, demonstrably, there are many bloggers who know how to investigate and source a story - in contrast, let's say, to the New York Times getting fed and reporting as news the Bush administration line on Iraq.

Does Zacaman suggest by the apples and oranges of getting somewhere in "any other country" (my emphasis) and the media lights of Cuba - where, apparently as Zacaman sees it, the people have unfettered access to foreign media - that the situation in Cuba is actually superior to elsewhere?

No, Cuba is not "perfect." And colon cancer is not good. But Zacaman leaves us with a substanceless insinuation about Sanchez and all quotation-marks-challenged "dissidents." How, then, should we "portray" the anonymous and empty-profiled Zacaman?

sadredearth.com

Tracey Eaton said...

Zacaman,
Thanks for your comment. You make some good points and I appreciate it.
It is true that we hold Cuba up to impossible standards sometimes. We put Cuba under a microscope and somehow expect it to shine all of the time. We judge it as if it were a developed nation with all the resources when in fact people face a lot of hardships every day.
Tracey

Cuba Journal said...

Very good report.

Yoani and Escobar (que tipo mas feo) are left zeros inside Cuba. They are totally irrelevant and all they do is exacerbate passions.They are creations of the American (anti-Cuba) capitalist news media and receive support and encouragement from the gusanos in Miami and from the Yankee imperialist government, as Obama has demostrated with his stupid "answer" to questions submitted by this sensation and publicity seeking bloguera.

If they want to play with fire, they are likely to get burned.

Even though I do not like them, I do defend their right to peacefully express their opinion.

Cuba Journal said...

Zacaman:

Your last paragraph in your comment is 100% correct and I agree with you.

Yoani and Escobar's audience is in Miami and the White House. I believe that the Cuban people do not pay any attention to Yoani. She is a publicity seeker.

Remember when the American news media constantly promoted Martha Beatriz Roque? She is now forgotten and they have now moved on to promoting their new "idol."

Tracey Eaton said...

Cuba Journal - thanks for the comments... Tracey

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leftside said...

Zacaman makes arguably the most important point about the whole thing. We can argue about whether Yoani was really injured (her doctors say no evidence was found). We can argue whether any injuries were the result of Yoani's own resistance to the detention, or the aggressive action of taking a piece of paper from the security officials and putting it in her mouth. But at the end of the day what is facinating is how this supposed story of abuse got transmitted around the world in 24 hours. How Rueters, AP, NY Times, Herald, AFP, El Pais, etc. were all tripping over themselves to interview Yoani and tell her (one sided) story for her. If anyone can tell me of an instance of supposed abuse anywhere else on the planet was treated this way (no fact checking needed, no other sources, ignoring COMPLETELY her own offensive actions in resisting and going after the officers (she dug her nail in an officer's testicles). Anywhere else in the world this would have been a non-story. I mean when a police officer KILLS someone nowadays it hardly gets a mention in the local paper any more.

The second main point about bloggers in Cuba is that (per Tracey's own reporting) the US Government has been funding a "pilot" project through its "Office of Transition Initiatives" to "train" and "develop networks" of online "activists" in Cuba. We know that Yoani has been conducting such training for other online activists. Is there a relation? Is she involved with US Government "transition initiatives?" Should Cuba just allow the notorious soft coup tool of the US Government "Freedom House" to work unimpeded on the island organizing the counter-revolution online?

As I have said many times, I will fully support the right of any Cuban to do and say what they want, as long as they are not part of this foreign interfearence. But as long as the regime change policies are sustained by Obama, Cuba has every reason to be on the defensive, given the history of the NED and Freedom House around the world, and our own actions towards Cuba for the last 50 years.

Even if Yoani has no connections to this US Government program, she has already deonstrated her connections to enemy foreign governments (she was spotted at the Polish Embassy a couple weeks ago) and works closely with US propoganda channel Radio Marti. Plus all the unsavory netowrks of supporters in Miami.

Tracey Eaton said...

Leftside,
Thanks for your comments. I am doing a story on the whole Yoani controversy for the next edition of CubaNews. Your message provides a useful perspective. Tracey