By Juan Carlos Chávez, jcchavez@elNuevoHerald.com
Opposition blogger Yoani Sánchez stirred controversy in Brazil on Wednesday when she made a ironic comment about the Cuban government’s misuses of money, time and resources in an international campaign for the release of five Cuban spies. She had said that if that they were freed, the Cuban government would save millions of dollars. Hours later, Sánchez clarified her position through several messages sent through social media.
The five men were convicted in 2000 of spying on anti-Castro groups in Miami. As part of a spy ring called the Wasp Network, they were linked to the Cuban government’s 1996 shoot-down over the Florida Straits of two planes carrying members of the exile group Brothers to the Rescue. Four South Florida men were killed. Cuba has waged a relentless campaign for the release of the men known as the “Cuban Five.’’ “The amount of money that my country’s government is spending on this worldwide campaign, on [ad] space of international media by the Interior Ministry, the number of hours spent in schools talking about those five people, in order to bring that campaign to an end, they should free them,’’ said Sánchez, 37. “I’m worried about my country’s coffers and would prefer their release to see if they save more [money] because there are more issues on the table.”
Hours after the story was published in El Nuevo Herald, she sent posted this comment on the paper’s home page: “At no moment in Brazil did I ask for the five members of the Cuban Interior Ministry to be free. I was using irony to express my views that if they’re free right now, the government would save millions of dollars that it is now paying in this campaign that has lasted for 15 years. “If the irony didn’t work, if the words that I used weren’t the right ones, I apologize. My position is the same: They’re not innocent.” Sanchez also Tweeted several messages that underscored this view.
Sánchez is the creator of the blog Generación Y, a columnist for foreign newspapers, and a prolific user of social media to shed light on life in Cuba. She made her remarks Wednesday during a visit to the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies in Brasilia. Her initial comments spread quickly on the Internet and in South Florida after they appeared on the Viewpoint blog of journalist Joan Antonio Guerrero Vall, a collaborator of Martí Noticias. In her meeting with Brazilian lawmakers, Sánchez also had criticized the U.S. trade embargo, saying it was “interventionist” and has not worked. “As a pressure method, it is a failure. The third reason, and not in order of importance, it should end as soon as possible is that it is used by the Cuban government as the fundamental reason to explain its economic failure and political and social repression,” she said.
Sánchez had been denied permission to travel abroad for a decade by the Cuban government, but under a new travel and migration policy Cuba enacted last month, Cubans no longer need an exit visit to leave the island. The blogger quickly took advantage of the new policy and accepted invitations to speak in Latin America, Europe, and the U.S.
She is scheduled to speak at Miami’s Freedom Tower, a former processing center for Cuba refugees, on April 1 and receive the Miami Dade College Presidential Medal for championing human rights. Asked if the college had a response to the future honoree’s remarks in Brazil, Juan Mendieta, MDC’s director of communications, said, “We’re focused on our event. We’re not going to get into this debate.’’
Miami Herald reporters Mimi Whitefield and Luisa Yanez contributed to this report.