Act of Repudiation
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    Disruption of Yoani speech in New York carries echoes of Cuba

    Posted on Tuesday, 03.19.13

    Fabiola Santiago: Disruption of Yoani speech in New York carries echoes

    of Cuba

    By Fabiola Santiago

    NEW YORK — What do you know?

    I came to the hip "capital of the world" to attend an unprecedented

    conference on digital media in Cuba — and ended up witnessing an

    American-style version of what on the island is widely known as " un


    Literally, the phrase means an , but in any language

    it's a calculated, verbally violent attack that escalates and turns

    uglier and uglier with by the moment. It's the favored weapon of the

    desperately intolerant to quash a point of view that runs contrary to

    their deeply held beliefs.

    Note this important difference: The point of an " acto de repudio" is

    not to express an opposing viewpoint — a value held dearly in our

    democracy — but to disrupt an event and/or discredit an individual.

    And that's exactly what a group of pro-Cuban-government Americans sought

    to do Saturday in this cultural hub where one expects intelligent

    conversation — disrupt the packed conference The Revolution Recodified:

    Digital Culture and the Public Sphere in Cuba, at The New 's

    Tishman Auditorium, and discredit one of its panelists, the celebrated

    Cuban Yoani Sánchez.

    In the United States for the first time, Sánchez, 37, was the last

    speaker of the last panel of the day, Cuba in a Global Context: Social

    Media and Political Change, which included U.S. experts on social

    network analysis who have done fieldwork in Russia and the Middle East.

    While the panelists made insightful presentations about how global

    networks are expanding and fomenting social change, organizers gave

    members of the audience note cards to write down questions for the

    panelists. It was an effort to speed up time-consuming translations and

    people walking up to microphones.

    After the questions were collected, conference coordinator Coco Fusco, a

    Cuban-American interdisciplinary artist and associate professor at The

    New School, read them to the panelists.

    Most turned out to be for Sánchez — and quickly, a pattern of antagonism

    against her emerged:

    How much money is the State Department paying you?

    Could Sánchez name five violations in Cuba, since the

    previous day she had said there were many but hadn't named one?

    Has she ever attempted a civil dialogue with people who support the


    Sánchez took the questions as an opportunity to present the kind of view

    of the real Cuba that quickly shatters utopian myths.

    Her answers were slam dunks against the regime — and most of the

    audience applauded her.

    The fact that she and the U.S. government coincide on wanting to see

    democratic change in Cuba, Sánchez said, doesn't make her "a slave" to

    U.S. interests, and by the way, when did you ever hear of a person in

    Cuba who wanted and wasn't called a CIA agent?

    "The rhetorical game," Sánchez called the practice.

    She listed a myriad human rights violations recognized by the Geneva

    Convention — lack of and assembly, of movement

    throughout the island, etc., but the last violation she named was a

    zinger: Lack of access to the .

    "That, to me, is also a human right," she said.

    But it was her answer to the question about who she had engaged in

    dialogue that brought out the rage in her detractors.

    Every attempt to debate issues has ended in pro-government people

    hurling insults, or hasn't materialized because the other side hasn't

    come to the table, Sánchez said.

    She gave as an example her attempt to engage Raúl Castro's daughter,

    Mariela, who was abroad promoting her work on gay issues at the National

    Center for Sex , with the question: "Now that Cubans are free

    to come out of the sexual closet, when will they be able to come out of

    the political closet?"

    To which Mariela Castro answered that what Sánchez needed was sexual

    therapy, and that she could get it at CENESEX.

    "That's a lie!" a woman in the audience shouted and was immediately

    joined by others who echoed her from different corners of the auditorium.

    One after the other, the pro-Castro members of the audience began

    shouting tired lines used by the Cuban government and unfurling

    anti-Sánchez banners smuggled into the auditorium with their personal


    They also threw dollar bills printed with Sánchez's face into the air

    and along the aisles

    Sánchez supporters grabbed two of the banners away from the protesters

    and ripped them up.

    "Yoani! Yoani!" her supporters began to chant.

    It's amazing the kind of misery a heavy dose of hard truth — the kind

    that shatters the myths of ideologues — is capable of unleashing.

    For those of us who were sitting in the middle of this circus as the

    tensions escalated, it was scary. There were no metal detectors during

    this part of the three-day conference and few security officers, so

    there was no way of knowing if anyone was armed and how far things would go.

    Take note, Miami.

    The world will soon cast its eyes upon the exile capital to see what

    kind of reception Sánchez receives. If New York was a dress rehearsal,

    the provocateurs have already been lined up for a big show.

    But I hope we can do better than this and let Sánchez speak her truth,

    whatever that may be, in peace and freedom.

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