March 31, 2011

Yoani Sanchez meets with Jimmy Carter


Yoani Sanchez speaks to reporters after emerging from her meeting with former President Jimmy Carter

Cuban dissident blogger — and Melville House author Yoani Sanchez had her meeting with former President Jimmy Carter in Havana yesterday. (See our earlier report.) As a Miami Herald story details, after Carter met with Fidel Castro and his brother, President Raul Castro, Carter met a trio of bloggers led by Sanchez: Claudia Cadelo, Laritza Diversent, and Sanchez’s husband Reinaldo Escobar.

According to the report, “Yoani Sanchez said the bloggers gave the former Georgia peanut farmer some of the home-made peanut candies sold on Cuban streets, representing one of the few businesses that the communist government has never been able to control.” She noted in her letter accompanying the gift that, as peanuts are one of the few types of produce Cubans can grow outside government control, it is considered “criminal” food.

Sanchez — who regularly blogs about the virtual starvation wracking the country due in part to the American enforced embargo of the island — must have been heartened to hear at day’s end that Carter had returned to the US and called for an end to the embargo.

In her own moving report on the meeting on her Genracion Y blog, Sanchez described how odd it felt to find herself confronting the former leader of the free world:

I see him speak and wonder if he knows that I was trained to hate him. Will he be the villain of my childhood stories, the face of grotesque caricatures in the official newspapers, the man whom government propaganda blamed for all our ills? Of course he knows, and still he extends his hand to me, speaks to me, asks me a question. And so he, who was “the enemy,” offers me his kind words.

Outside the Hotel Santa Isabel where we have met, in some school in the area, another little girl repeats her slogans, squeezes her hands, shouts, focuses her mind on the face of a man whom she says she detests. Fortunately, she too will forget the words she screams at this moment, erase from her mind the slogans full of resentment they make her chant today.

The box of peanut candies given to Jimmy Carter by Yoani Sanchez and her fellow bloggers

The Christian Science Monitor ended its report by noting that “For Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez, Carter’s visit provided a bit of hope for the future. Ms. Sanchez – who last year won a prestigious journalism award from Columbia University but was barred by the Cuban government from attending the awards ceremony – met with Carter this morning. She said she could not discuss the content of the meeting, but she later tweeted, ‘Life goes on; Today is not the end of anything but I wish it was the beginning.'”




Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him at @mobylives