NYT Ignores Free Speech Activist Yoani Sanchez; Focuses on Lefties

April 3rd, 2009 3:05 PM

Ever notice the media love to report stories about people fighting the power, unless, of course, the power happens to be something the media favor?

A March 31 New York Times article about Cuba's Havana Biennial art festival highlighted several artists whose political statements were in line with the anti-American, communist outlook of the island's regime, while ignoring prominent Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, who risked her freedom to protest government oppression.

During an open mic session at the festival, the award-winning Generacion Y blogger criticized Cuban policy and the lack of free expression. However, the Times did not mention her pro-free speech performance art or even cover it in a separate piece. Instead, most of the artists the paper described railed against the usual evils, such as capitalism, America and the bourgeoisie.

Afterwards, the government issued a condemnation that singled out Sanchez for “staging a provocation against the Cuban Revolution.” Fortunately, on Wednesday, Reuters reported the controversy:

The (government) statement described Sanchez, without using her name, as a "professional dissident" and one of a number of "individuals in the service of the anti-Cuban propagandistic machinery that repeated the worn-out claims for 'freedom' and 'democracy' demanded by their sponsors." (snip)

The event was part of a performance by Cuban artist Tania Bruguera, who put up a microphone at an arts centre in Old Havana and told people in attendance they could say whatever they wanted for one minute.

Participants were flanked by two actors dressed in olive green fatigues. A white dove was placed on the shoulder of each speaker in an apparent parody of a famous speech by Fidel Castro.

Sanchez then read a “manifesto saying the Internet was opening a 'crack' in government control” and further stated, “The time has come to jump over the wall of control.”

In the past, this type of demonstration landed Cubans in jail, or worse, but so far, the well-known Sanchez has just been denounced by the government instead of facing the same repercussions as the imprisoned Oscar Elias Biscet.

Sanchez wasn't just some random speaker at the festival. She is known around the world as an outspoken critic of the Cuban government. She is frequently in the news, and has won much recognition through her widely-read blog. Among her many awards, Time magazine designated her in 2008 as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. That same year, Foreign Policy magazine included her on its 10 Most Influential Latin American Intellectuals list. She was named one of Time's Best 25 Blogs of 2009 and has won many other awards as well.

Now, maybe the Times didn't see Sanchez's or the other freedom protesters' performances during the open mic session, or perhaps it was unaware of Cuban government's statement. However, it is strange that a prominent activist using the arts to stand up to oppression didn't pique the interest of The Grey Lady. Usually, the paper relishes that type of story.

Instead of focusing on those who actually took a risk, the Times highlighted such edgy art as a piece showing Barack Obama as the fifth president on Mt. Rushmore, a parade that supposedly demonstrated that Cuba is freer than America and several works that critiqued wealth and capitalism.

The Times was not alone in its cold shoulder, though. Other than Reuters, the AP and the Miami Herald, Sanchez's protest was largely ignored by the rest of the major media. The Spanish-language press showed more interest in Sanchez's story. 

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