People who follow human rights in Cuba know that Yoani Sanchez, noted dissident and activist for rights for resident Cubans has been allowed to leave. But will she come back, and what then?
At a media conference last week Rio de Janeiro, in her first legal public statement in many years, she responded to questions in a well balanced and diplomatic way. The old Yoani, the firebrand, never called for a middle ground, a rapprochement with the Castros, but the total dissolution of the Cuban faux government. She wanted the Castros gone yesterday.
But in her presser of last week, she sounded like a politician.
I had the pleasure of meeting Yoani about five years ago and she impressed me as a solid, impressive, understated person worthy of respect. I had followed her since she had started blogging in about 2005 when I was working on my novel, "Mojito!"
She has that thing that most of our politicians lack: gravitas.
Cubans, for at least a decade, have commonly used the phrase, "If Fidel dies". But what if he finally does and his brother decides to retire to Miami? (As if…)
Cuba probably has the legislative ability to have a true democracy and could probably have a freely elected national assembly with a little tweaking. Could Yoani Sanchez assume the head of the current Congress, and start the reforms that are needed to bring Cuba into the 21st Century?
She is certainly more able and democratically minded than Noriega or Chavez. She is a woman who might better understand the cost to Cuban families of the dreadful government of the last 54 years.
As far as her views on foreign policy, and only one foreign government really matters, her statements at the presser last week seem to indicate that she would be a Cuba first leader, not a sop to the USA Government, a surrogate for Cuban Exiles or a younger version of the current overlordship in Cuba.
On the trade and investment embargo by the USA, she quite wisely states it must come down. Has it been successful? Well, it successfully elected at least one USA President. But unless one has the lifespan of a tortoise, it took an awful long time. And like the old joke, the operation was successful but the patient died.
Cuba was free to trade, and did, with every country in the world but the USA. But, really, did it matter that Cuba had a million Canadian tourists a year? Only the USA can count in providing Cubans true economic growth. For Cuba, with anyone as a President, open trade with the USA is a necessity for recovery.
Sanchez is smart enough to stay out of the Guantanamo debate by leaving it for the courts to decide. The USA military base is, in the bigger scheme of things, not all that worthy of a lot of energy from someone looking to deal with abject poverty and a complete lack of rights of free speech or association in their anticipated domain.
Surprisingly she spoke in favour of the release, by the USA, of the so called "Cuban Five". These are remnants of the "Wasp Network" spy ring now serving time for espionage activities, particularly against Cuban exiles. But she doesn't appear to favour their release on the base of innocence, but on the basis of practicality. They are an effective (but expensive) propaganda tool for the Castro regime and allow some deflection of the human rights crimes of the Castros themselves.
Sanchez is launching her speaking and appearance tour complementary to the screening in Rio de Janeiro of a documentary on Cuban human rights abuses and will be proceeding on to Europe and then New York City.
When she returns to Cuba will she continue to be on the outside looking in, or follow a destiny to eventually become head of state? And, if not her, then who?
Raul Castro, perhaps the least of the three Castro brothers, a few months ago promoted young Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, to the Politburo and recently Miguel Diaz-Canel to the first Vice Presidency. These were seen by many observers as perhaps an indication to suggest Raul's support for the accession of either to the top job. But these of these appointments, with the taint of their allegiance would be shoe-ins in a free election.
But when an election comes, conceivably, Sanchez could be campaigning against two other women for Raul's job, the current President's daughter, Ana Maria Machado, and Josefina Vidal: Cuba's director of USA affairs.
The ultimate challenge Sanchez will face is that she is far better known outside of Cuba than within. And the Cuban Government, which really only exists effectively as a propaganda ministry, is likely to direct its entire tool box to make sure that Sanchez doesn't stand a chance.
© Brian Lloyd French 2013
Brian Lloyd French
I am a great admirer of the strength and talents of Cuban people and will share some of my experiences here.