Twitter, Terrorism and Tightropes Over Cuba
Where’s a good ombudsman when you need one? Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve received comments from readers on two very sensitive topics that remind me just how hard it is to find middle ground when it comes to Cuba.
Two days ago, a contributor for THN passed on what seemed - to him - plausible news. A group of Cuban bloggers, especially prominent abroad for their criticism of their government and prolific use of social media, were unable to send their 140 character messages to Twitter. One of them, the much-admired and maligned Yoani Sanchez, made instant headlines for publicly wondering if the Cuban government had blocked their access. After all, her blog is blocked in Cuba, so maybe it wasn’t a leap too far?
“Bloquearon la publicacion desde moviles cubanos a twitter. Parece que pusieron el filtro aqui dentro.1 amigo publica por mi este tweet”
Sanchez then went on to wonder – via friends to whom she dictated her tweets – whether Twitter had been the one to block access. That too had (an even more) plausible precedent. In May 2009, to avoid getting in trouble with U.S. authorities, Microsoft blocked access to its instant messaging software for countries subject to U.S. sanctions, including Cuba. And that, observed Sarah Stephens of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, was, ironically, just weeks after the Obama administration announced it would issue new regulations to increase telecommunications access for the Cuban people.
As it turned out, nobody was censoring anybody. Tomas Bilbao, who originally posted Sanchez' s concerns, did some investigating. And, as he reported here yesterday, Twitter simply made a change to how customers must dial in. That broke the Twitter link to which Yoani Sanchez and others in Cuban had become accustomed. Bilbao admitted that he jumped the gun without all the facts in hand, and I hope that Sanchez will do the same. If she doesn’t, she’ll only prove her critics right, who accuse her of being more interested in building the momentum her creativity and criticism have won her, than in building a constructive dialogue. And that’s where the real damage is done. Unfortunately, both sides are too quick to judge, take names and call the press.
At the start of this blog, I mentioned receiving comments on two sensitive topics. The second one had to do with my September 23rd post in which I speculated that the Cuban government might have allowed Judy Gross a beachside visit with her husband Alan Gross last month in part to encourage the U.S. government to allow Cuban family members who have not yet been allowed to visit their loved ones - members of the 'Cuban Five' - in U.S. jail. A reader took issue with my referring to the Cuban Five as “counter terrorism agents.” The reader chided me that these agents are "not political prisoners”, and that they were “tried and convicted in a U.S. court.” It is certainly true that the Five were tried and convicted (Alan Gross has not) – though their lawyers tried and failed, surprisingly, to secure a change of venue out of Miami. (The harshest sentence was meted out to the agent who had infiltrated Brothers to the Rescue, a group that had over flown the Cuban capital in the mid-1990’s, over protests from Havana, and lost four of its Miami-area members when the Cuban government shot down two of its planes.)
But it is also true that the Five were engaged as counter terrorism agents. And anyone who doubts that Miami could ever be a hotbed of terrorism would do well to read this 2001 report that offers much, but not even all, of the record on that score.
One reader irritated over the much-ado-over-Twitter story this week reminded me in a message that yesterday marked the 34th anniversary of the in-flight bombing of Cubana flight 455, in which all 73 passengers aboard, perished. That 1976 attack, which the FBI concluded was masterminded by two Cuban exiles living in Miami today (one free, the other awaiting trial for immigration – no, not terrorism - violations), was actually the first instance of airline terrorism in our hemisphere. Earlier this week I saw a nearly-completed documentary by Saul Landau (no, we’re actually not related) on Cuban exile terrorism from the 1960’s through the 1990’s, which included heart-rending footage of the Cubana flight wreckage. The movie will surely stir criticism from some far corner, but I dare any American to watch this movie and not be reminded of the scars we all carry from the September 11th attacks on our own people.
So, dear readers, where is the “right” place to be on these and other sensitive topics? Some days it feels like we walk the thinnest of tightropes, the only perch from which both viewpoints are visible and remotely reconcilable. And sometimes, opposing sides will find their differences to be, in fact, irreconcilable. When that happens, it’s up to those of us who write on these pages, to provide the most constructive and honest debate we can.
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