“The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.” – Joseph Goebbels
Some years ago I accompanied a Cuban friend who needed to sign a document in front of a U.S. consular official at the U.S. Interests Section (USIS) in Havana. Once past the waiting room where TV Martí plays to its small captive audience – the only one it can legitimately claim on the island – and back toward the section where such transactions take place, I noticed a couple of idle computer terminals. I asked if I might go ahead and check my email while we waited. The consular official narrowed his eyes at me. “No,” he snapped.
That’s the nature of things when you’re a lowly U.S. citizen inside Fortress USA on Havana’s Malecon. I very much doubt that if I’d submitted a list of questions for my president that they’d have made it past the circular file beyond the consular official’s glass window. Maybe to my FBI file. But they’d surely never have received the close attention paid the Grupo Prisa media creation in Havana, better known as Yoani Sánchez.
Yet, according to the latest leaked cables from Wikileaks, that is exactly how the Interests Section handled a list of seven questions it claimed to have received from the Grupo Prisa blogger. USIS supplied the President of the United States (POTUS) an English translation of the questions, and then, it supplied his answers. When the “interview” finally appeared in the Huffington Post and other outlets, Obama’s answers bore little difference from the ones created by USIS.
QUESTION #1. FOR YEARS, CUBA HAS BEEN A U.S. FOREIGN POLICY ISSUE AS WELL AS A DOMESTIC ONE, IN PARTICULAR BECAUSE OF THE LARGE CUBAN AMERICAN COMMUNITY. FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE, IN WHICH OF THE TWO CATEGORIES SHOULD THE CUBAN ISSUE FIT?
USIS Draft Response: All foreign policy issues involve domestic components to one degree or another, especially issues concerning countries like Cuba from which the United States has a large immigrant population…
POTUS Final Response: All foreign policy issues involve domestic components, especially issues concerning neighbors like Cuba from which the United States has a large immigrant population and with which we have a long history of relations…
For a normal blogger such a leaked cable ought to be the cause of at least a little bit of shame, perhaps even a mea culpa, especially if the “interview” had been widely used as a pillar of credibility in the blogger’s c.v. Here’s a typical mention:
Yoani Sanchez is the only citizen in Cuba who has managed to interview a sitting U.S. president: Barack Obama. On November 2009, with seven questions and answers posted in her award-winning blog, Generation Y, she accomplished what the government and official press has failed to do for half a century: to dialogue one-on-one with the “leader of the free world,” the president of the country the Cuban regime considers its No. 1 enemy.
Here’s how the “Committee to Protect Journalists” ran with the story:
Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez was astounded this week by President Barack Obama’s decision to respond a written questionnaire Sánchez submitted to the White House. Still recovering from bruises left by a recent vicious attack by state security agents, she told CPJ from her home in Havana: “This is the best way to get better.”
To date, the Huffington Post, which features regular contributions from Sánchez and published the “interview” as “President Obama’s Answers to My Questions“ has not issued a correction.
We all know by now that Sánchez is no ordinary blogger and thus we see the tools of her creation on full display. The same media that provided a platform and invented prizes for Sánchez in the first place steadfastly refuse to acknowledge the updated story. “Never explain,” counsel the p.r. crisis experts at Grupo Prisa. “Carry on as though nothing has happened. Eventually the story will die on its own.”
I’ve heard the suggestion, that like the late great Nestor Baguer, Sánchez is a Cuban agent. How else to explain the claimed state security beating that left no marks? She’s on record as anti-embargo, even if she is loathe to recognize it accurately, as a blockade. Zoé Valdés, Manuel Pereira’s remora who now runs a profitable gusanería practice from Paris certainly believes she’s working for the other side, but in her case, you can’t rule out business competitor jealousy. Regardless, speculating about secret agents is a longstanding Cuban pastime unrelated to political ideology, and the delightful thing about it is that the speculation is impossible to prove or disprove until the official unveiling. In this case, I’m not a believer.
I saw Sánchez in Havana this summer. She wasn’t seated behind a laptop at a hotel – maybe she has “people” for that nowadays. No, she was simply buying something at a downtown cafe. In CUC. She was not as anorexic as we’ve been led to believe. Perhaps membership has its privileges. But what struck me most was not her physical appearance but her body language; the way she carried herself. I’ve observed the same thing with certain B-List actors at Hollywood parties. The avoidance of visual eye contact – I’m sure everyone here wants my autograph; fame is such a burden – the impatience of someone in a hurry – I have better places to be – the forced smile – no pictures please! – all too reminiscent of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. You don’t see it so much with A-listers who have less to prove, though surely some A-listers suffer from it too. It’s more typical of the still-struggling outsider. The long-term prognosis is poor.
But there is other, even more compelling evidence, especially in the wake of what we now know about the faked presidential interview. Take this report, supplied by Sánchez’s BFF Ted Henken:
Yoani gulped down a glass of cold water and recounted the story of her visit to the ministry of health.
Seated in the waiting room of the anonymous grey office, Yoani noticed a uniformed man slyly approaching her. When he was within earshot, he casually whispered the words, “Te leo” (I read you) before quickly disappearing from view. Quite bemused with this unexpected treat, Yoani made her way into an inner office when her turn came. Sitting across from a female office worker who was shuffling through her papers, she heard the question: “It says here that you are Yoani Sanchez?” “Yes, I am,” Yoani responded. After a moment of silence, the worker quickly approved her paperwork and before handing the papers back to her, she murmured under her breath, “Te admiro” (I admire you).
Happily reeling now from these back-to-back signs of unexpected (but much appreciated) solidarity, Yoani made her way to the final check out counter noting that the attendant was headed toward the bathroom. Noticing Yoani approach the woman began to return, but Yoani stopped her short saying that she could wait. Disregarding Yoani’s protestations, the woman quickened her step and began jogging back to the counter. With a wink and a nod, she explained: “The bathroom can wait, especially if it’s for una buena causa” (a good cause).
Speculate among yourselves if you like as to which of the characters in this tale are themselves Cuban agents. And then, considering what we now know about the Obama interview and what we may remember about the total lack of evidence for the claimed Cuban security beating, ponder whether any of it is actually true. Henken, as usual, swallows it hook, line and sinker, and then repeats it, but then, he’s either a total ingenue or has other motives.
Considering where he’s been spending time lately (Coral Gables), and who he’s been hanging with – Larry Press (who a reliable source says is funded by the same people who funded Alan Gross), Robert Guerra from Freedom House (please), and the terrorist Carlos Alberto Montaner, well, draw your own conclusions. Dime con quién andas… Just count yourself fortunate that unlike Henken’s students, you can choose your own reading material. Sánchez is anything but locally grown, and a forced reading of her prose is not that different from a forced feeding of industrial kibble, washed down with Coca Cola.