[Above]   Yoani Sanchez trying to play the role of a spy in a Havana hotel lobby.

Yoani Sanchez and the U.S. White House

By admitting that the secret ZunZuneo, a disguised “Cuban Twitter” mimic was specifically designed for the purposes of encouraging political opposition to the Castro regime, the White House basically outed Yoani Sanchez as “The Cuban Twitter/Blogger”. The White House recklessly painted a bulls eye on Yoani Sanchez’ back while simultaneously admitting to an international violation of sovereignty.

Now that Gordiano Lupi has stated publicly stating that Yoani is a mercenary, a fraud and fueled by greed, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Díaz‑Balart, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Marco Rubio, Lincoln Díaz‑Balart, Joe García and her many other supporters are no where to be seen and all questions are met with “no comment”. 

Joe McSpedon, a official of the US Agency for International Development, leaves his house in Washington.

The Associated Press’ article about ZunZuneo was published on April 4, 2014. A few days later, while the White House spokesman was back pedaling in the briefing room coyly answering questions about ZunZuneo, Yoani Sanchez was safely nestled in the arms of her supporters and family at Miami Dade College’s Freedom Tower in Miami, Florida.

Except for the cluster Latinovator awards, there was no national press mentioning her arrival. There was no fanfare, supporters or crowds. If you weren’t in Miami, you would never know she was in the United States.

She was receiving one of four Latinovator awards being given out at the Hispanicize gathering.

Admitting to having a hand in and encouraging political dissent by inventing and implementing ZunZuneo in Cuba is in itself a self indicting statement. The White house spokesman was trying to change the subject avoiding having to actually admit the United States had not only condoned but also financed the fake twitter designed specifically for Cuba called ZunZuneo.

The problem with the fake twitter program is that whether the Obama administration or we as American citizens like it or not, Cuba is still a sovereign country with its own independent government. Obama’s ZunZuneo is a technological version of Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs with much the same result.

Awkward photo now for both Yoani Sanchez and Vice President Biden considering there are so many in need of an appointment with VP Biden whom can’t get on his calendar but he found time to meet with Yoani Sanchez. Meeting took place April 3, 2014

The admission by the White House of having financed ZunZuneo for the purposes of creating havoc in Havana is a very cavalier way of dismissing the matter without any regard to the safety factor that affects so many people involved in these projects.

During Yoani Sanchez’ 2013 tour, I asked Professor Ted Henken, (Sanchez’ translator and Baruch Faculty member) if Baruch College was financing Yoani’s “80 days around the world” tour.

He insisted that Yoani had raised all her financing herself but would not identify her financial sources other than to say that “she raised it all on her own” with the help of the Internet.

During Yoani Sanchez’ 2014 trip, she was safely in Miami when the news of ZunZuneo broke out in the White House briefing room.

Yoani Sanchez has long been criticized by the Cuban government and her detractors of being used as a pawn in this international push and pull between the United States and Cuba.

Being photographed smiling at VP Biden can’t possibly help her cause.  The loudest accusation being that she has always been and is currently financed by the USAID.

Her fund raising tactics are not a problem in of themselves since all grassroots evangelists whether religious or political pass the hat at every stop during their campaigns. But in the case of Yoani Sanchez’ she has carefully dressed in peasant blouses with child like puffed sleeves and wears her hair long (often in a braid), to evoke the look of an impoverished peasant (campesina) than the very sophisticated, crafty person she truly is.

Thousands of poor, disenfranchised men and women who look up to her as the defiant young woman that stood up to Fidel Castro’s tyrannical behavior, gave up their last few dollars to Yoani’s war chest during her international stops.

Professor Tracey Eaton

I interviewed Professor Tracey Eaton who is one of the few Americans who operated a news bureau in Cuba since Fidel Castro took power in 1959. Eaton served as the Havana bureau chief for The Dallas Morning News from 2000 to early 2005.

He now teaches Journalism at Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL. He said he’s not convinced that Yoani collaborated with the USAID and that he believes she was financed by donations from individuals and nonprofit organizations. He had not read the Wikileak document when I interviewed him but obtained a copy during our interview.

He said that there’s nothing wrong with merely speaking with USAID employees but I reminded him that Yoani clearly stated that she never conversed with employees of the USAID or any other US governmental agency of any kind. He then cautiously said that if it turns out that he’s mistaken that he’ll let us know.

The news of this ZunZuneo doesn’t help her public relations efforts. If anything it hurts her position of being an innocent grass roots protestor (demonstrated by her carefully chosen peasant outfits).

Note: In this video above, Yoani Sanchez is hosted by the U.S. State Department. This should put to bed any doubts of whether or not Yoani is working with or is not working with the U.S. Government

Very rarely does a White House spokesperson offer such a tongue-in-cheek response to such a serious political accusation. Sanchez was in Miami receiving one of four Latinovator awards given out during the Hispanicize event. Needless to say, in the aftermath one cannot make out who else got the other three awards as Yoani Sanchez’ press releases have obscured any mention of them.

The coincidence of Sanchez’ presence in the U.S. receiving yet another award while ZunZuneo is being discussed and admitted to openly by the Obama administration is awkward to say the least. Was it the Associated Press’ residual anger at the administration for having had its phone records examined that encouraged them to take a jab at the administration and they used Yoani Sanchez’s visit to make their point?

Or might it have been the Obama administration’s way of letting Sanchez know that they don’t protect anyone once their projects come to fruition. Alan Gross is testament to that as he sits incarcerated in a Havana cell serving a 15 year prison sentence as a result of his work on the same projects.

Yoani Sanchez drops her guard and shows her true hatred towards the political process that does not include her. She is a failed, poorly educated spy that wasn’t able to pull off the “spy” character.

If the White House spokesperson is brazen enough to say that the Obama administration was firmly behind ZunZuneo, then they should clearly and firmly state – for once and for all – if Yoani Sanchez is innocent and is not employed by the USAID or ever worked for any U.S. related organization as an employee or a sub contractor. They should further clarify that she is not a U.S. political pawn. For the White House to remain silent on the matter unfairly keeps her in limbo and further damages her credibility.

Felice Gorordo

To answer the question about ZunZuneo and not say anything about Yoani Sanchez leads everyone to their own very likely erroneous conclusions. The Damas in Blanco for instance is another sore point of contention on all sides. Depending on who is speaking / writing, you never know who is utilizing this organization either by encouraging its purpose with gifts in kind or blatantly financing it.

Cuban American nonprofit organization “Roots of Hope,” leaders foolish took encouragement and advice from Yoani Sanchez (a failed spy) and wound up in serious legal danger of losing their 501(3)C as well as being investigated for treason.

Roots of Hope, seemingly an innocent helping hand now appears to be far more involved than previously thought. Its Board of Directors are now being scrutinized as is its direct financing of certain projects that have been recently revealed.

Roots of Hope was founded by Felice Gorordo who is also looking a little tainted by its kissing cousin involvement in ZunZuneo. Social Miami published a very interesting article on his personal interests and his “purpose in life”. His photo caption taken for his  interview with Brett Graff states that “some of his best life conversations have been over a glass of Johnnie Walker Black Label”. It immediately makes one wonder if even his caption wasn’t paid for by the distillery or one of its distributors.

Let us not forget that Yoani Sanchez’ husband and son sit vulnerably in Havana while she makes the rounds collecting cash awards in the U.S. and Europe.

It is time for the Obama Administration to identify whether or not Yoani is a pawn and complicit in their efforts or absolutely innocent. To speak on the software but not speak on Yoani Sanchez leaves a foul smell in the air.

Baruch College’s Ted Henken

We neither agree with, nor are we in discord with Ted Henken for the decisions he made on this, his final trip to Havana. We consider that he is likely immersed in guilt knowing that when he met face-to-face with his own physical danger at the hands of the Cuban regime at the Havana airport, he jeopardized the lives of so many Cuban residents/citizens and accomplished so very little.

Henken stated that he was truly scared of the danger he was in at the hands of those large threatening police officers that met him at his departure at the airport and took him to an interrogation room.

They did everything they could to make him miserable but other than denting his pride, they did not physically hurt him.

What we consider frighteningly amateurish on Henken’s part, is that on returning to the safety of the United States, he childishly posted his boasts on his own blog (in writing for the world to read).

He bragged that he had violated Cuba’s visa laws during all of his past 15 trips to Cuba by conducting his own brand of journalism. He further boasted that he was well aware that he had always operated in violation of Cuba’s laws in his past trips and that he knowingly did so anyway.

Whether right or wrong, Henken’s employers fully realize that he does Baruch a great disservice.

The school cannot possibly ignore the fact that Henken visited a foreign country, knowingly ignored its laws while representing himself as an Associate Professor of Baruch College of the University of New York then while there, he chose to violate their sovereignty as though he were some kind of head of state with diplomatic immunity. His arrogance would be entertaining, were it not dangerous to his person.

Henken reveals his annoyance and resentment that the Cuban Government accepts former U.S. president Jimmy Carter to meet with people whose politics they don’t agree with; and says it baffles him why he is not afforded the same courtesy.

What that reveals is that he is not satisfied with being a mere translator. From traveling with Yoani Sanchez, he’s come to believe that he is a dignitary or head of state and wants to be treated with the same diplomatic courtesies.

In fact, in his final paragraph depicting his harrowing experience at the Havana airport where he was being held in a room against his will, he wrote…

Also, I wanted to inquire why it was that President Jimmy Carter, with whom I wholeheartedly agree, had the right to meet with those they call “la contrarrevolución” without being labelled an enemy of the nation – and I do not.

Clearly, there in his own writing Henken reveals that he does not consider himself a mere associate professor while traveling abroad. He furiously states that he is angry that he was not afforded the same rights and privileges as are afforded to heads of state and in this case, a former United States President, Jimmy Carter.

One can’t help but wonder, “Who he must think he is?” that he was upset because he wasn’t treated as though he were a former U.S. President or someone with the status of a world dignitary or head of state.

Henken then returned to the United States to publicly boast about his exploits in writing. That boasting, made his actions a formal public record. In itself it displays an overblown sense of entitlement if not unbridled arrogance.

As Americans we tend to carry our civil liberties bravado around with us while we’re on the road. Whenever a cruise ship deck announces that the ship has crossed into international waters, almost immediately, Americans on the ship, drink in hand, grab a U.S. flag, lock arms and sing and sway to an a Capella rendition of the U.S. National anthem.

Most Americans do not realize that once they step off U.S. ground, or even sail into international waters, their American civil liberties cease to exist.

The United States does not defend or protect an American citizen accused of breaking the law in the country they are visiting.

Americans tend to believe that the U.S. Navy stepped up to the plate when pirates began overtaking vessels sailing along the African coast. In reality, the U.S. Navy did nothing for over 200+ piracy thefts until the pirates began to commandeer cargo ships carrying crude oil. That’s when the U.S. Navy sprang to action.

When arrested on foreign soil, Americans always claim not to have known their activity was illegal. That doesn’t stop the authorities in that country from both arresting and incarcerating the accused. If ignorance of the law doesn’t excuse one from having to face the music in the U.S. it works pretty much the same way overseas.

Alan Gross, a USAID operative recently ended a hunger strike in a Havana prison where he is serving 15 year sentence for working on that same ZunZuneo “fake” twitter. Alan Gross did not go on a hunger strike because of anything the Cubans are doing to him while in prison. He went on a hunger strike to protest what both the U.S. and Cuban governments have done to him – they’ve abandoned him.

The 64 year old American feels totally forsaken especially now that he has probably learned that Newsweek recently published an article stating that “aggressive ‘regime change’ projects in Cuba by the USAID scuttled a chance to free him”.

Ted Henken wrapped himself in the very cloak of civil liberties protection that he safely lives under in the United States. A protection that does not extend to anyone he interviewed in Havana. He is probably well intentioned, however he naively identified all his interviewee’s to Cuban authorities as they followed him house-to-house on his joyful trek through Havana.

Once at the airport, after being interrogated by several formidable burly officers and told his trip “was his last”, he was allowed to leave. Wiping the sweat of fear off his brow, he boarded his flight, and was able to forget the results of his actions behind him.

Since leaving Havana, the many Cubans Henken recklessly identified to Cuban authorities (people that had previously remained obscure and out of trouble), were cavalierly left out in the open to fend for themselves…

They were likely endangered in ways that Henken can’t possibly begin to imagine.


The Wikileaks Telegrams identify both Yoani Sanchez and her husband Reinaldo Escobar as having visited the Chief of American interests in Cuba, Michael Parmly in his home with frequency. Their discussions are clearly detailed by Parmly himself in these communiques that have already been published by Wikileaks, republished and read by people the world over.

These wikileaks revelations were of less significance when first revealed than they are now in 2014 because they identify that while they may behave like bumbling amateurs, the U.S. State Dept. continues to try to involve itself in and control Cuban affairs.


Noticeably absent during this April 2014 Miami visit, were the throngs of Yoani Sanchez fans and vocal opponents screaming her name or throwing Obama Dollars (Monopoly dollars bearing Barack Obama’s photo or larger dollars bearing Yoani’s face).

A year and a half ago, SyndicatedNews.NET hosted a two-hour long bi-lingual English/Spanish panel discussion about current affairs, music, society and technology with Yoani Sanchez. The world had long recognized that Yoani had received an award from the USAID.

A SyndicatedNews.NET writer called the USAID last year and this year again and asked the question, “Is the USAID financing Yoani – or not. It’s a yes or no question. We got no straight answers.  The latest USAID missive by Matt Herrick states:

“It is longstanding U.S. policy to help Cubans increase their ability to communicate with each other and with the outside world. Working with resources provided by Congress for exactly this purpose, USAID is proud of its work in Cuba to provide basic humanitarian assistance, promote human rights and universal freedoms, and to help information flow more freely to the Cuban people.  

Michael E. Parmly

All of our work in Cuba, including this project, was reviewed in detail in 2013 by the Government Accountability Office and found to be consistent with U.S. law and appropriate under oversight controls.

It is also no secret that in hostile environments, governments take steps to protect the partners we are working with on the ground.  The purpose of the Zunzuneo project was to create a platform for Cubans to speak freely among themselves, period.

At the initial stages, the grantee sent tech news, sports scores, weather, and trivia to build interest and engage Cubans. After that, Cubans were able to talk among themselves, and we are proud of that. USAID is a development agency and we work all over the world to help people exercise their universal rights and freedoms.”


Barack Obama’s administration tried to quiet the ZunZuneo story but it gravely conflicted with a major investigation by the Associated Press published last week.

The AP revealed that the US Agency for International Development (USAid), was intended to encourage “flash mobs” in Cuba, emulating social media-based protests that had been occurring organically in countries such as Iran, the Philippines and Moldova.

Extensive efforts were undertaken to conceal the true nature of the social-media network, using offshore banks accounts, front companies and overseas servers.

The AP quoted a 2010 memo from Mobile Accord, a contractor involved in the initiative, as saying: “There will be absolutely no mention of United States government involvement … This is absolutely crucial for the long-term success of the service and to ensure the success of the Mission.”  One document quoted by AP said: “Mock ad banners will give it the appearance of a commercial enterprise.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney said that while in “non-permissive environments” it was necessary for USAid to be “discreet”, the secret social-media initiative was “not a covert programme”.  “It was a development-assistance programme,” he said, adding: “I am not aware of individuals here in the White House who were involved.” He also said the programme was subject to congressional oversight.

Disguised in a blonde wig and a black mini dress in order to obtain Internet access from a Havana hotel lobby. Contradicts her brother in law who said she would never wear something modern.

Carney denied suggestions the programme was “under the table” or had “roped in” unsuspecting Cubans.  “This programme has been debated in Congress and reviewed by the GAO [Government Accountability Office], which found it was in accordance with US law,” Carney said.

He said “discretion” was necessary “not because it is an intelligence programme, but to protect individuals”.  Bringing communication tools to “non-permissive environments” was something “we are quite proud of”, he added.  According to the AP, text-message technology was used to circumvent restrictions on the internet imposed by Fidel and Raúl Castro, the brothers who between them have run the communist country for more than half a century.

Mobile Accord began building a vast database about Cuban ZunZuneo subscribers, including gender, age, “receptiveness” and “political tendencies”, according to the AP. The AP report said USAid believed such demographics on dissent could help it target its other Cuba programs and “maximize our possibilities to extend our reach”.

The AP said its report was based on more than 1,000 pages of documents it obtained about ZunZuneo as well as interviews with US officials and company executives involved in the project.

The report raises serious questions about the legality of a project in which extensive steps were taken to conceal links to Washington. It also comes in the midst of draft legislation to rein in surveillance activity in the wake of revelations by the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, which have undermined Washington’s reputation abroad. There is little difference between this ZunZuneo effort and Richard Nixon’s behavior in his second term.

Wikipedia states that Alan Phillip Gross is a U.S. international development professional. In December 2009 he was arrested while in Cuba working as a U.S. government subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of a program funded under the 1996 Helms-Burton Act.

He was prosecuted in 2011 after being accused of crimes against the Cuban state. After being accused of working for American intelligence services in January 2010, he was ultimately convicted for “acts against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state” in March 2011,  and is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba.

It must serve as a slap in the face to the Gross family that while Yoani Sanchez visits the United States and sits with V.P. Biden, Alan Phillip Gross sits in a Cuban Prison serving his 15 year sentence over working on the same project. The White House tried to deflect that reality by saying “No, no, Gross was working on another project” but that is not true.

Spain, Ireland, the UK, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and the Cayman Islands hosted either servers, bank accounts or companies working on ZunZuneo, and it is not known if they were aware of the true nature of the company. Use of servers in Europe may constitute a breach of data protection law, according to a legal expert quoted by the AP.

The initiative appears to have begun after the US obtained the cellphone numbers of some half a million Cubans through a leak from a “key contact” at Cubacel, Cuba’s state-owned cellphone provider.

The numbers were given “free of charge” to USAid and Creative Associates, a Washington company that has earned hundreds of millions of dollars in US contracts and, according to the AP, was instrumental in the whole project.

Initially the creators saw ZunZuneo as means to disseminate messages to millions of Cubans without the authorities, which control the internet, establishing the source of the communications.

The idea appears to have quickly evolved into a more interactive messaging network, in which users could also interact with one another and organise politically.

One contractor involved in the project remarked that there was an “inherent contradiction” in giving Cubans a platform for communications uninfluenced by their government that was in fact financed by the US government and influenced by its agenda.



ZunZuneo’s creators sought commercial backers and, in an intriguing twist, even turned to Jack Dorsey, a co-founder of Twitter, for funding. The AP said Dorsey declined to comment.

USAid was spending tens of thousands of dollars in text-messaging fees to Cuba’s telecommunications monopoly through secret bank accounts, the AP said, and was concerned about the ramifications of its involvement ever becoming public.

The programme started to wind down; users wondered why it had stopped functioning around June 2012.  On Twitter, Sanchez has 600,000+ followers but when she got off the plane in Havana at the end of her last world tour, except for a few of her relatives that met her at the airport, Cubans at the airport did not even know who she was.

Outside of Cuba, many of us happily and excitedly await Yoani Sanchez’ digital newspaper due to launch in a matter of weeks! We are just as eager as hearing her denial of the wiki-leaks communiques.

“This will be your last time”: 

A reflection on my final conversation in Cuba


This is the blog posting Ted Henken added to his Yuma site on his return from his latest trip to Havana at which time he was informed that this 15th or 16th trip to Cuba, would be his last.

My name is Ted Henken. I am an Associate Professor of Sociology at the City University of New York, where I chair the Department of Black and Hispanic Studies.

My main expertise is in Cuban Studies, a subject to which I have dedicated the bulk of my scholarly activity over the past 15 years. This focus is evident in the various things I have published about Cuba during that time. I have also had the pleasure of traveling to the island many times where I have many close friends and colleagues.

As part of an ongoing research project I just made a trip to Cuba.  I spent 12 days there (April 15-27) and carried out more than 40 interviews with a very diverse group of bloggers and micro-entrepreneurs.

I returned from the island a week ago now (actually, it has now been almost 2 months) and have had time enough to calmly reflect on my trip and all the good, bad, beautiful and ugly things that I experienced. In truth, it was an extremely fruitful trip both in personal and professional terms.

I was able to meet up with many old friends and colleagues like the historian Julio Cesar González Pagés – an inspiring teacher and path breaking scholar in the field of gender studies on the island – and get to know a growing and dynamic group of young bloggers of all political tendencies who welcomed me with much good will, honesty, and trust. I was also able to witness first-hand the irrepressible entrepreneurial spirit of everyday Cubans upon seeing the explosion of the 1,001 micro-enterprises all across the capital city.

If I have taken some time to publish my reflections on the trip it is because I want to choose my words with moderation and intelligence so that the truth of what I experienced comes out and to avoid those words being used or manipulated for purposes I do not intend.  Most of all I want to avoid inadvertently exposing anyone in Cuba to reprisals – especially the bloggers who trusted me to interview them on the record in good faith.

I did not ask the government for permission to do these interviews given that they were done with private individuals who speak only for themselves.

However, I was well aware that conducting interviews in Cuba with a tourist visa and without the government’s permission would be risky, especially if I included a number of so-called “mercenary bloggers” among my interviewees.

But long ago I learned that if you really want to accomplish something in Cuba it is better to ask forgiveness afterward than permission beforehand.

In the past, when I completed the research on which my doctoral dissertation is based, I found it frustratingly impossible to procure the sponsorship of any Cuban academic institution given that my focus was the then quite stigmatized topic of self-employment. This time around, I knew that requesting a research visa for a project focusing on the even more “delicate” topic of Internet and blogs in Cuba would only lead to an endless series of bureaucratic obstacles. In all likelihood my visa would either be rejected outright or I would never be given a clear answer.

Last month I attempted to invite the young Cuban blogger Elaine Díaz to present her research on Cuban blogs as part of a panel I organized for the Bildner Center’s international symposium “Cuba Futures.” She was open to participating, but in the end informed me that the Department of Communications of the University of Havana, where she works, denied her permission to travel abroad given that she had not yet completed her required three years of social service.

In my case, I did not want to wait my own three years for permission that would likely never be granted.

One of the goals of my interviews with Cuba’s bloggers, 18 in total, was to make headway on a research paper that I plan to present on a panel focused on blogs and Internet in Cuba at the next LASA (Latin American Studies Association) conference to be held in San Francisco in the spring of 2012.  In fact, it will be LASA’s first return to the U.S. since the 2006 San Juan conference due in part to the difficulty Cuban scholars had in getting visas under the harsh, politically motivated visa rules of the Bush administration.

Cuban blogger Sandra Álvarez (who writes the blog Negra Cubana Tenía que Ser – “It had to be a black girl”) invited me to be on the panel, which she organized together with a group of other young Cuban bloggers and which we submitted to the LASA secretariat in late-March.

While we were not successful having Cuban bloggers at the Bildner Center panel, we thought we might have more luck with LASA next year. For that to happen, we will need both LASA and LASA’s Cuba Section (I am a member of both) to give us the green light. Additionally, we can’t move forward without the cooperation of both the Cuban and U.S. governments. The first will have to grant the Cubans exit permits and the second will have to provide them with visas. Of course, then there’s the universal question of financing.

The Cubans have the perfect expression for this: “No es facil!” (It ain’t easy!).

When I was in Cuba, I asked the permission only of those I interviewed and had the good fortune that no one denied me that permission.  I did discover, however, that while these many bloggers were disposed to share their experiences and opinions with me (an outsider), they do not do so very often among themselves. Perhaps they are not interested in doing so; perhaps they don’t trust one another; or perhaps they are simply afraid of being “infected” by talking openly and honestly with other bloggers who are saddled with the label “official agent” by some and “counterrevolutionary mercenary” by others.

I spoke for hours with some and only for a few minutes with others. I learned many things from them and tried to respond to all their questions with honesty and transparency.

I respect Cuban national sovereignty.  I am not on the payroll of nor do I work for any foreign power or political party (though my bi-monthly pay checks are cut from the increasingly vacant coffers of the State of New York). I paid all the costs of my trip out of my own pocket. And I have gone on recored numerous times as being against both embargoes (that which the U.S. has long imposed against Cuba, as well as that which the Cuban government has built up against its own people).

I believe that the many problems confronted by Cuba, some of which are recognized by the government itself, should be resolved by Cubans, not foreigners; although I also believe that there are a thousand ways in which citizens of other countries can give them a hand of solidarity.

As an individual and as an academic, I always try to be the most independent and inclusive as possible.  In the highly politicized and polarized Cuban context this has not proven very easy.  However, independence and inclusion are very valuable when it comes time to analyze, understand, and write about a nation as complex and contradictory as Cuba.

I also recognize that each person possesses by nature an individual sovereignty and only that person should have the right to grant or deny access to his or her ideas, opinions, and experiences. This is called self-determination and should be a natural, even sacred right of each person. At the same time, I am well aware that it is the government – not the individual – which stands guard at the gateway of any nation.

None of those I interviewed asked me if I had permission or authorization from the government to ask them questions.  I don’t think it mattered to them.  I got the impression that they considered themselves quite capable of judging for themselves if they could trust in my good faith or not.

All the interviews that I recorded, and I recorded nearly all of them, were done with the express permission of the interviewee.  On a few occasions, my interviewees preferred to remain anonymous, a choice which I naturally respected.  Nevertheless, the great majority spoke “on the record,” giving me the right to share their ideas, opinions, and arguments together with their names and photos, here on my blog and later in any publication.

I do not know what exactly was my biggest crime: Doing interviews without the permission of “Father State” or speaking openly with bloggers the government has labeled “counterrevolutionaries” in all the official media outlets of the country. Perhaps the hidden powers of state security did not appreciate my periodic postings of commentary, analysis, and photos with my interviewees here on my blog throughout my stay in the country.

While I did interview a number of very critical bloggers, I also spoke with many others who describe themselves with quite a diversity of adjectives including Marxists, rebels, revolutionaries, disenchanted, feminists, socialists, alienated, moderates, leftists, social democrats, and liberals.  Perhaps my worst sin was exactly that: starting an open, respectful, and honest dialogue among bloggers of all stripes.

Among this wide spectrum that today constitutes the Cuban “blogosphere” there were at leas two bloggers, Sandra Alvarez (who runs the blog “Negra Cubana Tenia Que Ser“) and Elaine Diaz (“La Polémica Digital“), who had recently been celebrated by the government as an exemplary pair of “good revolutionary bloggers” in an episode of the TV series “Cuba’s Reasons.”

Regarding her appearance in the “Cyberwar” episode of this series, Elaine confessed to me that she did not appreciate being presented, even defined, as the “Anti-Yoani”.  “I am much more than that,” she told me.

Thus, I entered Cuba as a tourist because I was in truth a kind of “tourist of ideas, opinions, thoughts, and experiences.” In fact, each of the more than 15 times I have travelled to Cuba since my first trip in the summer of 1997 has been done with a tourist visa. This is in part because the clumsy, out-of-date, and unfair immigration laws of both Cuba and the U.S. stipulate that you either have to travel as a tourist, “sipping mojitos on the beach,” as a Cuban state security agent advised me during a brief interrogation at the airport (more on that later), or (according to current U.S. law) you can’t travel to Cuba as a tourist at all.

What’s more, I have many North American and European colleagues (conservatives, liberals, and progressives alike) who travel to Cuba on a regular basis for work doing so with tourist visas. We all know that it is the easiest and least bureaucratic way to gain access to the island and its people.  Although, at the same time, working on a tourist visa functions as a kind of sword of Damocles since it requires travelers to “behave” or pay the consequences.

The readers of this blog are well aware that I did not attempt to hide my activities in Cuba in the least.  Every two or three days, I would post here my observations, in addition to the photos of all the bloggers I interviewed, always with their permission. I also posted photos of the 1,001 new or recently reborn micro-enterprises, including a pair of photos of the business card of one Robertico Robaina, a former Cuban Secretary of State who now makes his living as an artist while helping his family run the paladar La Paila.

As always, during my time in Cuba I was well aware that “the revolution has friends and eyes everywhere,” as a state security agent told me with pride during an interrogation on one of my previous trips. Thus, I preferred to be as transparent as possible and share the very same opinions in public as I would express in private.

I made a great effort to listen to and include in my interviews the greatest variety of voices, ages, races, genders, and political perspectives possible.

As a result, I spoke with both Yoani Sánchez and her husband Reinaldo “Macho Rico” Escobar, as well as with Elaine Díaz and Yudivian Cruz Almeida. All are young bloggers (young, at least, in spirit in the case of Macho Rico) whom the political apparatus in Cuba has tried to present as enemies or polar opposites.

I spoke with two very hospitable grad-students from the University of Matanzas, Roberto Gonzalez Peralo and Harold Cardenas Lema, who co-founded and administrate the “revolutionary” site (their words) La Joven Cuba, just as I spoke with Erasmo Calzadilla and Alfredo Fernández, a pair of very warm and sharp young bloggers who publish their critical observations of life in Cuba today at the site Havana Times.

I did the same with the black feminist revolutionaries Sandra Álvarez and Yasmín Portales, both associated with the group Bloggers Cuba, as well as with the journalist Iván García and lawyer Laritza Diversent, both also black, who have been associated with the highly critical blogging portal Voces Cubanas.

Finally, I met and exchanged ideas with the former biochemist, writer, and photographer Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo and the researcher and long-time dissident Miriam Celaya, as well as with the techies and computer programmers “ZorphDark” and RogerTM who have worked with the Bloggers Cuba digital collective.

However, it seems that my effort at being fair, listening to all sides without prejudice, and dialoging with many of the voices of Cuba’s growing blogosphere impressed neither the government nor the invisible state security agents who, it seems, had me under constant surveillance throughout my visit.

I discovered that for them I am a “conflictive” element who came to Cuba to provoke controversy, impose my “arrogant point of view,” and “support the counterrevolution.”

In fact, ironically the last conversation I had in Cuba was not with any blogger or entrepreneur, and unfortunately I was unable to record it. Instead, it was with a pair of angry state security agents in the Jose Martí International Airport just before I left the country.

I had seen the two agents out of the corner of my eye when I first arrived at the terminal.  They were watching me without much discretion as I checked my luggage. As I made my way to pay the 25 CUC exit tax, I purposely passed very close to them to get a good look at them for myself.

Before going through the immigration and customs check points I went to the bathroom.  While there, I heard the following chilling announcement over the airport PA system: “Theodore Henken, make your way to the immigration check point please.” It was then that I knew for certain what awaited me on the other side.

I passed through immigration and the security screening without any problem. However, upon arriving in the large waiting room that doubled as the gate for my flight, a uniformed woman asked me to follow her to a small examination room where my checked luggage was already waiting. They had already begun taking down my personal information when a man wearing a similar uniform arrived.  He took me and my luggage to another, even smaller examination and (as it turned out) interrogation room.

This time he closed the door.

This uniformed officer, a young man between 25 and 30 years old, began taking down my personal data once again as he proceeded to methodically open and examine the entire contents of my backpack and suitcase. However, just as he began to go through my things one of Cuba’s routine blackouts interrupted him. I thought triumphantly to myself, “The collapse of Cuba’s ‘energy revolution’ has saved me.” But my celebration was premature as the lights came back on only a few minutes later.

Soon thereafter the door to our tiny interrogation room opened once again and the same two state security agents whom I had spied watching me earlier entered. There were now four grown men crammed into the tiny cell of a room. The agents quickly closed the door behind them and begin immediately to ask me very pointed questions, demonstrating that they were perfectly clued in to all of my movements during the previous 12 days.

“We are well aware of what you have been up to.  But we want to know who authorized you to do interviews and carry out a survey in out country?” demanded the one who seemed to be in charge.

Taking a deep breath, I answered: “Well, each person with whom I spoke gave me their personal permission. I did not think there was anything wrong with talking with people. What’s more, I have written a guide to Cuba’s paladares and I needed to speak to the owners of these enterprizes themselves so I could update it.”

“As in any other country in the world, here in Cuba you need permission to do these kind of things and you can’t do them with a tourist visa. If you are a tourist, as your visa says, you should be lying on the beach sipping a mojito, not visiting and taking photos of paladares and counterrevolutionaries. Besides, those aren’t ‘enterprizes’ as you call them, but small family businesses.”

“I came to learn about the experiences and opinions of these micro-entrepreneurs given the recent economic opening. I explained this to everyone and no one denied me their permission.”

“You did not come to listen and learn but instead to impose your ideas,” this same agent told me. “Cubans are very courteous and well mannered, so of course they are going to talk to you because they do not know what you are really up to. But we do know and we are not going to permit it. Besides, you met with a bunch of bloggers who are nothing more than counterrevolutionary elements –and you support them.”

“If you really know what I was up to, you would know that I interviewed many different bloggers including those from Matanzas who support the revolution. I came to listen and dialogue with them. Do you know that word: dialogue?”

“We know very well what you were doing in Matanzas. You did not go to dialogue but to impose.”

“That’s not true,” I insisted. “I went to listen, to dialogue… We exchanged arguments listening to each other with respect. I interviewed them and they interviewed me in return. No one imposed anything on anyone.”

“We know that you defended Yoani Sanchez, a known counterrevolutionary,” they retorted.

“They asked my opinion and I gave it to them. I also listened to thei arguments and criticisms of her. They even asked my advice about ways to improve their blog to make it more inviting for readers,” I told them.

“We already know everything that you talked about with them,” they informed me, now giving me the clear idea that they had somehow gotten ahold of a copy of the recording we made. “And after going to Matanzas you returned to Havana and met up with a series of counterrevolutionaries!”

“I went to visit other bloggers both in public places and in thier homes. They are not criminals and as far as I know it is not a crime to talk to people in their own homes. If they were criminals, I would expect them to be in jail, not at home.”

“What we do know is that you are no tourist.  You came here to write a book about the bloggers.” And with deep sarcasm they added, “we would really like to read that book and see just how fair and and open to dialogue you are.”

“Well,” I said with my own dose of sarcasm, “when I finish the book I’ll see if I can get it translated into Spanish and I’ll send you a copy.”

“We can’t wait.  We also know that you write a lot about Cuba and that you have come here more than 13 times.”

“Yes, its true.  I have come to Cuba more than 15 times.”

“Is that so?,” asked the agent in charge. And with great satisfaction, he indicated that our particular interview had reached its conclusion, announcing: “Well, we are here to inform you that this will be your last time. Got it?

The pair of agents quickly vacated the room leaving me quite frustrated. There were a few things that I still wanted to say. First, I would have liked to let them know that I really don’t like lying on the beach(sipping mojitos is, of course, another matter). Also, I wanted to inquire why it was that President Jimmy Carter, with whom I wholeheartedly agree, had the right to meet with those they call “la contrarrevolución” without being labelled an enemy of the nation and I do not.

Ted Henken, Ph.D.
New York

Jose Antonio Yoani’s brother in law gives interview

Michael E. Parmly, former Chief of Mission of the United States Interests Section in Havana, or (USINT), held the job from September 2005 to July 2008. In his capacity as the Chief of Mission, he sent numerous communiques to Washington, D.C., stating that he and his wife Marie-Catherine née Schutte, hosted Yoani Sanchez and her husband, Reinaldo Escobar at each other’s Havana homes with frequency. He even detailed what they discussed during those visits. The messages became known to the world at large when they were released by wikileaks. Here’s the direct link:


The problem with this Wikileak statement is that it directly contradicts what Yoani told me. Either Parmly was lying to his contacts in Washington, D.C. or Yoani Sanchez was lying to me.

Yoani Sanchez very clearly told me that she had absolutely nothing to do with the American Government or any of its agencies. “I have no contact whatsoever and nothing to do with the American Government or any U.S. Government agency – none whatsoever”, is what she said.

I called the “Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba” in Miami, FL to learn about Yoani’s financing. The organization is an independent spinoff of the Cuban American National Foundation. When I called the organization, I identified myself and told them I was looking for answers about Yoani’s funding sources and they said they’d get the person there who “knew her best”. They told me that Jose Antonio was in charge of all details relating to Yoani.

Within seconds, Jose Antonio came to the phone. I identified myself to him again and told him that several of us here at SyndicatedNews.NET had previously hosted an online discussion with Yoani and that she generously gave us 2 hours of her time. I told him that Eduardo Quezada formerly of KTLA participated, Ian Williams from The Guardian out of London participated, Roberto Arguello formerly of LAPD participated and a few others joined in and that we took turns asking questions and that she generously answered our questions.

We went through the usual polite greetings and I told him that the reason I was calling was to clear up the question of Yoani’s funding. I told him that when she and I had spoken, she had denied accepted funding from the U.S. Government or anyone associated with the U.S. Government or Americans stationed in Havana that were associated with USAID. She wasn’t making a soft suggestion, it was a hard declaration.

Very calmly, I told Jose Antonio that the wiki leaks communiques stated that Yoani and her husband Reinaldo visited with Parmly at his home with frequency where they discussed the future of their work related to politics, their views on the Cuban Government, their plans for the Internet along with their plans for their upcoming publications, etc. At the time their plan was to call their upcoming publication “Concensus”.

I told Jose Antonio that either Parmly or she was mistaken or lying. Which might it be I asked him?

He said “Well, I don’t know anything about it, I’m unfamiliar with that situation. I lament that I have no information over the situation”. I found that odd since he had been introduced to me as the person who knew all things “Yoani” and now he was back pedaling. I asked him who he suggested might know about this situation. He replied “The only person that could speak on that would be Yoani herself”.

That’s when I informed him that on the day that the Associated Press published their article about ZunZuneo that I had contacted Yoani directly on Twitter asking her to defend it or deny it but that she couldn’t ignore the wikileaks situation anymore and I included the wikileaks link. I told him that she had not answered me even though she had been online. Again he said “The only person who could speak on this topic is Yoani herself”.

I told him the situation was now very awkward because during her 80 days around the world tour she had usually dressed like a peasant and wore her hair long and “her look” was more likened to a poor country girl. I also told him that she had indeed been seen in modern dress unlike the simple cotton peasant gypsy blouses.

He told me that I must be mistaken because he’d known her 20 years or more and had always known her to dress simply and with sobriety but that she does have exquisite taste. He told me that she has always dressed conservatively. He said he’d never seen her dress ostentatiously or in expensive clothing. He repeated that her tastes were simple. He told me that he had accompanied her shopping on numerous occasions and that he assured me that there must be some mistake. He even mentioned that when people gave her shiny, garish clothing that she’d given it away. I suggested she dressed simply and humbly and he corrected me immediately saying he would not use the word humble when describing her.

From her outfits, I told him, Yoani had always impressed me as a grass roots worker given her penchant for wearing peasant blouses, no makeup and the long hair. This is how I’d come to know her.

While on her 80 day tour, she mostly dressed quite simply as he described but she had her occasions when she dressed very elegantly and she did not show up to everything in a peasant blouse. I went on to explain that I wanted information on why it was that Parmly was stating he’d had numerous meetings with her in his house when she said clearly during our last interview that she had no interaction with Americans in Havana, especially Americans associated with the U.S. Government or USAID specifically.

Yoani’s brother-in-law replied that he was sure the problem rested in the way we were interpreting the facts. He repeated that he was sure the problem likely stemmed from the “misinterpretation of data” rather than an outright deception. I told him it was now a serious problem because Parmly’s communiques to Washington, D.C. and her statements to me contradicted each other head on.

In our talk, I also reminded him that in her travels, Yoani came across many impressionable low income individuals that threw real money at her and meant it. They wanted to contribute to her cause. I asked him as I asked Yoani, how he felt about poor people giving he their last few dollars.

Our twitter account proves both our direct twitter questions to Yoani as well as the reality that she has been online and chosen to ignore the white elephant in the room. Many poor people, seeing her as the great shining light of hope had given her their last few dollars.  If she has indeed been financed, then the money given to her by the poor should be returned to the poor.

Jose Antonio insisted that only Yoani could answer these questions and I told him that when I last called her, I simply called her house and she answered the phone herself. I asked him how he contacted Yoani and he said that he actually waited for her to call him.

Kevin Trudeau


It wasn’t until we were ending the call that he admitted that he was actually her brother-in-law. Listen to the audio above.

Within a day or so of that call, Cuban organizations circled their wagons in a sloppy attempt to salvage the fraud with a last minute spin. Instead of dealing with the obvious embarrassment, people like Ross-Lehtinen came out saying things like “Oh we knew about the wiki-leaks all along”.

But people are people and they hate giving up their saints (however far they have fallen from grace does not matter).  When the judge announced ‘AS SEEN ON TV’ Kevin Trudeau’s 10 year prison sentence and the bailiff slapped cuffs on him, his supporters cried foul, screamed and wept loudly.

One supporter was a congressman that repeatedly tried to make a speech and on his third try, was physically carried out by Federal Sheriffs. Trudeau’s supporters began “Free Kevin” marches, campaigns, etc. and still carry on about him today.

When Jim Bakker was sentenced to 45 years for having spent his career defrauding millions in the 700 Club scandal, his television victims also cried openly. After serving a mere five years of his 45 year prison sentence – 160,000 onetime supporters that had donated $20,000.00 or more usd each, filed a class action suit that was instrumental in Bakker’s being sprung from prison. His wife died and he remarried.

Jim Bakker

Where is Jim Bakker today? He is back on television selling holy water, vacations, vitamins and making plenty of money.

Yoani Sanchez used many people in order to craft her public persona in order to present herself as the great Cuban Hope. She told me that she accepted absolutely NO aid from anyone. I have confronted Yoani directly 3 times on Twitter reminding her that she specifically told me she accepted no money from anyone and that she raised all her money herself. Those words came out of her own mouth.

It is now revealed by several credible sources that she absolutely has always earned in fact, a great deal of money from the U.S. government, still does and earns additional funding from a myriad of private and public organizations.

The public enjoyed cheering her on as she entered rooms wearing peasant blouses, the long skirts and the hillbilly hair-do.

She is nothing of the sort. She is an extremely sophisticated academic entrepreneur. She can well afford to dress and when she’s out and about (she and I both know she most certainly does have exquisite taste) just as her brother-in-law told me.

But as people, our hopes were dashed now that we all know she’s a fraud and the press that rallied behind her is highly embarrassed by their own very public exuberance in writing about her to further promote her political campaign.

I asked her to either admit or deny the wiki-leaks statements where Michael E. Parmly directly contradicts what she told me. Either Parmly is lying to the White House or she’s lying to me, thus the public.

Writing about popular subjects is in itself, a very rewarding activity. Readers enjoy your opinions and leave very warm and almost predictable, satisfying remarks. There’s a wonderful sense of well being that goes along with writing about popular subjects. Friends congratulate you and colleagues give you that acknowledging nod and smile with their eyes when you pass each other on the street.

But informing the world that Yoani Sanchez is not an innocent woman of the people, but a political strategist running for President, is like trying to convince Roman Catholics that Mary aka the Mother of God, was not a virgin.

Yoani Sanchez’ silent response to the question of how much money she has actually collected is deafening.

True to her political ambitions and ever on the campaign trial. Yoani is a tried and true politician. Back in August of 2011 she served as ‘Matron of Honor’ to the transgender Wendy Iriepa’s marriage to Ignacio Estrada. She was already running for the office of President of Cuba. A change very welcomed by the Obama Administration.



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