Key to survival in Cuba: keep a sense of humour

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The award of a Prince Claus Prize to Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez carries a far-reaching significance, especially for the protection it offers her, says Dutch ambassador in Havana Ron Muijzert.

He told Radio Netherlands Worldwide that the award ceremony on Friday evening was a simple affair in the embassy garden. There were about 80 guests, mostly family and friends of Ms Sánchez, some of her fellow bloggers, and diplomat colleagues of Mr Muijzert. “I tried not to overplay it,” explained the ambassador.

The authorities As predicted, the award of the prize to Ms Sánchez did not go down well with the authorities. She was not allowed to travel to the Netherlands to witness the main Prince Claus Prize being awarded to the Algerian publishing house, Barzakh.

The subsidiary prizes are always awarded in the recipients’ countries, but all the prize winners are invited to the main award ceremony which takes place in The Hague.

Mediocre journalism Mr Muijzert decided against inviting Cuban officials to the award ceremony at the embassy in Havana. He knew from experience that none would come. It’s the third year in a row that he has had an award ceremony at the embassy in Havana. Last year, a prize went to arts critic Desiderio Navarro and the year before to performance artist Tania Braguera.

Cuban officials had been sent invitations to the 2008 and 2009 ceremonies but didn’t turn up because former Prince Claus Prize winner Dagoberto Valdés Hernández was present. He had won the award in 1999 and is considered a dissident by the authorities. He attended the award ceremony again this year.

The Cuban administration has been curiously silent about this year’s award to Ms Sánchez. Mr Muijzert has only had an informal response from a senior civil servant, who said he found it a pity that the Netherlands was honouring “such a mediocre journalist”.

Protection Ms Sánchez has gathered a host of other Cuban bloggers around her whom she trains. Many of them were at the embassy for the award ceremony. Mr Muijzert stresses that the Prince Claus Prize isn’t a human rights award – it’s a prize for outstanding work in the area of arts and culture. It’s also not given out by the Dutch government. Still, he says, it is important. “All that international interest in her. Maybe it’s a bit over the top, but this kind of award offers a certain amount of protection. That’s how Yoani herself sees it, and I think that’s correct.”

More political Ambassador Muijzert reads Ms Sánchez’ blog himself now and again. He says at first she wrote about everyday inconveniences, but gradually it became more political. He values her sharp wit. “In Cuba, you have to maintain your sense of humour. Luckily, most Cubans have. As far as that’s concerned, she’s part of a tradition.”


© Radio Netherlands Worldwide

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