News and Facts about Cuba

Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez refuses to back down

Cuban Yoani Sanchez refuses to back down

Published On Sat May 19 2012

By Catherine Porter Columnist

HAVANA, CUBA—I have called Yoani Sanchez 76 times since I arrived in

Cuba eight days ago. Once, I managed to get through for 38 seconds

before the line was cut.

So, finally, I board a sleek, blue 1953 boat of a Plymouth — a

collective taxi for locals — manned by a grandfather named Fidel and

bounce across the city on its grey leather back seat to Neuva Vedado,

where I'm told Sanchez lives.

I know from her blog that she lives at the top of the14-storey building

her husband built as part of a neighbourhood brigade decades ago. I pace

the top two floors looking for a sign and there it is below the peephole

of one door — a small Cuban flag with the words "Internet para todos"

(Internet for all) written across the bottom.

I sit down and wait.

When I finally meet Sanchez that evening, she tells me apologetically

that her cellphone service has been cut since the day before Pope

Benedict XVI arrived on the island with 800 international journalists in


The morning of his public mass in Havana's packed Plaza de la

Revolucion, Sanchez emerged from her building to find lines of police

tape and an officer standing by the exit who told her, "you, you cannot

leave," she says.

She was among the 150 political dissidents Amnesty International says

the government detained and cut off in a "communications blockade" that


"The Raulista system of repression is different than the Fidelista,"

Sanchez tells me, settling down at a table in her family's bright,

book-lined living room.

"Under Fidel, we would go to for 15, 20, 30 years. With Raul

Castro, you spent 24 or 48 hours in a police station or locked in your

home, and there is no legal proof, no right to call anyone, no lawyer,

no habeas corpus. The moment the pope's plane took off, our liberties

were returned."

Sanchez's crime? She is a blogger. She posted her first entry about her

gnawing hunger to a blog site set up by a friend in Germany — since

regular Cubans were then forbidden access to the Internet — five years

ago. Soon after, she wrote about how her building, once the symbol of

collective spirit and work, was slumping into decay, with broken water

pumps and a jerry-rigged elevator and no official cleaner since the job

was "too much work for too little money." She called the post "metaphor

for these times."

The blog, dubbed Generation Y, became a diary of the daily frustrations

of life in modern Cuba — from the single bun she is afforded each day by

the country's anemic ration system, to the televisions that have

replaced teachers in her son's and the three-day lineups for a

ticket to the countryside.

Were Sanchez Canadian, her blog would be considered tame. Even her

criticisms of the Castro regime more poetry than tirade — commenting on

Fidel's "canned speeches past their expiration date."

But this is Cuba, a country where volunteer revolutionary brigades still

report and hound "counter-revolutionaries" and all media is state-owned.

To post her blog, Sanchez pretended to be a Swiss staying at a

deluxe so she could access the web in the 's cyber cafe. "Is

dis where I pay for ze Internet?" she says, giving me a rerun of

German-accented English. Even though hotels are now open to Cubans,

along with their Internet suites, the exorbitant cost is a practical censor.

"I felt like Swiss Family Robinson, throwing bottles with messages into

the ocean. I didn't know who was reading them or if anyone was reading

them," she says.

Millions were. The blog garnered Sanchez almost instant international

fame with a fistful of prestigious journalism prizes and commendations,

as well as an online interview with U.S. Barack Obama. To this

day, strangers around the globe translate her blog into more than 15

languages for free.

Inside Cuba, Generation Y garnered Sanchez two police officers stationed

outside her building most days. Then, in November 2009, she writes about

being yanked into a car and beaten for being a "counter-revolutionary"

by three "heavily built strangers," presumably undercover police officers.

She did not back down. Instead, she continued coaching fellow dissidents

on the tricks and science of joining her in the blogosphere. (They now

have a collective site.)

She sees her writing as love letters to her country, urging change

rather than abandonment. (She did leave for Switzerland in 2002, but

returned two years later to be with her family.)

"This could be a marvellous country," she says. "If I had a microphone

and could talk to people on television here, they'd see I'm not a person

who is violent, who wants to flee to the United States. They'd see I'm

someone who is preoccupied with my country."

Sanchez is 36. She is married and has a 16-year-old son. Together with

her husband, a former who lost his job at the state newspaper

for "not conforming to the editorial line of the newspaper," she earns

enough to fill her tiny belly by teaching Spanish to foreigners in Cuba,

together with the freelance pay from a biweekly column in the Spanish

paper El Pais and the royalties she gleans from two books. (One is a

blogger's how-to guide and the other is a collection of her blog

postings called Havana Real.)

"It gives us economic autonomy, which in a country like Cuba is

political autonomy," she says. "Here, the government has a monopoly on

all the jobs and companies."

The most striking thing about her is her hair — it hangs down past her

waist. Readers have asked if she is growing it like a hair suit in

protest of the Castro regime, but she says laughingly that's not the case.

I ask her why she thinks her blog has unplugged such a gushing reaction.

She says she thinks there are many reasons — the timing coinciding with

Fidel Castro's illness and the world's focus returning to Cuba as a

result, her personal feminine voice opposing a male-dominated state. . .

But mostly, she says she touched the irreverent, apathetic nerve of her

generation of Cubans, who grew up during the hungry "Special Period"

after the collapse of the Soviet empire and were more interested in the

rest of the world than an aging revolution.

"My blog has a life. I'm here, without any Internet and people are

commenting on my blog. The minimum number of comments I get is 1,000 and

the most was 7,746," she says. "Cubans need a public space to speak.

Since there aren't these places here, the Internet has become that."

While other peaceful critics of the regime have been surrounded in the

streets by pro-revolutionary mobs (encouraged by the government,

according to Amnesty International), that hasn't happen to Sanchez.

Perhaps she is protected by her medium — few Cubans can afford even an

hour online at a hotel, which costs half the average monthly salary.

Those who do are more likely to be her age and equally disenchanted.

More and more of them approach her on the street to voice their quiet

approval, she says.

"Cubans are very creative. Much information that's prohibited here and

difficult to see is distributed other ways. We take a memory stick, copy

pages from the Internet with critical news and then we take it to

different houses, so 100 to 200 people can read it," she says. "Here,

information transmits like a virus."

She sees a slowly growing dissidence around her. "It's like an

hourglass," she says. "At the top are the people who believe in the

system. Every day, one person who believes drops to the bottom. That's

irreversible. No one goes the other way."

Just this morning, she celebrated with her friend and fellow government

critic, Jeovany Jimenez. A doctor, Jimenez lost his job six years ago

after writing a letter to the public ministry protesting the

miserable $2 monthly raise the government had trumpeted with fanfare. He

wrote petitions, declarations, a blog that Sanchez helped him publish.

He had started a public hunger strike in March. Sanchez figured he would

die before the government relented and gave him back his job. She was wrong.

"This is incredible, just incredible. There is no precedent," she says

gleefully. "When you combine tenacity with the Internet and the presence

of citizens, there are good results. It's a hard mix."

Her next posting is about the rearrest of former

Jose Daniel Ferrier Garcia.

"My dream is to open a newspaper that speaks about the future and also

about all the things that have happened in the past that no one talks

about — the great silence of the last 50 years," she says.

"I'm still young. I'm 36. I think it will happen."–cuban-blogger-yoani-sanchez-refuses-to-back-down

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow Us
Visit Us On TwitterVisit Us On FacebookVisit Us On Google PlusCheck Our Feed
May 2012
« Apr   Jun »
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31  
Donate for Servers
We run various sites in defense of human rights and need support to pay for more powerful servers. Thank you.
Cubaverdad on Twitter
Tweets by @Cubaverdad