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Story Publication logo July 25, 2010

Yoani Sanchez: Dissident Blogger Behind Generación Y


Yoani Sanchez, the blogger behind Generación Y.
Yoani Sanchez, the blogger behind Generación Y.

As one Cuban official sees it, she's the quarter-million dollar woman, a creation of foreign interests determined to topple the socialist government.

Yoani Sanchez became an enemy of the state in Cuba soon after her meteoric rise as creator of the blog Generación Y.

Her blog gets millions of hits every month and readers routinely leave 2,000 or more comments for each of her short posts about life in Cuba. Supporters translate her blog into over a dozen languages, an effort, some Cuban officials suggest, that is financed by people intent on regime change in Cuba.

Sanchez makes it clear that, yes, she wants change. And yes, she has foreign friends and supporters, most of whom she does not know and has not met. But she scoffs at accusations that she is somehow a creation of Uncle Sam or any other foreign government.

And she believes that it has been healthy that the U.S. government has lowered its profile in Cuba since the election of Barack Obama.

On July 7, the Roman Catholic Church announced that Cuban officials planned to free 52 political prisoners. U.S. officials had been pushing for the prisoners' release since they were jailed in 2003. But it was the Catholic Church that mediated the deal. Some Cuban dissidents believe American officials contributed toward the dissidents' release at some level behind the scenes, but if that's true, the U.S. role wasn't evident.

Sanchez said staying out of the spotlight is the best thing U.S. officials could have done. She believes international opinion is important as civic activists try to build a new, more democratic society in Cuba but the U.S. government does not need to tell Cubans what do to.

"We know how to do it," Sanchez said. "Citizens can win this battle."

According to her, pro-democracy activists need continued international support and protection, and supporters need to help ensure that Cuba's pro-democracy fight stays in the public eye through international forums.

Sanchez began her blog three years ago. She writes scathing commentaries about life in Cuba. She criticizes the lack of basic freedom on the island. And she calls on Cuban authorities to lift restrictions on Internet use on the island.

Pro-democracy activists see her as a hero and she's received international prizes for her blog.

A senior Cuban official who spoke on condition of anonymity said he cannot understand how Sanchez rose so quickly without financial support from abroad. "I calculate that Operation Yoani Sanchez costs around a quarter-million dollars per year," he said. "Her blogs are translated into 17 languages. They take up more bandwidth than the rest of the Internet users in the entire country of Cuba." The official said he doesn't believe the U.S. government is financing Sanchez' blog directly. The money, he contends, flows in a covert manner to other groups and individuals who support the blogger.

Rosa C. Baez, who runs a pro-government blog called La Polilla Cubana, agrees. She calls Sanchez "an invention." "I can't believe anybody would pay attention to her," she said from her second-floor apartment in the town of Villa Panamericana, east of Havana. "All those people have been bought."

Sanchez, of Havana, has repeatedly denied getting any support from the U.S. government. She said most of the support that pro-democracy Cuban bloggers receive is "personal and private."

She said Cuban security agents have harassed her and her husband, Reinaldo Escobar, ever since she began her blog. In response, she has pursued some agents on the street, photographed them and posted the pictures on her blog. "If I'm transparent, they should learn how to show their face, too," she said. "It's a process of getting naked in public."

The blogger's strategy has evolved during the past three years. She increasingly uses Twitter to spread the latest news about dissidents and political prisoners and often gets out the news faster than international wire services. She was the first to report, for instance, that Guillermo Fariñas had ended his hunger strike after 134 days.

Sanchez got that scoop directly from Fariñas on July 8 as he lay in a hospital bed in the central city of Santa Clara as foreign reporters stood outside wondering what was going on.

"I consider myself a reporter on the run," Sanchez said. "It's fallen to me to be a pioneer."

In 2009, Columbia University named Sanchez as one of four recipients of that year's Maria Moors Cabot award, the oldest honor in international journalism.

"I've gotten many prizes," Sanchez said, "but the biggest prize is when citizens tell me, 'I read you. I follow you.' No news agencies report that."

As for the future, Sanchez said she will continue pressing for economic and political reforms in Cuba. She believes that the prisoner release showed that the socialist government is vulnerable. "The country is in a complete economic crisis," she said, and pro-democracy activists should step up the pressure on the government.

Some analysts expect that perhaps Raul Castro will announce economic reforms on July 26. That is the 57th anniversary of the start of the Cuban revolution when Fidel Castro and his followers attacked the Moncada barracks in the eastern town of Santiago de Cuba.

Other people believes Cuban officials may announce new measures on Aug. 1 when the Cuban parliament is scheduled to meet. And they say Fidel Castro, 83, may even make another appearance in the coming days.

Sanchez said she's not sure what's going to happen. She's skeptical any big reforms will be announced. But she wonders if the transition to the post-Castro era has already begun. Maybe, she said, she's so close to the epicenter of it all that she doesn't realize that this is it.

Maybe historians will look back and consider 2010 as the year of the transition. Just maybe, Sanchez said, "we are witnessing moments of change, but don't realize it."

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