Blogger Yoani Sanchez had just found out that she had won an 2008 Ortega y Gasset award – essentially the Pulitzer prize of Spanish journalism – and she was nervous. Would Cuban officials give her the exit visa to fly to Madrid and accept the prize for digital journalism?
At a cafe in Havana, as she talked about the origins of her blog and the risks she takes chronicling daily life in Cuba, she seemed distracted. No wonder; at that moment her husband was standing in a line at a government office seeking instructions on the proper visa protocol.
Ms. Sanchez's no-nonsense – and often contentious – slices of life that she posts on her blog Generaci?n Y (www.desdecuba.com/generationy/) have suddenly catapulted her into the world spotlight.
On a recent post, she talks about the wave of Cubans rushing to prove their Spanish heritage in order to gain citizenship in Spain amid "a lack of expectations and material hardship" in Cuba. With irony and wit, she mocks the tangle of Cuban bureaucracy, the senseless privation of its citizens, and the way the state media views all of it through rose-colored glasses. Her entries are translated into English, French, Italian, German, and Polish.
In other words, she is not exactly the ambassador that Cuba – with a tight grips on dissenters – wants to present to the world. And yet, she reasoned, permission denied might garner so much media attention as to backfire in a Cuba trying to present its more tolerant face. After all, the Raúl Castro administration had just dropped bans on owning cellphones and computers. How could they deny a week-long trip to a well-known blogger who recently was named one of the most influential people in the world by Time magazine?
On the day before she was to leave for Madrid – May 3, World Press Freedom Day – she kept her readers abreast of the process: Her permit to leave was "stopped" for reasons unknown to her. That entry alone got nearly 3,000 responses.
The government may physically be able to stop her, she says, but the technology that has made her – inadvertently from her perspective – the spokesperson of her generation is well beyond their grasp. She writes from her home, pulls out her memory flash, and slips into Internet cafes.
Back in March, she said, when suddenly she could no longer access her blog from public cafes in Havana, she began e-mailing her entries to friends who e-mail her back the thousands of commentaries she receives. She's a "blind blogger," she writes in a recent post, but a determined one. "Against all the limitation, there is the popular voice, and there is technology," she says.
Her year-old blog is part of a new crop of commentary leaking from the island. "This has become a civil space for citizens seeking change," she says. "They can try to restrict the technology, but we Cubans are very adept."