MEXICO CITY – Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez has quickly emerged as one of the best-known critics of the Castro regime. The Monitor met with her last year in a café in Havana after she had won Spain’s prestigious Ortega y Gasset award. Since then she has been chosen as one of Time’s 100 most influential people for her daily blog, Generation Y, and won Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism's Maria Moors Cabot Prize (which made even more news because Cuban officials denied her a visa to travel to New York to accept the award).
Now she is in the spotlight again: President Obama just granted her an “interview,” answering questions on her blog that she posed to both the American president and Raul Castro, the Cuban leader who took the reigns from brother Fidel in early 2008.
"Thank you for this opportunity to exchange views with you and your readers in Cuba and around the world,” President Barack Obama begins, also congratulating her for the Columbia University award. “You richly deserve the award. I was disappointed you were denied the ability to travel to receive the award in person.”
She asks the president whether Cubans’ limited access to technology is the fault of the US embargo or Cuban officials. He responded:
“My administration has taken important steps to promote the free flow of information to and from the Cuban people particularly through new technologies. We have made possible greater telecommunications links to advance interaction between Cuban citizens and the outside world. This will increase the means through which Cubans on the island can communicate with each other and with persons outside of Cuba, for example, by expanding opportunities for fiber optic and satellite transmissions to and from Cuba.
"This will not happen overnight. Nor will it have its full effect without positive actions by the Cuban government. I understand the Cuban government has announced a plan to provide Cubans greater access to the Internet at post offices. I am following this development with interest and urge the government to allow its people to enjoy unrestricted access to the internet and to information. In addition, we welcome suggestions regarding areas in which we can further support the free flow of information within, from, and to Cuba.”
His answers do not indicate any radical shift in American policy toward Cuba, even though Mr. Obama has eased rules regarding travel and money transfers. But in simply getting the president to respond to her, Ms. Sanchez continues to break new ground with information technology, as is a new class of young people in Cuba, many of whom the Monitor profiled in a series.
Will Raul Castro reply? No one is holding their breath. These days, the Cuban leader has been under fire after a Human Rights Watch report came out saying that restrictions on civil liberties and human rights abuses are just as bad under the Raul government as they were under that of older brother Fidel Castro. And Sanchez has not exactly made friends with the government for her blog chronicling the trials of daily life in Cuba. Last week, she says, she was detained briefly and beaten by state authorities.