Yoani Sánchez Portrait

Five years ago, Yoani Sánchez could no longer remain silent. She succeeded in launching her own blog in the face of considerable difficulties since Internet access is extremely restrictive and closely monitored by the regime in Cuba. Private Internet access is forbidden except for privileged members of the regime. Yoani Sánchez’s blog ‘Generation Y’ became her personal battle ground with which she aims to show the world what life is really like in Cuba after 50 years of ‘revolution’ and a one-party state. Her blog provides an unfiltered insight into the Cuban reality behind the façade of propaganda, which the state media try to bolster with all the means their press monopoly makes available to them despite the economic collapse of the country. Yoani writes openly about state repression and the capriciousness of the bureaucracy – at constant risk of arrest.

Yoani has published her critical writings in her own name from the very beginning. In doing so, she was the first blogger on the island not to seek the protection of a pseudonym. This delicate little woman radiates incredible energy and determination: “I came to realise that I have to exercise my responsibility as a Cuban citizen, I want to live in Cuba. But in a different Cuba”.

In the beginning the state ignored her rebellious voice. However, as the number of readers worldwide passed the million mark, the regime suddenly changed its strategy. On the same day that Raúl Castro signed the international Human Rights Convention as the new Cuban President, all access to Yoani’s blog was blocked throughout the country. But Yoani did not lose heart. Ever since, she has copied her blog entries onto DVDs or printed them on paper so that even her compatriots could have access to information about current events in Cuba.

As Yoani’s prominence grew so did the repressive measures to which she was subjected. She was put under surveillance and spied on and her phone was tapped. Yoani was slanderously described on state television as an American spy. She was abducted from the street and brutally beaten up. Only her international standing saved her from a long prison sentence. Furthermore, heated debate has flared up between the advocates and the opponents of her blog-based criticism of the regime. So much audacity and civil courage on the part of an ordinary Cuban woman has raised many fears. Yoani is treated as a suspect and cursed – yet admired. But nothing keeps her from her campaign.

Despite Yoani Sánchez’s determination, her concern often surfaces that, as a consequence of her activities, something even worse will happen, and even that her 15-year-old son Teo and other family members could be affected. She knows that the system strikes back pitilessly if anyone dares to open the mouth.

Her tireless campaign for an open Cuba has received a positive response worldwide and has brought her much acclaim, so much that Fidel Castro described Yoani Sánchez publicly as a ‘Cuban disgrace’. Alongside awards for her role as a champion of human rights and press freedom, as well as countless journalistic prizes – including the celebrated Spanish ‘Ortega y Gasset’ – she was selected as one of the hundred most influential people by ‘Time’ magazine and, in 2011, was honoured by Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama as a ‘Woman of Courage’. So far, however, Yoani Sánchez has been unable to receive a single one of these awards in person. The Cuban regime bans her from travelling. Her campaign has effectively made her a prisoner on the island.

In common with her compatriots, Cuba’s most famous blogger has no private Internet access. So, every day, she has to go into the town centre to upload her critical blog entries to the Internet at one of the few Internet connections in the tourist hotels. This is a time-consuming activity since public transport in Havana, as on the rest of the island, runs badly if at all, as it has done for years. A little while ago, Yoani discovered the possibility of publishing her thoughts on Twitter via SMS without an Internet connection. She reports several times a day on current events in Cuba, which never appear in the state-controlled media. She has an audience of over 250,000.

Yoani Sánchez’s blog is read monthly by more than 14 million people. Volunteers translate her writings from Spanish into many languages. Since Yoani’s blog has become known to such a wide public, thousands of readers from across the world discuss her observations, demands, and the situation in Cuba in the Cuban blogosphere – a previously unimaginable development in a country where the people have learnt to keep silent for fear of denunciations and spying.

A chain reaction was triggered when the political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died on hunger strike in 2010. Yoani carried the voices of protest out into the world with her blog and, with it, provoked condemnation of the Cuban government by the EU parliament and worldwide demonstrations of solidarity. The Cuban government found itself compelled to free many political prisoners. After this success, Yoani Sánchez’s fight for human rights, press freedom and freedom of opinion in Cuba carries on with renewed energy and is supported by an ever-increasing group of bloggers in Cuba.