Yoani Sánchez on the fear and responsibility of Tweeting under Castro’s nose
“Democracy starts in our heads,” Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez said on a December 21 phone interview at a talk organized by Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. The talk was titled “Tweeting Under Castro” – but it could have also been labeled “Tweeting Under Castro’s nose.”
Sánchez, who manages to bypass government restrictions and has made her blog available in 17 languages throughout a network of supporters, said that she doesn’t worry too much about the insults and nasty epithets because, “there’s nothing more attractive that what’s forbidden.”
Ever since Sánchez started her Generation Y page, she’s been a constant online influencer, earning recognition and praise by the likes of Time magazine and Spain’s El País newspaper.
In 2009, Columbia awarded her the oldest journalism prize in the U.S., the Maria Moors Cabott award, but the Castro regime didn’t allow her to attend the ceremony. In a video message, Sánchez apologized for her absence and also reflected on “this exorcism called Generation Y.”
So it made sense for her to speak at the same school that recognized her for her work. The “Tweeting Under Castro” conference was led by former El Nuevo Herald editor and New York Times Pulitzer-winner Mirta Ojito.
“Women, the skirts, we’re achieving a more relevant role,” Sánchez said. “It relieves me. We’ve been living under way too masculine regimes – this is not pejorative; we’ve lived under too much confrontation. The world is tired of such testosterone-fueled confrontation.”
She also commented on the astonishing prices Cubans pay for Internet.
“It’s $12.00 for an hour in the hotels,” she said. “We can connect to the Internet, but it is so expensive that not everybody has access.”
Sánchez’s requests to travel abroad have been rejected 18 times in 4 years. But she did leave the country before Generation Y started. In 2002, she flew to Switzerland, and then chose to come back to Cuba.
“My own family rubs it in my face,” Sánchez said. “(But here in Cuba) I have all the people I love, and the raw material to write about. I don’t regret (coming back). I feel I can help to make a change in here.”
But she did acknowledge that she lives in fear.
“My knees tremble every day, but I try not to let it control me,” she said.
Somebody asked her if she would consider running for president of Cuba.
“I’d like to devote myself to journalism,” she answered. “There’s a big responsibility in doing constructive journalism, not one of revenge, of vengeance, one that lead us nowhere. I would love to work behind cameras.”
Asked about the “Cuban Facebook,” a government-sponsored social network called “Red Social” (“Social Network”), Yoani said that’s another example of the Cuban government “fearing their citizens to arrive to the social network shores at large.”
“That’s why they create these controlled bubbles where users would be under close supervision and afraid of what they can say or can’t. People would be forced to be ‘friends’ with Fidel Castro in order not to be relegated and become exposed,” she added.
Towards the end of the talk, Sánchez gave some words on how people can help her and help her fellow Cubans.
“If you come to Cuba, bring a flash drive, a newspaper; Cubans need tech and info.”
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