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Wall Street Journal
On a recent morning, Yoani Sánchez took a deep breath and gathered her nerve for an undercover mission: posting an Internet chronicle about life in Fidel Castro’s Cuba.
To get around Cuba’s restrictions on Web access, the waif-like 32-year-old posed as a tourist to slip into an Internet cafe in one of the city’s luxury hotels, which normally bar Cubans. Dressed in gray surf shorts, T-shirt and lime-green espadrilles, she strode toward a guard at the hotel’s threshold and flashed a wide smile. The guard, a towering man with a shaved head, stepped aside.
“I think I’m able to do this because I look so harmless,” says Ms. Sánchez, who says she is sometimes mistaken for a teenager. Once inside the cafe, she attached a flash memory drive to the hotel computer and, in quick, intense movements, uploaded her material. Time matters: The $3 she paid for a half-hour is nearly a week’s wage for many Cubans.
Ms. Sánchez has done this cloak-and-dagger routine since April, publishing essays that capture the privation, irony and even humor of Cuba’s tropical Communism—“Stalinism with conga drums,” as she and her husband jokingly call it. From writing about the book fair that blacklisted her favorite authors to the schoolyard where parents smuggle food to their hungry children, Ms. Sánchez paints an unflinching, and deeply personal, portrait of the Cuban experience.
While there are plenty of bloggers who dish out harsh opinions on Mr. Castro, most do so from the cozy confines of Miami. Ms. Sánchez is one of the few who do so from Havana.
“What makes her so special is that she is fresh, observant and on-the-scene,” says Philip Peters, a former Latin America official at the State Department who now studies Cuba at the Lexington Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. “Almost all of the Cuba blogs are written by people who travel there occasionally, or by people who haven’t seen the island in 40 years, if ever,” he says.
Not only does she write from Cuba, she even signs her name and posts a photo of herself on her Web site. Most Havana bloggers are anonymous. “Once you experience the flavor of saying what you think, of publishing it and signing it with your name, well, there’s no turning back,” she says. “One of the first things we have to do, a great way to begin to change, is to be more honest about saying what you think.”
The problem is, saying what you think in Cuba can be dangerous. In 2002, Cuba imprisoned dozens of journalists who declared themselves dissidents and published criticisms of the regime—many are still there. Most Cubans are so afraid of being labeled a critic that they are reluctant to utter the words “Fidel Castro” in public. Instead, they silently pantomime stroking a beard when referring to their leader.
Ms. Sánchez’s writing is direct. On Oct. 5, she wrote about Mr. Castro’s regular newspaper editorials, which usually focus on international politics rather than the problems of Cuba.
“The latest reflections of Fidel Castro have ended my patience,” she wrote. “To try to evade or distance oneself from our problems and theorize about things that occurred thousands of kilometers away, or many years ago, is to multiply by zero the demands of a population that is tired, disenchanted and in need today of measures that alleviate its precariousness.”
The fact that Ms. Sánchez has avoided jail is a source of great intrigue for global Cuba watchers and the Cuban exile community in Miami. Some experts say it signals new tolerance by Raúl Castro, who has taken over day-to-day leadership from his brother because of Fidel’s deteriorating health. Since taking temporary power in July 2006, Raúl Castro has called for an “open debate” on the country’s economic policies, and promised agricultural reforms to bolster the food supply. Cuba experts debate whether Raúl’s promises suggest a true re-examination of Cuba’s economic model, or are simply rhetoric.
Others, especially the exile community, can’t quite believe Ms. Sánchez gets away with what she does. They wonder if she is an unwitting dupe—or a complicit agent—in a campaign to make Raúl Castro appear more tolerant as he seeks greater foreign aid.
“From the bottom of my heart, I want her blog to be legitimate and be the seed that grows into something in Cuba,” says Val Prieto, a 42-year-old Miami-based architect who edits an anti-Castro blog called Babalu. “The reason the exile community is wary is that we’ve been bamboozled time and time again. You never can tell when it comes to Castro.”
There may be a simpler explanation. Some experts say Cuban authorities are mainly concerned about what people on the island think, and since the vast majority of Cubans don’t have Internet access, the government is less alarmed by a Web site available primarily to outsiders.
Read her blog in Spanish here http://www.desdecuba.com/generaciony/
Read her blog in English here http://www.desdecuba.com/generationy/