BY LYDIA MARTIN | Miami Herald
Yoani Sánchez, the blogger who has gained an international following detailing the absurdities of daily life in Cuba, is on the phone from her 14th-floor apartment in Havana, where the elevators rarely work. She speaks plainly, boldly, with none of the hemming and hawing common among folks on the island who fear their phones are tapped.
Sánchez is certain hers is. She is constantly followed, too. None of this stops her from finding ways, despite government attempts to block her, of continuing to post to Generación Y, the blog she launched in April 2007 and for which she has won several awards. Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2008.
``Of course I’m afraid. I’m not especially valiant. Maybe it’s the panic itself that keeps me moving forward. I fear for my 14-year-old son, though so far the government has left him alone,’’ says Sánchez, 33, in her unflappable manner.
With her skinny frame and dark hair, she looks a tad like Olive Oyl. But that’s where the comparison to Popeye’s weak-kneed girlfriend ends. Sánchez is a much tougher figure, a tech-savvy representative of a growing youth-oriented Cuban counterculture who tells it like it is—about having to feed her family rice with bouillon cubes when there is nothing else, about the surging number of women on the island who deny their realities by popping black-market Valium, about the cops who are assigned to tail her.
From her blog—desdecuba.com/generationy/—translated into more than a dozen languages, she once asked those ``selfless companions who monitor the entrance to my building’’ to give her neighbors a break. Their presence inhibited illegal activity in the building, which meant residents could not get anyone to sell them anything on the black market.
``I feel I’m to blame for the commercial strangulation in which the other 143 apartments are plunged, and I have to do something to relieve them,’’ Sánchez wrote. ``So, I ask them . . . look the other way when it comes to food.’‘
``After speaking your mind, you can’t one fine day return to silence,’’ Sánchez says.
At the end of July, she learned that she is a recipient of Columbia University’s Maria Moors Cabot Prize, which recognizes outstanding reporting on Latin America and the Caribbean. But she expects that the Cuban government won’t allow her to travel to New York for the Oct. 14 awards ceremony. Saturday, she wrote that there are 66 entries in A Virtual Island, a Cuba blog contest she helped organize.
Sánchez has written about her absurd search for a lemon after waking up with a sore throat. And she has spoken directly to ``the boys of the Cybernetics Response Brigade’’ after her blog exceeded four million hits last March:
``To the boys who are assigned to paste porno ads, insults and all kinds of silliness, I am very sorry if the statistics eventually cause you to be reprimanded or to lose your jobs.’‘
``She has a very charming way of telling her story,’’ says the Chicago-based Cuban-American novelist Achy Obejas.
Obejas regularly travels to the island where, she says, more and more people are reading Sánchez’s blog, often passed around on flash drives—gadgets that have become a hot commodity in a country in which only a tiny percentage of the population has access to the Internet.