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Posted May 11, 2008 by publisher in Yoani Sanchez

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When Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez was awarded the Spanish journalism prize Ortega y Gasset, she had to celebrate it from her home in Havana. She could not travel to receive it in Madrid last month because she did not get the necessary exit permit from Cuban authorities.

In an interview, Sanchez said the travel ban was a more accurate reflection of life for Cubans than anything she could have written on her prize-winning blog, Generacion Y.

“I like to think that what has happened, about me not getting the permit to travel on time for the ceremony, is perhaps the most realistic, the most truthful post on the situation of the Cuban citizen in relation to the state that I have written over these 13 months,” Sanchez said.

A small-built, 32-year-old philologist, Sanchez was recently listed as one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time magazine - a list that includes presidents, private industry and entertainment leaders.

Sanchez said her own case shows that “what has changed in Cuba in recent months, under new President Raul Castro, is not headed in the direction of citizens’ rights.”

“I do not doubt that they have implemented new measures, but how much that has improved the quality of life and the freedoms of the Cuban citizen ... well, I have my doubts, I think nothing,” she said.

In this respect, Sanchez said there was still a lot to do in the communist island since long-time Cuban leader Fidel Castro formally stepped down earlier this year. She underlined that changes should come from the people.

“I think the main thing must come from us. We should not wait for the state to decide on it and vertically announce it to us but interconnect again, realise that the country belongs to us and act accordingly,” Sanchez said.

Still, the Cuban blogger did acknowledge there had been an “awakening” on the country’s streets in recent times, of which web-logs like hers are a consequence.

“This is a phenomenon that has coincided with the end of a cycle of silence that obviously has a lot to do with Fidel Castro no longer being physically present in the media, and also with an awakening of people which is still going very slowly, very cautiously,” Sanchez said.

“It is clear that we Cubans are no longer the same as two years ago, that we are starting to be critical, to release publicly, and that release has to lead to something, has to put pressure in a clear direction: civil liberties,” she said.

Devoted to those “born in the Cuba of the 1970s and the 1980s, marked by schools in the countryside, Russian dolls, illegal flights and frustration”, the blog Generacion Y looks sharply at Cuban reality as seen from the perspective of a normal citizen, as Sanchez likes to call herself.

She trusts that “the day will come” when she would be little known due to a large number of bloggers in Cuba. Until then, however, Sanchez said she took “as a prize” the fact that she could not travel to Spain.

“There are so many things that anchor me here, so many things to write for, so many experiences to live, that I do not feel a great desperation to travel,” Sanchez explained.

“If the officials who have denied me the trip meant to punish me to stay in the country, well, they have not succeeded: I have great pleasure in staying here and writing my things about Havana,” she said.

She added, with her typical smile, that there is a bright side to everything. The refusal of the travel permit was “the first answer” from official circles that she had received in her 13-month-old blogging career.

“Until now the government’s attitude was that the blog did not exist. But for the first time it is implicit that they know it exists,” Sanchez said.

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  1. Follow up post #1 added on May 12, 2008 by abh with 244 total posts

    The following is taken from an article in Florida newspaper The Sun-Sentinel.  It mentions Mariela Castro (Raul’s daughter) advocates a change in Cuba’s policy for its citizens who wish to travel abroad:
    But Mariel Castro’s also is expressing opinions in other areas.

    In an interview published in the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia on Saturday, she spoke in favor of allowing Cubans to travel freely.

    “It is not necessary to deprive people of their right to leave,” she said. “I think we should grant permission to all those who want to leave. People can leave, but with a great amount of difficulty.”

    Cubans must seek government approval to travel, a lengthy process that the new government is believed to be streamlining.
    Given that the issue of ending the cumbersome “tarjeta blanca” policy has been the subject of many rumors and I think at least one leaked government document I believe it’s fair to hope that the tarjeta might be taken out of commision by Mariela’s Dad.

  2. Follow up post #2 added on May 12, 2008 by bernie with 199 total posts

    If a Cuban who was educated in the Cuba educational system wants to
    leave Cuba, wouldn’t it be nice of them to repay the Cuban people for
    the cost of their education, settling all goverment subsidies they received
    before leaving.  I am sure many doctors, nurses, engineers and others
    who were educated by the goverment, paid for their education they would be given an exit visa????

    Alot of these type of people are gimmies???? (give me)

  3. Follow up post #3 added on May 12, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    That’s just the communist system. Everyone gets entitlements.

    If they were living in a free society, many would leave AND come back.

    The reason Fidel and Raul don’t want to give exit visas is because everyone would leave and work for themselves in another country.

    My message to Raul…

    give your people a reason to come back to Cuba (besides the fact that all their relatives will suffer if someone does not come back home)

    Cuba consulting services

  4. Follow up post #4 added on May 13, 2008 by abh with 244 total posts

    Fair enough I guess… Although I understand why you would say that Raul has to give Cubans living abroad “a reason to come back to Cuba” if you’re looking at the situation right now from the U.S. perspective, I also believe that one could argue that the Cuban government’s duty should be to work hard at meeting the needs of the population.  What I think will become clear is that it is much easier to remove some of the Fidel-style prohibitions (Hotels, DVDs, etc.) than to structurally change things so that there is some kind of meaningful sustainable development in the country.  “Giving the people a reason to come back” may mean different things to different people.  I think that Meeting the Needs of the Population should take priority over Giving the people a reason to come back.  If it doesn’t, maybe we are closer to capitalism than anyone thought.

  5. Follow up post #5 added on May 13, 2008 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    Yes if the gates were opened, many would leave, and I’m sure almost as many would come back.
    On a recent tv program on Cuba shown here , a Cuban said something like “it may not be the perfect country, but it’s our country”

    Two things the government has to do however before opening the gates will work is to give the people something to come back to and convince the people that opening the gates is not a short term thing but a permanent change. Both of those will take some time to realize but i think the country is heading in that direction whether with Raol at the head or without.

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