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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