Yoani Sanchez won the prize for Best Blog at The Bobs awards in 2008, but she wasn't allowed to collect her trophy. Now, she is on a world tour talking about how to overcome censorship, and stopped by at re:publica.
She has been beaten. She has been taken away by police multiple times. For those who refuse to be silenced, it's just part of life in Cuba. Despite the dangers, Yoani Sanchez speaks her mind. She says she has no choice. She wants to "exorcize demons," and her motivation is the future of her country. She doesn't want to explain to her grandchildren someday that she did nothing to fight oppression. This motivation has landed Sanchez under the government's watchful eye as a dissident, a "liar and foreign mercenary."
In her blog, Generacion Y, Sanchez writes about everyday life in Cuba. She also dissects the Castro clan in her texts, which makes her a thorn in the government's side. Early this year she was finally allowed to leave Cuba after several unsuccessful applications. Now she's set out to a worldwide tour where she talks about her work, about the backlash, how she overcomes censorship in Cuba, and what tricks she uses to distribute her content throughout the world.
Incognito at a hotel for tourists
She has more than 500,000 followers on Twitter - the majority of her followers are not from Cuba, where the internet is not affordable for the average citizen. Private internet connections do not exist, with the exception of hotels and internet cafes that offer networks at a rate of six to $12 per hour (an average monthly salary is $20). Even then the internet speed is comparable to that of a modem from the 1990s.
You have to get creative if you want to get information via the internet. Sanchez has posed as a European tourist, so she could sneak into a hotel with internet access. This plan worked because she is able to speak some German. Prior to her blogging career, she lived in Switzerland for two years.
A crucial tool is mobile technology. Via text message, tweets are sent to a foreign telephone number - there's also a contact in Germany. From there, the tweet finds its way to the internet. The only disadvantage is that two-way interaction is not possible. Sanchez calls this "tweeting in the dark." Those who retweet her work support her efforts.
The power of a USB stick
To work as efficiently as possible, she writes the text for her blog offline, saves it onto a USB stick, passes it along to a trusted person who then posts the contents online.
"If you ever travel to Cuba, bring your old laptop or cell phone with you, and give it to any Cuban on the street. It would change that person's life and help an ordinary citizen breach the red line of censorship," she appealed to the audience.
Her work is being applauded in Berlin, but Sanchez doesn't receive a warm welcome wherever she goes. At a presentation in Perugia, Italy, she was booed. Militant Castro supporters were present in the audience and disrupted the event until they were finally kicked out.
The Cuban government observes Sanchez and her travels with a close watch. She assumes that further presentations, even in Germany, will be disrupted. But she doesn't let it bother her. She is happy to be in a democratic country where she is allowed to state her opinion.
Finally a Bobs Award
The value of her descriptions about life in Cuba is underscored by the sheer number of foreign awards she has received. However, she could never accept any of the awards, as she was not allowed to leave Cuba for years. At the of re:publica Web 2.0 conference in Berlin, she is finally able to receive her Bobs award. In 2008 the jury awarded her blog "Generacion Y" Best Blog. The jury especially liked her "poetic style and clear expression," as well as her "highly symbolic nature for the entire blogosphere."
At the time of her award, Yoani Sanchez reached out via video message. "This award will encourage many bloggers in our land. One day real life will be like cyberspace, and on this Island any citizen will be able to express themselves without asking permission," she said in a video statement at the 2008 award ceremony. "This award is a new push towards accomplishing this goal."
Despite a few initial attempts by the Cuban government to thwart her efforts, her blog, Generacion Y, is accessible in an uncensored version - just not right now, as the site has been rendered unavailable. People can determine for themselves who might be behind this sabatoge. Regardless, Sanchez and her supporters will always find a way to share her perspective with the rest of the world.