Havana blogger writes freely about life in Cuba
Ray Sanchez | Cuba notebook
January 13, 2008
From the 14th-floor balcony of a hulking Soviet-era high-rise, Yoani
Sánchez enjoys a spectacular view of the city where she was born 32
years ago. There is Revolution Square, with its image of Ernesto "Che"
Guevara and towering monument to José Martí, surrounded by the sprawling
On the streets below, she routinely ferrets out nuggets of life for her
Internet diary about Cuba in the waning days of Fidel Castro's long rule.
"In general, we Cubans have extraordinary lives because reality is so
complex," she said.
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"Cubans have many experiences that would seem totally fantastic in other
countries. I try to capture this absurd, fantastical place."
In a country with the lowest rate of Internet access in Latin America,
Sánchez publishes an unusually candid blog. While she writes for Cubans
on the island, the blog has exposed a crack in the state's tight control
over information to offer the world deeply personal slices of Cuban life.
"Some people reach a certain point where they have to leave the island
on a boat," Sánchez said. "A few of us opt to say publicly what we feel."
Last week, Sánchez tried to imagine a day without Cuba's underground
economy for everything from milk, eggs and cooking oil to rides in
"I don't know about you," she wrote, "but I can't live one day without
the black market." Another post criticized the scarcity of toys in
stores before Three Kings Day, Jan. 6.
"Yoani provides a little window into Cuban life, often micro-focused on
her family and neighborhood, and her writing is sharp, observant, and
acerbic," said Philip Peters, a Cuba expert at the Lexington Institute,
a think tank in the Washington, D.C., area.
Her blog, which started in April, is called "Generacion Y" (
www.desdecuba.com/generaciony) and is dedicated to Cubans born in the
mid-1970s and the 1980s, when Soviet influence was strong and many were
given names that begin with "y". Yoandri or Yuniesky, for example. Or
Yoani. It is a generation, Sánchez wrote, marked by "schools in the
countryside, little Russian dolls, illegal departures, and frustration."
While a number of Cuba blogs have been created by South Florida exiles
and American academics, Sánchez's is one of the few posted directly from
Havana. Most Havana bloggers are anonymous for fear of reprisals, but
Sánchez includes her name and photo on the site.
"You're always fearful," said Sánchez, who has a 12-year-old son. "I
sometimes ask whether I'm doing the responsible thing as a mother. You
can always make arguments for doing nothing."
The Internet is a delicate issue for the state: About 200,000 Cubans, or
less than 2 percent of the population, have access to the World Wide
Web. Only government employees, academics and researchers are allowed
their own Internet accounts, which are provided by the government.
Ordinary Cubans may open e-mail accounts accessible at many post
offices, but access to many Web sites outside the island is blocked.
Some Cubans access the blog at work or via illegal Internet connections
at home. Others receive her postings via e-mail from abroad.
The fact that few Cubans have Internet access has not discouraged
Sánchez, who works as a webmaster and writer for Consenso, an
independent online magazine focusing on culture and politics. She said
the blog receives about 300,000 hits each month.
"In Cuba, just one person with Internet access can share information
with at least 20 other Cubans," she said.
That Sánchez has been able to get away with unusually harsh criticism of
the government and ailing leader Fidel Castro has stirred debate among
bloggers in the United States. Some have suggested that her ability to
post what she wants underscores a greater openness under the leadership
of Raul Castro, who has held power since brother Fidel underwent
emergency surgery in 2006. Others believe she is a pawn of a government
eager to appear more tolerant.
"The doubts shed light on the level of mistrust and paranoia that exists
among Cubans," she said.
Sánchez insists she is not a member of any opposition group and does not
receive support from foreign governments.
"My impression is that she has found a space that is neither legal nor
illegal," said Peters, who also writes a blog on Cuba
(Cubantriangle.blogspot.com). So far, reader feedback has been mixed.
"Some people insult me and call me a fatalist," she said. "Others are
grateful and call me a martyr. Some say I only see the negative side of
Cuba. I think [government newspapers] Granma and Juventud Rebelde and
state television do a good enough job accentuating the positive.
Somebody needs to tell the other side."
Ray Sánchez can be
reached at email@example.com.