Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez visited the University of Miami for the second time on Wednesday.
Sanchez, who came to campus to lecture students, sat at the front of the room; her long, black hair all to the right side of her head, parted down the middle, the way it is in all the photos. Her smile puts the room at ease.
“I have to also talk to you about hope. Because if I only describe to you the sad civic situation, there would be no justification for why I stay in Cuba, why I need to work there,” Sanchez said.
She visited campus to discuss the use of social media and civil opposition. She spoke in Spanish.
On her first visit earlier this year, she came to the university’s Cuban Heritage Collection in the Richter Library. A small group of students, along with a few other guests, were able to hear her speak about the restriction of information from independent outlets. She also answered a few questions from the audience. This time, the event was open to all students, many of which are part of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies certification program.
“She brings a very unique perspective on the strength of social media,” said Jacqueline Menendez, vice president of UM communication. “It is a different approach from traditional journalism.”
Globally, Sanchez is a well-known voice in the topic of free speech in Cuba. From the beginning of her efforts, Sanchez has had to rely on nontraditional forms of media because of the heavy government censorship.
Her biggest tool has been her blog, “Generacion Y,” which describes daily life in Cuba, and was later expanded by “Desde Cuba,” a site that features an array of Cuban bloggers who write about their own experiences within the communist regime.
During her lecture, Sanchez explained how there are three things affecting the “shredded tapestry” that is Cuba’s civil society: fear, immigration and a monopoly of information.
“Little by little, the Cubans most rebellious and the most talented and now, the youngest have left,” she said. “And so that leaves us with a very passive civil society, instilled with fear. Those Cubans who could have been the element and the spark and the call to rebellion are no longer there.”
Sanchez then explains how government censorship also led to a diminishing civil society.
“How would I let someone know who lives in a small town in central Cuba like Tawayavon or someone in Palmarito de Cauto, that on Sunday at 3 p.m., there is a protest?,” she said. “How can we do it when there is no national infrastructure of information that allows us to convey to someone an idea or an opinion? At that, the Castro regime has 100 points.”
In the last couple of years, Sanchez has shared these opinions in many places across the world including her own country, and the Cuban government has noticed her voice. As a result of speaking out against government censorship, Sanchez has been arrested several times and abducted in the last several years.
Senior Amanda Pena speaks minimal Spanish, yet came to see Sanchez as she read her book and is an admirer of her work and the length she is willing to go for her cause.
“I’m a journalism student so it kind of gives that motivation of if she can do it, you can do it too. whether its through blogs, Twitter, whatever it takes,” she said.
Sanchez nevertheless continues in her attempts to change the channels of information within Cuba, and more recently, she has created a Twitter handle – @YoaniSanchez – where she posts political commentary, daily struggles on the island as well as other varied posts.
According to Sanchez, many critics have said that her message does not truly reach the Cuban population, making the movement obsolete. She denies this argument and says that it’s a boomerang effect: the more information other countries learn about Cuba, the more likely the information will return back to the island’s residents. Information is beginning to fall through the cracks, and technology is helping to reduce a fear of speaking out.
“In many neighborhoods of Havana there are children that are 10 or 15 years old that have only seen programming that comes from [illegal] dish antennas,” she said. “They are called ‘the children of the antenna’. Those children are not as permeable to the ideological indoctrination in schools. Those children have already seen other faces and they have heard other opinions.”
Sanchez is so interested in the power of social media because it has the power to revolutionize the journalistic landscape in the country. She, along with seven others, are attempting to create Cuba’s only independent newspaper that would spread through USB drives and CDs. The publication will feature many topics, including politics, human interests, entertainment and technology.
Though the task is ambitious, Sanchez remains resolute.
“What we want to make is 21st century newspaper,” she said. “I wouldn’t want people to say, ‘those poor Cubans. This is all they can make.’ I want it to become a source of reference, a newspaper at the level of the United States and that is hard work clearly.”