Yoani Sánchez Is Cuba's Digital Enemy Number One
By Abraham Riesman
"I'll tell you where she's staying," Yoani Sánchez's friend told me over
the phone. "But this is top-secret, okay?"
He'd been helping me set up an exclusive interview with Sánchez --
Cuba's premier dissident blogger -- during her brief stop in New York
City. And he had reason to be concerned about her location getting out:
Sánchez was in the midst of a massive world tour, and just days before,
she'd faced vicious crowds of pro-Castro protesters in Brazil and Mexico.
Sánchez is used to that kind of fury. Since starting her blog,
"Generación Y," in 2007, she's become the Castro regime's most
internationally visible opponent. Her site gets millions of hits per
month, and hundreds of thousands of people follow her on Twitter, and
she uses those platforms to shed light on life within the western
hemisphere's last true dictatorship. She reports on everything from mass
arrests to the terror of the national census, from sudden spikes in food
prices to the hardships of Cuban victims of domestic violence.
This blogging is especially remarkable because Internet access is
incredibly restricted in Cuba. Partly, that's due to technological
backwardness: the impoverished country has virtually no high-speed
Internet connections, even after the recent completion of Alba-1, a
fiber-optic cable link to Venezuela.
But the scarcity of access is also due to extreme government
restrictions. There are huge legal hurdles that prevent Cubans from
having home computers and public computers usually just connect to
RedCubana, a closed intranet system containing only regime-approved
sites. An estimated 98% of Cubans have no Web access, and the government
shows no sign of reducing that number.
So how does Sánchez do what she does? Not easily. She's been repeatedly
arrested and beaten up by regime thugs. She has to use roundabout
methods to get her blog posts published. And after years of being denied
a travel visa, she was only granted one a few months ago (she says she's
not sure why the government changed its mind).
During her whirlwind trip to New York, full of speaking engagements and
press conferences, we caught up with Sánchez at the hotel where she was
staying under a pseudonym. She only speaks Spanish, so Argentina-born
Motherboard writer Leandro Oliva spoke with her and covered a wide range
of topics. Just a day or so after we were done, she was off to more
cities and countries. her world tour continues, and she doesn't know
what will happen when she eventually returns to her homeland.
Check out our video to learn about Cuba's underground railroad of USB
drives, how to blog without a computer, and how Raúl Castro is getting
craftier at using the Internet as a weapon against dissidents.
By Abraham Riesman