Who Is Yoani Sánchez? Famous Blogger Touring the US

Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez, center, is chanted at by pro-Castro supporters, accusing her of being a U.S. spy, upon her arrival at the Guararapes International airport, in Recife, Brazil, Monday, Feb.18, 2013.

Some call her a "rockstar", others say she's the most famous Cuban not named Castro.

In February, renowned dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez left the island for the first time in 12 years, setting off on a worldwide speaking tour after the government changed its travel policy and issued her a passport. This week, Sánchez is in Miami, the city with the largest concentration of Cubans outside of the island.

Sánchez, who runs a blog critical of the Cuban government called Generación Y, has traveled to Europe, Latin America, New York, Washington D.C., and now Miami as part of her on-going 80-day trip. Despite past efforts from the government to censor her dissent, her blog is circulated on the internet in 20 languages and she has a Twitter following of over 460,000 users.

Accusing her government of lacking transparency, stifling free speech, and being out-of-touch, Sánchez's brand of commentary would be utterly conventional in a country like the U.S.. But, Sánchez has become famous worldwide for being a critic in a communist dictatorship, where free speech protections are much more tenuous, even being named one of TIME Magazine's 100 most influential people in 2008. Her innovative use of new technologies to skirt Cuban authorities has also contributed to her fame.

Although the 37-year old blogger has been met by many supporters during her tour, receiving honors including the Miami Dade College Presidential Medal and the Florida International University Medallion of Courage, she has also been pursued by outspoken critics.

As Sánchez entered an auditorium on Monday in Miami to an adoring crowd chanting "libertad" which means "freedom," one man shouted "mentira," ("lie") before being silenced by the crowd.

In Brazil, for example, a gaggle of about 20 protesters met her at the airport, holding banners and chanting "Viva Fidel" and "Yoani, sold to the Yankees." Detractors also accuse the blogger of being a secret employee of the CIA, due to her outspoken critique of communism and the embargo.

Sánchez says that she is thankful for her critics, because dissent is something that is stifled in her country.

"I really enjoyed [the protesters in Brazil], because it allowed me to say that I dream that 'one day people in my country will be able to express themselves against something publicly like this, without reprisals,'" she wrote on her blog.

Jorge Dominguez, a Cuba expert at Harvard University told the Miami Herald, that while Sánchez is controversial, she does not represent a particular movement within the island.

"She's a very good writer, a very smart blogger but she doesn't represent a political movement,'' Dominguez said. "She has behaved for the most part as a journalist. The closest thing we might have in the United States would be an op-ed writer.''

During her trip she has also met with Ricardo Zúñiga, presidential advisor for the Western Hemisphere at the White House, as well as Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ).

Upon her arrival in Miami last week, Sánchez told the New York Times that she was very content being in the city, which is marked by its large Cuban population.

"Me siento como en Cuba pero libre,"she said. "I feel like I'm in Cuba but free."

As part of her trip, Yoani Sánchez will be participating in a live-streaming "Tweet Up" event in Miami, co-organized by ABC/Univision. You can watch live right here on ABC/Univision as well as follow on Twitter and send in questions through the hashtag #AskYoani, on Wednesday, April 3rd at 12:30 PM EST.

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...