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Cuban Blogger Faces Down Big Brother

Yoani Sanchez in Havana in May 2008

Yoani Sanchez in Havana in May 2008

Internationally acclaimed blogger Yoani Sanchez says that the Cuban government, in its attempt to destroy her by denouncing her on state television, has given her the greatest gift of all -- recognition within her own country.

Since the program "Cuba's Reasons" accused her and other bloggers of joining the United States in a "cyberwar" against the communist island -- while publicly displaying her name and face -- she says she has experienced unprecedented praise for her work by fellow Cubans.

She wrote in her blog, Generation Y, on March 23:

The tangible result is that my phone hasn't stopped ringing and I'm hoarse from talking to so many people who have come to show me their solidarity. My sunglasses -- as big as owl's eyes -- are no longer enough camouflage for me to pass unnoticed in my city. Every few yards someone approaches me on the street to offer words of encouragement and even big hugs, the kind that take my breath away.

What's happening on this island such that those of us "stoned" by official insults have become so attractive? What happened to the time when aggravating State media represented years and years of ostracism and vilification? When did the spontaneous anger against those slandered, the sincere punch in the face for the stigmatized, fade away? I swear I was not prepared for this. I imagined that 24 hours after this pack of lies, told in emulation of Big Brother, everyone would pull away, stare fixedly at the cobwebs on the wall whenever I passed by. The result, however, has been so different: a complicit wink, a pat on the shoulder, the pride of neighbors who are surprised because a certain quiet and frail little woman who lives on the fourteenth floor is apparently enemy number one -- at least this week -- until the next to be stoned appears.

And I'm not the only one. Almost all the bloggers whose names and images appeared on the "Interior Ministry Soap Opera" are experiencing similar situations. Vendors at the farmers' market who hand them a piece of fruit in passing, drivers of collective taxis who say, "You don't pay today, sir, it's on the house." If the scriptwriters of that courtroom TV show had calculated such a response at the grassroots level, I think they would have refrained from putting our faces on television. But it's already too late. The word "blog" is now irrevocably linked with our faces, glued to our skin, associated with our actions, tied to popular concerns, and synonymous with that prohibited zone of reality that is becoming more and more magnetic, more and more admired.

Sanchez, by her own admission, long remained a virtual unknown in her own country. The communist island has one of the lowest Internet-penetration rates in Latin America, with 14 percent of the country online, up from 0.5 percent in 2000. But, as Sanchez writes, only senior Cuban officials and foreigners can set up the Internet at their home, and the vast majority of Cubans cannot afford to pay to use it at hotels and cafes.

And, even when locals are able to access the Internet, it remains heavily censored. The state started blocking Sanchez's blog in March 2008, about a year after she created it. Only last February, for reasons unknown, was it unblocked.

Sanchez often sends entire blog posts via text message to people outside Cuba to be posted on Generation Y, and international volunteers help translate the blog into 15 languages.

In 2009 she was chosen as one of "Time" magazine's 100 most influential people, and Generation Y was listed as one of the 25 best blogs in the world. Her blog gets millions of hits every month, and each post thousands of comments.

The Cuban government made two bets and lost them both in attacking her on state television. First, that it could frighten her into scaling down, or stopping her activities. Second, that the people of Cuba support their government's scare tactics and believe its propaganda -- and maybe, that they support their government at all.

-- Courtney Brooks

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at