Marina Watson Pelaez
Havana-born Yoani Sánchez has been listed by Time magazine as one of the world's 100 most influential people. The journal commented that "under the nose of a regime that has never tolerated dissent, Sánchez has practiced what paper-bound journalists in her country cannot; freedom of speech".
Her blog, Generacion Y, has been translated into 15 languages by voluntary contributors. Earlier this month, US President, Barack Obama, wrote that her celebrated blog "provides the world a unique window into the realities of daily life in Cuba" and applauded her efforts to "empower fellow Cubans to express themselves through the use of technology.
This followed Obama’s extraordinary written replies to a series of questions posed by Sánchez online. In one exchange he said it is up to Cuba to act if it wants normal relations with Washington, saying that a true thaw in nearly 50 years of deep-freeze "will require action by the Cuban government".
Sánchez, intertwines political and personal anecdotes in her blog, describing the lack of freedom of speech and assembly in Cuba as well as the daily hardships like food shortages, in the hope that one day things will change.
The 34-year-old blogger recently revealed details of how she was detained and mistreated by the police on her way to a demonstration in favour of non-violence.
“I was walking down a street in Havana with other bloggers, when we were intercepted by agents of state security who asked us to accompany them, to which I refused and demanded to be shown warrants.”
Sánchez said “I was kidnapped Sicilian style” and that “The police procedure was similar to those often applied to political dissidents, as the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN, not recognised by the government) called low-intensity repression.”
She added: “They got me with my head down and tried to push me into the car. I held onto the door, blows to my knuckles. I managed to take a paper one of them had in his pocket and put it in my mouth.”
Sánchez calls for help from citizens outside Cuba to post her words on the web. She says: “Since March 2008, the Cuban government has enforced a computer filter that prevents seeing my blog from public internet sites in Cuba. So I need the solidarity of friends off the Island to post my texts on the web. ”
She defines her blog as "an exercise in cowardice", but her bravery is unimaginable in a country which still lacks freedom of expression.”
* Additional reporting by Deborah Hobson