Yoani Sánchez Says Latinas Can Protect Cuban Dissident Bloggers

Yoani Sánchez’s visit to the nation’s capital started off with a tweet. While reading my Twitter, I found out that the Cuban dissident blogger who writes Generación Y blog is touring the U.S., visiting New York City, Washington, DC, and Miami, as part of a three month world tour.

Excited to hear Sánchez speak and write about it for my Latina readers, I tweeted:

“We hear u @yoanisanchez! Going 2 hear her @CatoInstitute What would u ask her? #TheBlogIsMightierThanTheSword #Latism #Hispz #Cuba #Latino

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Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez speaks at the Cato Institute in Washington, DC Courtesy: Tricia O. Ortiz

The 37 year old mother has become the face of opposition to the regime of Raúl and Fidel Castro with the latter surviving CIA assassination attempts during the most frigid diplomatic moments of the Cold War. What the Castro brothers may not ward off are the protests coming through the circulation of information enabled by new technologies.

One tweet, text, and blog entry at a time, this new wave of activists is questioning and rebelling against Cuba’s current way of life which Sánchez and fellow dissident blogger Orlando Luis Pardo (also on tour) described as totalitarian with repression rampant: dissenters are arrested and phone lines are cut.

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The Wise Latina Club’s Viviana Hurtado asks Cuban dissident blogger Orlando Luis Pardo a question. Courtesy: Tricia O. Ortiz

Sánchez said regular Cuban citizens are armed not with guns but simple cell phones, thumb drives, internet connections, SMS messages, and social media. Through technology, they are hacking what she called a monopoly of thought.

“Technology alone will not save us or democratize Cuba but it has an important role to play. If one person, one thousand, one million people follow those [dissident] Cuban bloggers, it helps spread awareness and information. That exposure works as a protective shield to keep us safe as we work to make a more democratic Cuba,” said Sánchez.

With knowledge of what’s happening on the island and around the world through non-state media sources comes power combined with Cubans’ desire, demand, and a method of expression. Sánchez believes this is what will ultimately break the “wall of censorship.”

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Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez speaks at the Cato Institute in Washington, DC Courtesy: Tricia O. Ortiz

As soon as her talk wrapped up, a tsunami of supporters and well-wishers rushed Sánchez, which required some sharp use of my elbows to get to this petite, simply dressed woman who also has been named one of the world’s most influential people by leading publications such as Time and Foreign Policy magazines.

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Yoani Sánchez listens to fellow Cuban dissident blogger Orlando Luis Pardo at the Cato Institute in Washington, DC. Courtesy: Tricia O. Ortiz

I asked: what can Latinas in the U.S. do to help the people of Cuba?

A lot.

“Help us get the word out about what’s happening in Cuba. All of us inhabit this continent called America. Help us break the isolation and be a part of it,” Sánchez pleaded.

When I asked her to explain, she described how in the morning she had reviewed her Twitter timeline, to re-tweet the bloggers on the island she is following: was someone detained; was there a power outage; is there no milk at the grocery store? This is a powerful act because retelling these truths counters what the regime officially says is happening.

As a Twitter addict, I paused. Here, we take democracy and freedom for granted, having the luxury to tweet a picture of what I had for lunch, my latest bad date, or crush on Prince Royce.

That’s OK.

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Cuban dissident blogger Orlando Luis Pardo with photographer Tricia O. Ortiz and The Wise Latina Club’s Viviana Hurtado Courtesy: Tricia O. Ortiz

But realizing that we also can be a part of something larger by using some of our online time to become informed on issues here and around the world, and then become involved with a few clicks or RTs is powerful.

Think about our power to make something trend: retweeting Justin Bieber will keep him at the top of iTunes.

Retweeting a Cuban dissident blogger can shield her from arrest.

Click here to read this article, published on March 21, 2013, in Latina Magazine where I am a politics correspondent.

Click here to read the photo slideshow “Wordless Wednesday/Miércoles Mudo: Cuban Dissident Blogger Yoani Sánchez.”

To read more of Viviana’s Latina politics columns, click here.

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