In America, 2009 has thus far been dominated by discussions about how best to alleviate a recession that began just over a year ago. But in communist Cuba, 2009 has been dominated by the commemoration of a revolution that helped induce 50 years of economic depression and instability.
But after half a century of broken promises of justice and prosperity, there is a new revolution stirring in Cuba. Not a revolution marked by murder and repression of human rights and waged with guns and explosives. It is, rather, a revolution of ideas and information undertaken with flash drives, digital cameras, memory cards and other technologies that are giving voice to a new generation of Cubans.
Perhaps most prominent among Cuba's new cyber revolutionaries is Yoani Sánchez, who writes an influential blog called Generaciòn Y.
During a December trip to Cuba, one of this column's authors, Jordan Allott, spoke with Yoani about how her writing is helping to bring change to Cuba.
Though Yoani sometimes interjects politics into her writing, she focuses mainly on the frustrations of daily life in Cuba. "I don't have a list of themes to write about," Yoani says. "I'm not a journalist. I am a citizen who is writing about what is happening in my life. I only write about things that I experience personally, whether it is Fidel Castro or the potatoes at the supermarket."
As it happens, Yoani's personal experiences reveal a lot about political realities in Cuba. Which is why, she says, "The process of making Generación Y wasn't easy. There's a personal cost and a family cost, but I don't want to play the victim. I'm responsible. I prefer not to be constantly looking over my shoulder, even if I know they are watching."
The "they" to which Yoani refers are the Cuban authorities, who monitor her blog and make it virtually inaccessible to those on the island. Yoani is regularly threatened with jail time. But she continues to write, because, she says, it "allows me to say…what is forbidden to me in my public action."
Yoani was recently hauled into a police station and read the following script: "We want to warn you that you have transgressed all the limits of tolerance with your rapprochement and contacts with counter-revolutionary elements. This totally disqualifies you for dialogue with Cuban authorities."
Though "disqualifie[d]" from dialogue with the Cuban government, Yoani is engaged in a rich dialogue with millions outside Cuba who are sympathetic to the plight of a citizenry held hostage. Yoani's simple blog has been so influential (Generación Y receives about 2 million hits a month) that she was recently named by Time magazine as one of the world's 100 most influential people.
Because access to the Internet is severely restricted in Cuba, Yoani goes through a lot to get her dispatches out to the world, e-mailing them to friends across the globe who translate and post her writing on her blog. Yoani is often forced to pose as a tourist to get into cafes or Western hotelsto access the Internet.
Traveling in Cuba, one is struck by the sense of hopelessness among Cuba's youth. Thousands study computer programming at Cuba's University of Information Sciences, and increased Internet access means more young Cubans are catching a glimpse of what life is like in free nations across the globe.
Yoani says, "Most young people's eyes are looking to the outside, because they see that they cannot make change in their country. They only see the status quo. Most young people desire to take a plane to Miami or Europe and in 10 hours change their lives completely. They know they cannot realize their dreams here."
But Cuba needs young Cubans like Yoani who are willing to stay and work for freedom from within.
When Jordan spoke with Yoani in Havana in early December, they met at the prestigious foreigner-only National Hotel, which was hosting the Latin American Film Festival the same weekend. This made for an interesting scene. Numerous Western journalists were present for the film festival and to laud Che, a sympathetic biopic about the life of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, the Castro lieutenant, mass murderer and cult hero to leftwing radicals. Meanwhile, a short distance away, Jordan met with Yoani to discuss what she and other democracy advocates are doing to help tear down the legacy of Che, Fidel, and a government that keeps its people in bondage.
Yoani remains hopeful and believes "change will come not through government agencies but through the citizens and the spread of information and exchange with the outside world." The Western media can assist with this exchange or turn a blind eye. Either way, with Yoani and a new generation of cyber revolutionaries casting the bright light of reality on the failed Castro regime, the truth will no longer be easy to ignore.