PUEBLA, Mexico -- The shouts could be heard easily inside the hotel where Yoani Sanchez was appearing over the weekend. “Down with Yoani!” they resonated from a small clique of pro-Castro protesters who’d gathered outside.
Inside, Sanchez took the calls in stride.
“I’m not afraid of these insults,” she said. She expects to get worse treatment – a virtual “public stoning,” as she called it – when she returns to Cuba – her “cage” – at the end of a whirlwind global tour that began Feb. 17 and is expected to last nearly three months, including a stop next week in Washington.
Watching her address reporters, editors and publishers over two days at a conference in this Mexican city, it is easy to see how Sanchez has become a thorn in the side of Cuba’s creaky regime.
Looking like a throwback to the 1960s, with her loose blouses and her flowing black hair, Sanchez, 37, comes across as poised and unflappable. Yet her language is savage. Her tour – the first time she’d been allowed to leave the island since she became an internationally known blogger and dissident – has been like stepping into a time machine that carried her from an island locked in the past, she said.
“We Cubans don’t deserve what we are living through,” she said. “I think Cubans deserve to be citizens of the 21st century, in all senses, to test the challenges of modernity.”
Sanchez’s soft demeanor is in contrast to her implacable criticism of autocratic rule. For her, the Castro brothers – Fidel and Raul – who have governed Cuba since 1959, are walking dead and their island is on an inevitable countdown.
The tools of her trade – an iPad and a laptop – allow her to narrate life under the Castro thumb in tiny tweets and short blog postings translated into 20 languages that she is able to slip under the digital barrier erected around all but the most loyal of Cuba’s citizens.
Sanchez has won innumerable awards, including Spain’s prestigious Ortega y Gasset journalism honor. She’s was nominated for a Nobel Prize last year. Prior to this trip, her requests to leave Cuba were denied 20 times over five years to pick up such awards.
Her stop in Washington next week will take her to Capitol Hill for an appearance Tuesday before a Senate committee, arranged by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. On April 1, she'll receive a special honor in Miami. She’s already visited Brazil, Spain and the Czech Republic. She will return to Europe and also travel to Argentina and Peru.
“I represent no party nor any political force,” she says. “I consider myself a people’s diplomat.”
She lives in Havana with her husband, Reinaldo, and their 20-year-old son, Teo. Her husband, who was drummed out of his job as a journalist for pressing too hard for reform during the late 1980s, has found a new career as an elevator mechanic – a fortunate choice that allows him to fix the decrepit elevator leading to their 14th-floor apartment.
Sanchez studied linguistics at the University of Havana, later dabbling in journalism and computers. “So what am I? I don’t know – a hyper mixed-up product of the 21st century,” she says. The same goes for her political ideology. “People ask, ‘Are you on the left or on the right?’ . . . I don’t know very well what I am.”