She told journalists not to give the Cuban government too much credit for the reforms that allowed her travels because they came as a result of pressures from the Cuban people and from the outside world, and not from any conviction that there needs to be fundamental change and “respect” for the rights of citizens.
She said that Cuban exiles and others outside the island could help ordinary Cubans “by gifting them technology.”
Flood Cuba with cellphones, hard drives, memory sticks — anything that helps people connect to the Internet and the outside world, she said.
“Technology protects us,” she added.
It was easy to see that she has more friends than foes in this so-called capital of the world.
When he introduced her, Josh Friedman, director of the Columbia-based Maria Moors Cabot Prizes, described her as a “very authentic, down-to-earth person.”
Sánchez was given a prestigious Cabot citation in 2009 for her blog chronicles, but the Cuban government denied her permission to travel here to accept the award.
She has postponed receiving it until October, when the university wants her to return to collect the prize at the Cabot’s 75th anniversary gala.
“From the podium here at Columbia University, I want to say: Yoani Sánchez is a journalist. Yes, she’s a troublemaker, but you are supposed to be a troublemaker,” Friedman said.
Despite what her critics say, her work — “words under pressure,” Friedman called it — are “devoid of ideology.”
The secret to her reports, he added, is that “she’s a wonderful observer.”
After traveling here from Mexico, speaking at Columbia and doing media interviews, Sánchez was exhausted but agreed to the late-night dinner at the home of Columbia journalism professor Mirta Ojito, a former journalist at The New York Times and The Miami Herald, a Cuban American who, like me, has followed Sánchez closely.
Sánchez only showed her exhaustion when, without missing a beat in the conversation at the table, she took her famously long hair, stroked it into neat strands, and before we knew it, without using a single accessory, fashioned an artful hairdo.
Ojito and I looked at each other across the table and laughed with heart-felt recognition of the Cuban ability to resolver, to make do, and of the human qualities that make this woman — wife to a journalist who works as an elevator maintenance man in their Havana apartment building, mother to an 18-year-old with adolescence issues (“he slams doors,” she said), thorn in the side of the Cuban government and its supporters around the world — extraordinary.
Welcome to America, our complicitous look said, we have so looked forward to this moment.