When a hostile questioner pushed Yoani Sánchez in New York earlier this month to explain how she dared criticize a Castro government that provides free health, education and welfare services, Sánchez compared Cubans to birds in a cage.
Yes, the food and water are free, the Cuban blogger and journalist replied calmly. But those things are not worth more than our freedom.
Its that kind of lacerating yet cool language, and the simple yet powerful ideas it delivers, that have made Sánchez the spearhead of a burgeoning digital dissident blogostroika in Cuba and won her international fame and prizes.
The 37-year old , who jokingly describes herself as merely an impertinent little girl, has in fact become a powerful player in the binary guerrilla struggle against Cubas communist rule.
Her Generación Y blog gets well over 15 million hits a month and is translated into 20 languages. Her Twitter account has nearly 500,000 followers, and Fidel Castro as well as Raúl Castros daughter, Mariela, took the time to criticize her.
Sánchez will be in Miami this week for a string of public appearances and a family reunion during a stop in her whirlwind tour of a dozen countries in South and North America and Europe that started Feb. 17 and is expected to last about three months.
Its the first time Cuban authorities have allowed her to leave the island since 2004, when she returned from a two-year stay in Switzerland and began launching a string of digital publications.
Sánchezs digital sword regularly skewers Fidel and Raúl as well as their policies and acolytes. And her tweets at times fierce, funny or mocking are like 140-character thumbs-in-the-eye to the government.
Her power lies in language that cuts through the hypocrisy and myths that have clouded the truth about Cuba for so many years, said Ted Henken, a Baruch College professor who studies social media in Cuba and has written several articles about her.
She describes herself as a political free electron that gravitates toward conservatives or liberals depending on the issue and does not insult the other side.
Her husband, journalist Reinaldo Escobar, 65, says thats part of the secret of her success.
Yoani writes from a point of moderation, a middle point that many people can agree with, said Escobar, who was fired from the newspaper Juventud Rebelde in 1988 for criticizing the government and now works as an elevator repairman.
She opposes the U.S. embargo, Escobar said, because the Castro brothers use it as an excuse for all their failures. And since she favors unlimited travel abroad for Cubans, he said, she also favors unrestricted U.S. travel to the island.
Havana calls her a mercenary paid by Washington, and Castro supporters threw fake dollars at her in Brazil last month. She denies accepting improper money and Escobar says they live off their work for foreign newspapers. Sánchez is the Cuba correspondent for Spains El País newspaper.
Ironically, a number of moderate exiles and U.S. journalists say they wonder whether shes too good to be true perhaps allowed a long leash by the Castros and spared the police repression that other dissidents suffer in return for her criticisms of U.S. policies.