April 2, 2013

Blogger Yoani Sánchez hits the books at the University of Miami

Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez, who arrived in Miami last week, visited UM’s Cuban Heritage Collection and talked politics with UM academics on Tuesday.

Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez spent several hours on the University of Miami campus Tuesday, learning how to access the university’s digital collection on the Cuban experience and diaspora and holding a political discussion with UM academics.

She was scheduled to speak Tuesday evening at a dinner at the Country Club of Coral Gables hosted by the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, which is associated with the Cuban-American National Foundation.

UM President Donna Shalala welcomed Sanchez to the campus and the Cuban Heritage Collection, which houses more than 50,000 Cuba-related books and documents. Among the rare items that she explored was the 1878 biography of Father Felix Varela, a Roman Catholic priest and educator who advocated for self-rule and the end of slavery in Cuba. A public high school in the Hammocks section of Miami-Dade County is named for the Cuban priest, who is highly esteemed in the Cuban community.

Sánchez requested to visit the Cuban Heritage Collection, according to the university, and CHC Director Esperanza de Varona and Maria Estorino, an associate librarian, gave her a personal tour of the collection, which is housed on the second floor of the Otto Richter Library.

While at the collection, Sánchez met with representatives from the campus chapter of the Federation of Cuban Students. She told them: “Information to me is like a breath of fresh air.’’

She also met privately with about 20 academics at the Institute for Cuban & Cuban-American Studies, a UM research center that is engaged in the Cuban Transition Project, which studies and makes recommendations for the reconstruction of Cuba “once the post-Castro transition begins in earnest.’’

Among the topics discussed were the future of Cuba, how Sánchez sees change evolving in Cuba, the case of imprisoned American Alan Gross, Cuban youth, and how to improve the flow of information into Cuba, said Andy Gomez, a senior fellow at the institute.

Asked if she saw herself as a future opposition leader in Cuba, Gomez said that she responded, “No, I see myself as a citizen of Cuba who has the responsibility to bring about change.’’

“With Yoani’s visit, we’ve consolidated the bridge between Cuban exiles and the people of Cuba,’’ said Gomez, who said that even a decade ago such ties would have been impossible.

“She was honest, eloquent, simple,’’ said Gomez, “but she’s exhausted.’’

Since leaving Cuba Feb. 17, Sánchez — who writes the Generacion Y blog and sends out a constant stream of 140-character Twitter messages on daily life in Cuba to hundreds of thousands of followers — has been on an international tour that has taken her from Brazil to Mexico and from Prague and Amsterdam to New York and Washington.

Despite many international invitations, she had not been able to travel abroad until a recent change in Cuban travel policy.

Sánchez will host a town-hall-style meeting at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami on Wednesday, taking questions posed via Twitter and from people in the audience.

She will focus on questions regarding technology, innovation and social change from Twitter users, although audience members can ask “questions regarding topics of importance,’’ according to event organizers.

Pamela Silva Conde, co-anchor of Univision’s news show Primer Impacto (First Impact), will moderate the event, which begins at noon. It’s organized by The Knight Foundation and Roots of Hope, a group whose goal is bridging the gap between Cubans abroad and those on the island.

Twitter questions can be directed to @askyoani, @PamelaSilva and by using the hashtags #AskYoani and #YoaniResponde.

The “Tweet Up with Yoani Sánchez” is a ticketed event but tickets are free of charge. To register, visit

Miami Herald Reporter Daniel Chang contributed to this report.

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