It’s easy to behave cowardly and call it prudence. But since Aristotle was right when he said “courage is the first of human virtues because it makes the others possible,” we all need models whose exemplary bravery convicts us and forces us to stand up, speak out and risk at least our comfort so that we may live as decent human beings.
For the last few years the person whose behavior has most prodded me to be better than myself is the Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez. This young woman has risked much more than her comfort to speak truth to a power that, despite its legions of apologists, has been cruel, dishonest and unforgiving for over half a century.
But to say that Yoani Sanchez “speaks truth to power” is not quite right since most of what she really does through her blog “Generacion Y” (Generation Y), despite the endless efforts to block her, is simply tell the truth of everyday life as it is actually lived by most Cubans. And power doesn’t like it.
Like many of us in the Cuban diaspora, Yoani chose to leave her country (in 2002), but unlike most of us she decided to return two years later promising “to live in Cuba as a free person, and accept the consequences.”
Among the consequences: general harassment and occasional beatings and detentions, but also a growing international visibility that has given her some room to move inside Cuba and has garnered her such awards as the Ortega y Gasset Prize, Spain’s highest award for digital journalism; The World Press Freedom Hero award from the International Press Institute and the Maria Moors Cabot Prize from Columbia University’s School of Journalism. In 2008 she was named one of 100 Most Influential People in The World by Time Magazine. In 2009 President Obama said that her blog “provided the world a unique window into the reality of daily life in Cuba,” and applauded her efforts to “empower fellow Cubans to express themselves through the use of technology.”
After more than a dozen denials in the past few years, Cuban authorities finally granted Yoani Sanchez a new passport on January30, 2013. She is spending three months traveling through Latin America, Europe and the United States, where she will be speaking at conferences and collecting her journalism prizes.
A native of Cuba, Rafael Pi Roman has anchored, hosted and produced public affairs and political news programs at Thirteen and WNET since 1992. He is producer and host of MetroFocus; co-host and co-managing editor of New Jersey Capitol Report and special correspondent for NYC-ARTS.