SOURCE: The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

April 23, 2014 13:42 ET

Cuban Blogger Honored for Efforts to Confront Censorship and Promote Freedom of Speech

CHICAGO, IL--(Marketwired - April 23, 2014) - Yoani Sánchez, a Cuban blogger who provides an unfiltered chronicle of daily life on the communist island, will visit Chicago the week of June 9 to 13 to be honored as The Chicago Council on Global Affairs' 2014 Gus Hart Visiting Fellow. She will meet with Chicago's civic, business, media, and technology leaders and will deliver the Council's 13th annual Gus Hart Lecture, "Cuba Uncensored," on the evening of June 12.

A citizen journalist, Sánchez writes for her blog -- Generación Y -- from the experience and perspective of those in her generation raised after the revolution, "born in Cuba in the '70s and '80s, marked by Russian cartoons, illegal emigration and frustration."

Cuban law prohibits independent journalism and restricts freedom of expression. Defiance can lead to government retribution and repression. Cuba is also known to have one of the worst internet access rates in the world. Internet is banned in private residences and although 118 government-supervised internet access points were opened in 2013, users pay high fees for slow access that is heavily censored by the government. When Sánchez started her blog in 2007, she could only get online -- in disguise -- using computers in hotels catering to tourists.

Today, her entries are posted online by friends overseas and "go viral" on memory sticks within Cuba. Her blog is translated by volunteers around the world into 17 languages, and is available in English on The Huffington Post. She uses her cell phone to tweet about Cuba to the more than 600,000 people who follow her on Twitter at @YoaniSanchez.

Time magazine listed her as one of the world's 100 most influential people in 2008, stating that "under the nose of a regime that has never tolerated dissent, Sánchez has practiced what paper-bound journalists in her country cannot; freedom of speech." In November 2009, President Barack Obama responded to questions she had posted on her blog and later wrote that her blog "provides the world a unique window into the realities of daily life in Cuba" and applauded her efforts to "empower fellow Cubans to express themselves through the use of technology."

She also holds blogger training sessions in her home, teaching students writing skills and internet skills, showing them how to use WordPress and providing guidance on protecting their identities.

"Technology has the ability to mobilize people, promote liberty and transition a country to be more democratic," said Sánchez. "I look forward to sharing my experiences with Chicagoans and learning from the city's community organizers, journalists and those working in technology startups and entrepreneurial incubators."

Sánchez has received much international recognition for her work, including the 2011 International Women of Courage Award from the US Department of State. Foreign Policy magazine named her one of the 10 Most Influential Latin American Intellectuals in 2008. In 2011, Melville House Publishing released Havana Real: One Woman Fights to Tell the Truth About Cuba Today, a compilation of her blog posts.

The Gus Hart Visiting Fellowship, named after Augustin S. Hart, former chairman of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, is endowed by the Hart family to honor Gus Hart's lifelong interest in Latin America and the Caribbean. Each year the Council awards the fellowship to an emerging Latin American leader who is contributing to the advancement of society through economic, political and social reform.

"Yoani's use of social media and the internet to confront censorship and promote freedom of speech represents a worldwide trend of the role technology can play in transforming societies," said Ivo H. Daalder, president of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. "The Chicago Council and the Hart Family are honored to welcome her to Chicago as our 2014 Gus Hart Visiting Fellow."

About The Chicago Council on Global Affairs
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, founded in 1922, is an independent, non-partisan organization committed to educating the public -- and influencing the public discourse -- on global issues of the day. The Council provides a forum in Chicago for world leaders, policymakers and other experts to speak to its members and the public on these issues. Long known for its public opinion surveys of American views on foreign policy, The Chicago Council also brings together stakeholders to examine issues and offer policy insight into areas such as global agriculture, the global economy, global energy, global cities, global security and global immigration. Learn more at thechicagocouncil.org and follow @ChicagoCouncil for updates.

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