Acceptance Speech for Prince Claus Award / Yoani Sánchez

Good afternoon everyone:

To the Dutch ambassador who has kindly offered his home for the ceremony, to the members of the Prince Claus Foundation who organized the presentation of this award, to the diplomatic corps, to my family, my friends, to the bloggers present here and also to the readers, commentators and translators of my blog who join in this moment from cyberspace. A special greeting to the other 2010 winners of this important award. In short, to everyone, I thank you for your physical, virtual or spiritual presence on this day.

The words I say to you this afternoon are imbued — in part — with the experiences I have had in the last three years, since April 2007, when I started to write my blog, Generation Y. I could dedicate long minutes of this speech to emphasizing the scenes that make up what I call “my path of pain”; this tortuous trail I’ve traveled, determined to live freely in a country full of masks. I could also tell a pitiful tale of stigmatization, of constantly being watched, of pressure on my family and demonization of my community, of police citations and even physical attack.

But I will not focus on those obstacles, but on the other path, that of the gratification and the gift of personal fulfillment, and on future projects. This beautiful part of the journey that begins when I go out into the street and someone — overcoming their fear — approaches me and says, “I read you,” “keep going,” “resist.”

I also have the gratification, every day, of a growing number of my fellow citizens who seek my opinions, debate with me, or sympathize with my point of view. And now, more and more, they use the tool of a blog to express, in the virtual Cuba, the differences of opinion still penalized in the real Cuba. This path of professional and civic growth is one I want to share with others.

The Prince Claus Award is an award that looks forward, a stimulus that invites dreams and the setting of higher goals. This year, 2011, could be the stage to realize some journalistic challenges that I have fantasized about for a long time.

Our Island is desperate for arguments, debates and information. We cannot simply denounce intolerance, describe what doesn’t work, or point fingers at what we don’t like. It is time to begin to change. For those of us who reject another cycle of frustration and tension, who reject the mistrust looming over us, it is also time to do something, however small.

I like to work with the written word and with news and I feel my place is appropriately in kilobytes, pages of newspapers, a mouse and a keyboard. This does not mean I am going to lock myself in the ivory tower and write, quite the opposite.

Words do not always behave like barricades or like thrown paving stones; fortunately words also behave like an effective balsam on a distressed nation. I believe in the medicine of free information, and in the imperfect democracy we Cubans will, one day, manage to put into practice in our country. I am a dreamer, I know, but so are all of you here… and we are not alone.

This year new cracks will appear in the state monopoly on information. Any provincial blogger armed with a mobile phone could jeopardize official newspapers and could transmit his words, photos, audio and video direct to the Web. I like to say — half joking, half seriously — that if Cubans can invent ground beef with no beef in it, as we did during the most difficult years of the Special Period when banana skins became meat, we can invent an Internet without the Internet.

With those little cellular gadgets, we have learned to send and receive the total spectrum of information from this Island. I feel I am also a missionary of the creed of spreading knowledge and tools that make us free throughout the whole Island. Because each one of us can become our own press agency, without bosses or censors.

I have dedicated recent months to this, through the magnificent experience of an academy with 27 students, five professors, workshops, thematic conferences, and advice and support for those who have recently opened a space on the web. In the coming months, I intend to extend the reach of these courses. The blogger virus will ultimately infect thousands of Cubans.

A more difficult dream — and so a more recurring one — is the creation of a new media outlet. Many who are here today, though they may not know it, are the future editors, photographers and correspondents of this newspaper. Without all of you, it will not be possible. Without the talent and energy that can infuse the pages of this planned information space, it will all remain the fantasy of one small blogger.

So these few words are also to say to you: Help me, join me in this unpredictable adventure of empowering ourselves as citizens, of behaving as free people in a country full of fear, without losing our way on the path of differences that feed our pluralism, and avoiding the known error of unanimity. There is room for everyone in this project. What’s more, without you I could not  accomplish it.

Thank you very much,

Yoani Sánchez
Havana, January 7, 2011