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Dissident Cuba blogger cannot receive prize

Government denies travel visa to New York ceremony

October 23, 2009

HAVANA

A dissident Cuban blogger cannot go to New York to receive a top journalism prize, after government authorities upheld a ban on her travel abroad.

Yoani Sanchez, 34, won the Maria Moors Cabot Prize for “Generación Y,” a blog critical of Cuba’s one-party Communist government. The prize is the oldest international award in journalism.

It is given by Columbia University to journalists who have furthered inter-American understanding. 

“The immigration office just informed me that the ban remains on my leaving the country,” Ms. Sanchez said on Monday via the social networking website Twitter, where she has 6,638 followers.  

“I am going to celebrate on the night of the award with some friends. I am not going to let the refusal to travel ruin the happiness of the prize,” she added.  

“I dream of an island where nobody needs to ask permission to enter and leave.”  

'Better future' 

“Generación Y” has become a trusted source for news on Cuba, with the site receiving 14 million hits a month.  

Nicholas Lemann, dean of Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, released a statement expressing his disappointment over the Cuban government’s refusal to allow Yoani Sanchez to travel to New York. 

“The Cuban government ought to value Ms. Sanchez’s work as a sign that young Cubans are ready to take Cuba into a better future — one that will have the free press the Cuban people deserve,” Mr. Lemann said. 

Last year Time magazine named Ms. Sanchez as one of the world’s most influential people, and this year it listed “Generación Y” as one of the world's top 25 blogs.  

But in Cuba readership is limited due to restricted internet access.  

Only about 2 percent of Cubans have regular access to the global internet and 11 percent to the Cuban intranet, according to the Washington-based democracy and human rights organization Freedom House.  

“Bloggers can go online at government-owned internet cafes, at universities and hotels,” it says.  

This is not the first time “Generación Y” has been given recognition — in 2008 Spain’s El País newspaper gave it an award for overcoming limits to free expression.  

Ms. Sanchez was also denied an exit visa to attend that award ceremony in Madrid.

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