Friday, May 9, 2008

Blogger critical of Cuba wins Spanish prize, but can't pick it up

MADRID, Spain (AP) -- A Cuban woman who has gained worldwide acclaim with a blog that voices stinging criticism of the Havana government received a major journalism award Wednesday, and said it gave her a "small protective shield" to keep pressing for democracy in her country.

Yoani Sanchez, 32, was denied permission to travel to Madrid to accept her Ortega y Gasset Prize in digital journalism for creating a now year-old blog called "Generation Y," which gets more than 1 million hits a month, mostly from abroad.

Time magazine deemed Sanchez this month as one of the world's 100 most influential people. Sanchez's blog has drawn a wide audience with her wry comments on life on the Caribbean island and frequent digs at the communist government.

A Cuban friend, essayist Ernesto Hernandez Busto, accepted the award on her behalf. Sanchez addressed the ceremony through a recording, saying the fact that she had to do so was "the clearest evidence of the defenselessness of the Cuban people with respect to the State."

"Nothing of what I have written in these 13 months speaks as loudly as my absence from this ceremony," Sanchez said in the recording.

She said this international recognition will not give her "immunity, because in Cuban society one is never immune from the State. But it does allow me to carry on more strongly with this small protective shield that the prize gives me."

All Cubans seeking to leave the island need an exit permit, and Cuban authorities did not approve Sanchez's request to travel to Madrid for the award ceremony.

In a blog entry dated May 3, Sanchez said that as she awaited word from the authorities, she felt like "a baby in diapers."

"Before, it was my parents who watched out to make sure I did not swallow a screw or stick my fingers in an electrical outlet. Now, the supervision comes from the State," she wrote.

Cuban authorities have made no sustained effort to shut down Sanchez's blog, although pro-government sites accuse her of accepting money from opposition groups.

On Sanchez's site and others, anonymous Cubans lash out at their government.

Sanchez said Wednesday that the prize, handed out by the top-selling newspaper El Pais, obliges her to maintain Generation Y, which she said "went from being a hobby, or a kind of exorcism, to a motivation for staying here" in Cuba.

Last year, Cuban dissident poet Raul Rivero, who now lives in Spain, also won an Ortega y Gasset prize. They are named for the late Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset.

This year, Mexican journalist Sanjuana Martinez received one for a series of investigative reports on sexual abuse of children by Mexican clergy; they were published in the Mexican daily La Jornada.

For an entire body of work, another prize went to the Mexican magazine ZETA for its work rooting out corruption and organized crime. The publication was founded in 1980 and is based in Tijuana.

The photography award went to Spaniard Gervasio Sanchez for a photo that is part of a series called "Vidas Minadas," on the toll wars take on civilians. The winning photo, titled "Sofia and Alia," shows an African woman with artificial legs -- hers were blown off by landmines -- asleep next to her baby daughter.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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