Yoani Sánchez Denied Permission to Leave Cuba to Receive Cabot Prize

This summer, when Columbia’s Journalism School announced this year’s winners of the Maria Moors Cabot Prize—the oldest award in international journalism—among those honored was Yoani Sánchez, the Cuban philologist and blogger who has made waves for, among other things, her outspoken criticism of her country’s communist system.

The prizes are to be awarded at a dinner on Columbia’s campus tomorrow evening. Today, though, brings sad news: Sánchez, yesterday, was finally denied a visa to travel to New York to attend the dinner and receive her award.

“Immigration just confirmed that I remain prohibited from leaving the country,” she wrote on her blog, Generation Y, yesterday.

To her Twitter feed, Sánchez posted some additional thoughts (translated from the Spanish):

The immigration office has just confirmed to me that it is maintaining the ban on my leaving the country.

Well, now I have another reason to cry on Twitter: “Internet and freedom of movement for Cubans!”

The night of the awards going to celebrate at home with friends. I will not let the negativity about travel ruin the happiness of the prize.

I dream of an island where no one has to ask permission to enter and exit.

I dream of living in a country where nobody is prevented from moving by thinking one way or another.

I don’t know, but I sense that the future will be more plural, more inclusive, less authoritarian.

My grandchildren will not believe me that once, for writing a blog, someone was sentenced to immobility.

The Cabot citation, in full:

Yoani Sánchez is an ordinary Cuban citizen using the internet with extraordinary power. In barely two years, her weekly blog, Generación Y, has put the rest of the world in touch with Cuba — at least digitally. Generación Y does not repeat the battle of words which Cuba and the U.S. have hurled back and forth for five decades. Instead, it is a pitch-perfect mix of personal observation and tough analysis which conveys better than anybody else what daily life ― with all its frustrations and hopes ― is like for Cubans living their lives on the island today. Sánchez, a 34-year-old philologist, pursues her craft with ingenuity, scarce resources and an enormous amount of guts ― buying a few minutes here and there on one of the few internet-connected computers available to Cubans in Havana, quickly downloading and emailing her written and video comments to devoted supporters who post the blog in 15 languages. She has a loyal following of thousands around the world. For her courage, talent and great achievement in such a brief period of time, the Maria Moors Cabot board is proud to award Yoani Sánchez a special citation for journalistic excellence.

Update: Nick Lemann, Dean of Columbia’s Journalism School (which, again, administers the Cabot Prizes), has weighed in with reaction to the fact that one of the award honorees won’t be in attendance at tomorrow’s prize dinner: “I am disappointed that the Cuban government refuses to let Yoani Sánchez travel to New York to receive a Maria Moors Cabot citation. Ms. Sánchez’s vivid commentaries on Cuba give us a lively sense of what is happening there. The Cuban government ought to value Ms. Sánchez’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.”

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.