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One Cheer for Columbia

Columbia University has gotten some deserved bad press lately, and not just for having produced me and Greg Pollowitz. But every now and then they get something right.

Each year Columbia’s journalism school presents the Maria Moors Cabot Prize for outstanding reporting on Latin America and the Caribbean. Among this year’s recipients is Yoani Sánchez, the first blogger to receive the prize. Sánchez is a brave Cuban woman who writes Generation Y, detailing the privations and indignities, large and small, of life in Castro’s Cuba. She e-mails her entries to friends outside the country, who then publish them online. (Translations into many languages are available; the link is to the English version.) Here’s an entry from two years ago; I doubt much of what she describes has changed since: 

After Raúl Castro’s speech on July 26, I ran into several friends who greeted me in a similar way, alluding to the “glass of milk” promised by him in front of the cameras. From the nearly sixty minutes of his panegyric, people extracted this promise, announced like a conquest achieved, “that every Cuban can drink” a glass of the precious milk when he likes.

To me, one of those who grew up on a gulp of orange peel tea, the news seemed incredible. I believe that we might put a man on the moon, take first place among all countries in the upcoming Olympics, or discover a vaccine for AIDS, before we would put within reach of every person on the island the forgotten morning café con leche.

I seem skeptical, I know, but the same thing happened to those responsible for editing Raúl’s speech for publication in the daily newspaper Granma (in paper and on the internet). In both versions the promise of milk within reach of everyone was censored.

Stubbornly, I sat in front of the television again on Thursday, July 27, to see the rebroadcast of the speech and to hear again the immediate conquest we were poised to make. My astonishment doubled when, at the moment corresponding to the already unforgettable phrase about the milk, the editing cut away and in its place they put a sea of flags in the Plaza Ignacio Agramonte.

At this point I don’t know if, in my food deliriums, I dreamed about the glass of milk, or if it really existed.

Sánchez was scheduled to accept her award at Columbia this Wednesday night, but unfortunately (though unsurprisingly), the Cuban government has denied her permission to leave the country. While Columbia has invited some questionable guests in the past, in this case the university deserves praise for supporting a fighter against totalitarianism.


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