After crisscrossing the world for the past six weeks -- not to mention fighting Castro's government censors for more than six years -- Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez finally delivered the speech she said she had been waiting for all her life.
Speaking in front of hundreds of exilios and almost as many journalists at the Freedom Tower, Sanchez said her first trip to Miami wasn't a sign of the Cuban government's flexibility, but its weakness. And she urged Cubans on either side of the Florida Straits to unite to promote peaceful change on the island.
"There is no 'you' and 'us,'" the philologist-turned-freedom-fighter said. "There is only 'us.'"
Sanchez struck a delicate balance between being the symbol of the Cuban resistance and a woman who still fears for her family's safety on the island.
She was welcomed to the stage with a roaring ovation and chants of "Libertad!" The blogger then began speaking humbly but confidently about her transition from Spanish instructor to international celebrity and number one critic of the Castro regime.
She described hearing a radio announcer describe Fidel's birthday as the "birthday of the nation." "I couldn't take it anymore," Sanchez said.
"How can a government define nationalism for its citizens?" she asked, describing her evolution as a critic of the Cuban regime. "You all can answer better than I. You have lived through the pain of exile."
Time and again, Sanchez tried to bridge the gap between Cubans on the island and in exile. She told of her own experience living in Switzerland for two years before returning to Cuba.
"I would sit in front of a plate of food and think, My family doesn't have food like this," she said. "I would be in a store looking at a pair of shoes to buy and think, How long would that money last my family back home?"
During her conversation with the Miami Herald's Myriam Marquez, Sanchez was briefly interrupted by a male protester who shouted, "Eso es la gran mentira" ("That's the grand lie"). He was quickly thrown out but not arrested.
When Marquez asked about Sanchez's international tour -- during which pro-Castro protesters have screamed insults at her and accused her of taking American government money -- the blogger said she had relied on the kindness of friends all over the world.
"The Cuban government says I'm a millionaire," she said. "Yes, I'm a millionaire when it comes to friends."
Indeed, after her speech, half a dozen politicians scrambled to give Sanchez a gift: Sen. Bill Nelson busted out his bad Spanish to present her an American flag, county Mayor Carlos Gimenez hung a medal the size of a dinner plate around her long black hair, and Miami mayor Tomás Regalado gave her a key to the city.
Those three were restrained compared with the bizarre, boisterous speech practically shouted at Sanchez by Doral Mayor Luigi Boria, who gave the blogger a Bible (despite Sanchez repeatedly saying she is agnostic).
Asked if she was afraid of returning to Cuba after criticizing it abroad, Sanchez -- who has been imprisoned on several occasions -- said she no longer worries about her fate, only the safety of her family.
"Fear gets to a point where they cannot give you anymore," she said. "It's like filling a glass with water. You can only hold so much.
"Freedom," on the other hand, "is contagious."
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