MIAMI (CB4) – The setting could not have been more appropriate.
Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez entered Miami’s famed Freedom Tower to hundreds of people chanting, “¡Libertad! ¡Libertad!” In English, that translates to “Freedom! Freedom!”
The Freedom Tower on Biscayne Blvd. served as a beacon of hope for Cuban exiles in the sixties and seventies.
On Monday, Sánchez used the landmark as a platform to share her message of hope.
“Cuba is changing from within the Cubans,” she said at the conclusion of her roughly hourlong dialogue. “That gives me hope.”
Dressed in white with her longhair flowing, Sánchez entered the room to a roaring round of applause.
One man, however, did shout what sounded like the word “lie” in Spanish.
“Mentira,” he shouted, before being silenced by the crowd.
The blogger quickly recaptured the room’s attention with a story titled, “Cubanos y Punto”, “Cubans, Period.”
She recalled an anecdote during her visit to Berlin. Sánchez said a man asked her if she was from “Fidel’s Cuba” or “Miami’s Cuba”.
“That’s why I’m here today before you, trying to help make sure no one ever can divide us into one type of Cuban or another type of Cuban,” Sánchez said in Spanish.
Her blog, Generation Y, provides a glimpse into life in Cuba and the struggle of those who oppose the government there.
She explained the moment she decided to start voicing her opinions.
It was August 13th some years ago, Fidel Castro’s birthday.
“I stretched my arm to turn on the radio. When I turned on the radio, the announcer said, ‘Today is the birthday of the country.’ And I said, ‘I can’t stand this any more.'”
The audience of roughly a thousand people represented just a fraction of the millions who read her blog monthly, and the more than 459,000 people who follow her tweets.
“I adore her,”Marlin Labianco said as she waited to enter the hall. “I read her blog at all times on the Internet. I think she’s such an inspiration.”
Others had some reservations about Sánchez’s visit.
“I really wanted to hear from myself what she had to say,” Teresa Klumpp said before the event.
CBS 4’s Lauren Pastrana caught up with Klumpp afterward.
“I’m very satisfied,” Klumpp explained after hearing Sánchez speak.
Sánchez is wrapping up a global trek she started in February after Cuba changed its travel restrictions and issued her a passport.
She was presented with the Miami Dade College Presidential Medal for championing human rights.
Senator Bill Nelson gifted her with the flag that flew atop the US Capitol Building during her recent trip to Washington, DC.
Mayors from Miami, Doral and Miami-Dade gave her symbolic keys.
“I gotta take my hat off to her,” Mayor Carlos Gimenez said. “Things that she said, she’s very articulate. She’s very witty. So I was very impressed.”
Her visit has not come without controversy.
Some have wondered about the funding for her journey. She emphasized not a dime of it came from government.
Some demonstrators gathered outside the Freedom Tower carrying signs.
One woman is opposed to the blogger’s stance on the embargo. Sánchez said she supports the lifting of trade restrictions for symbolic reasons.
“That’s meddling into the United States laws and the justice system,” one protestor said. “Why can’t she ask for the betterment of the Cuban people.”
Inside, Sanchez would not be silenced. She said the regime uses the embargo to distract from other important issues.
“Freedom is contagious,” she said at one point. “One always wants more.”
It’s a freedom she’s come to appreciate over the last several weeks, but soon it will be time for her to return to Cuba where her son and husband are waiting for her.
“I’m ready for everything,” Sánchez said. “What can happen? In the end, I will leave in peace. I will live my life with the freedom I wanted.”
Sánchez was also the guest lecturer at Florida International University Monday night to speak about technology’s role in spreading democracy.
Speaking to a packed room, Sánchez said technology has changed her life and is changing her country.
“The virtual Cuba is affecting the real Cuba directly,” said Sánchez.
She admitted her most prized possession is a smart phone, given to her by a visitor to the island and used that anecdote to take a jab at the U.S. embargo.
“You have to let people in to be able to able to help the people of Cuba,” said Sánchez.
FIU gave Sánchez its first-ever gold Medallion of Courage. She was also given a U.S. Marine Corps Medal of Bravery that was previously given to Miami-Dade commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz.
Diaz felt compelled to give Sánchez the medal, noting that she was truly the brave one for being the voice of the people in her embattled country.