Cuban blogger and activist Yoani Sanchez received a standing ovation during a Monday speech at Miami Dade College's Freedom Tower when she said she is "here to help make sure the Cuban people are never divided again."
The dissident, who writes the Generacion Y blog, reached out to Cuban exiles living in South Florida. She told audience members that without them, their country will be incomplete.
"We cannot allow ourselves to keep being divided," she said in her remarks, which were delivered in Spanish.
Sanzhez also got a huge response from the crowd as she related an anecdote from earlier in her world tour, in which she is talking about life in Cuba. Sanchez said that someone asked her if she is from Fidel Castro's Cuba or from Miami's Cuba.
“I am Cuban – a Jose Marti Cuban,” she said, referring to the 19th-century revolutionary. Sanchez delivered her speech in Spanish.
As she entered the Freedom Tower, people started chanting "freedom!" – a theme of her speech.
“Cuba must have a free press, otherwise we just sign a blank check for the next person who comes along," she said.
Sanchez is making appearances at two South Florida campuses Monday. Her MDC schedule included a conversation with community leaders and students, and she was to receive the Miami Dade College Presidential Medal for championing human rights.
“It is such an honor to not only have Yoani speak at what we affectionately call Democracy’s College, but at the Freedom Tower," MDC President Dr. Eduardo Padron said in a statement. "I can think of no better venue for this historic conversation in Miami."
Sanchez arrived in Miami last week as part of her tour and met with Archbishop Thomas Wenski. She had earlier met with Florida Senator Marco Rubio in Washington to discuss several issues, including expanding Internet access in Cuba.
Rubio, whose parents emigrated from Cuba to the U.S., called Sánchez "a remarkable woman" and said he was honored to meet her and get her thoughts on issues regarding the Cuban people and their future.
“Through her Generación Y blog, Yoani has given the rest of the world valuable insights into daily life in Cuba and, more importantly, given us a glimpse of what brave, Cuban democracy advocates like her can do with a little bit of Internet access,” Rubio said in a statement. “I believe expanding Internet access to Cuba is an important foreign policy goal we should work towards, so that many more can follow Yoani’s lead and help expose the reality of the regime’s inept and repressive nature."
On Monday evening Sanchez spoke at Florida International University, where she received FIU's Medallion of Courage.
She has nearly half a million Twitter followers, but on Cuba itself, where access to the Internet is limited, she is less well known. Still, Sanchez told the FIU audience that the virtual Cuba directly affects the real one.
"Every time they're closer. Even though we're the country in the Western Hemisphere that has the least Internet connectivity," she said.
Her message resonated with a young Venezuelan and FIU graduate, Jimmy Diaz.
"This is important for a new generation – this is important for us who are trying to make a change then for Venezuela," said Diaz, who added that's even more the case with the country's presidential election coming up on April 14.
On Wednesday Sanchez will hold a social media gathering at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, where the public cans Tweet her questions at #askyoani.