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Women Speaking Out

Aired March 21, 2013 - 16:00:00   ET


HALA GORANI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Hello and welcome, everyone, to the program. I'm Hala Gorani, filling in for Christiane Amanpour. Today, we look at one of the most dangerous threats to power: a woman speaking out.

On this program we've tried to provide a platform for these women, women who share their stories, sometimes at great personal risk.

One of the bravest, in fact, is not a woman. She's a girl, Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager shot in the head by the Taliban because of her fight for a girl's right to be educated.

Malala is in England right now, recovering. And this week she once again demonstrated her courage with one simple act: she went back to school.


MALALA YOUSAFZAI, EDUCATION ACTIVIST: I think it is the heaviest moment that I'm going back to my school and today I already held my books, my bag and I would learn, I would talk to my friends, I would talk to my teacher. And I think there's no important day than this day.


GORANI: Today we look at two more women storytellers with the courage to change their world. Later in the program, I'll talk to Lydia Cacho, a Mexican journalist who's risked her life reporting on drug trafficking, human trafficking and government corruption.

But first, Joani Sanchez, the self-described Internet addict, is one of the world's most popular dissident bloggers, taking on the Cuban leadership armed with a laptop and cell phone. She is a constant thorn in the Castro brothers' side, broadcasting her criticism of the Cuban system to the entire world.

Since gaining fame, Joani has not been allowed to travel. Her requests to leave the island nation were denied 20 times until now. Sanchez got her passport eventually, funnily enough thanks to Raul Castro, whose immigration reform measures went into effect this year.

She has hopscotched the globe, visiting Brazil, Prague, Mexico and now the United States. She plans to meet with officials and to learn as much as she can about a free press.

Sanchez's critics say she's a mercenary, a tool, a foreign government. After her world tour, Sanchez intends to return to Cuba after this trip. But the big question is will she even be allowed back? Joani Sanchez joined me earlier with a Spanish translator here in our New York studio.


GORANI: Yoani Sanchez, thank you so much for being with us today.

YOANI SANCHEZ, CUBAN BLOGGER: Thank you very much for your invitation.

GORANI: For those who may not be familiar with you, we're seen all over the world, you have become an icon, an icon of the anti-Castro Internet movement, if you will. And so you have been greeted by Cubans, by others as their hero, in a way.

Do you feel like a hero?

SANCHEZ: No. Actually, I'm shaking; every day I'm very much afraid because of the things I do. But I think that we have arrived at a technological situation, which has made it possible for me to transmit my voice and my message in ways which other Cuban artists weren't able to do.

GORANI: Those who criticize you say how does she get all this money, this support, the money to view the Internet even in Cuba, which is so expensive? They say she must be funded. She must be funded by foreigners who are working politically against the government of Cuba.

SANCHEZ: Well, the answer is even simpler. First of all, I am an Internet specialist without Internet. So even though it seems that I am very active on the Internet, I go online once a week or once every 10 days for a few minutes. I write offline a lot. I put my texts on the flash drive and I go to a hotel and I try to program texts.

Then it also happens that there are many tourists who come to the island and they ask me how can I help. And I tell them, buy me an Internet card at a hotel. So that is what I have achieved.

GORANI: So why do you think, after all these years of not being allowed outside of Cuba, that now you have been allowed? What is changing? Is it changing in Cuba?

SANCHEZ: Well, that is the question that I have been asking myself these days, although I don't have a final answer. I think that first of all the political cost of not letting me leave was too high because I have insisted there were international bodies like the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights which insisted with the Cuban government to let me leave.

I talked about this at my blog and I also imagine that the Cuban government thinks that by letting me leave, perhaps they are thinking that I may stay outside and not return.

GORANI: Well, so that's an option, yes? I mean (inaudible).

Why not?

SANCHEZ: Because the people I love are in Cuba, my son, my husband, many friends, and because I have projects in Cuba. When I ask that question I like to say -- I like to remember Kundera, the Czech author, who wrote about that and he said, "My life is elsewhere."

But my life is not elsewhere. My life is in Cuba.

GORANI: So when you return to Cuba after this very long trip to all these countries you are visiting for the first time, including the United States, what do you -- what kind of reception will you get? Even here in the U.S. you've had your opponents insult you and try to interrupt news conferences. So what do you think is going to happen once you go back home?

SANCHEZ: First of all, I must say that the press in my country, which is official press, has not mentioned a single word of my trip abroad.

So I don't exist for them. When I return perhaps there will be a -- more of a slander campaign against me. There may be programs, but my photograph and difficult adjectives used, but I think that this trip will help me. It will get me this ability, being able to be at a space like this one. This may help that in the next few months I may not have to go to jail.

GORANI: What is it that you're saying that so frightens or angers people who are part of the system of the government in Cuba?

SANCHEZ: Well, that is a great surprise. It's not even a political message. It's not a clearly opponent's message. I'm not even asking people to go on the street. But their daily, daily tales, daily stories of what's happening. But what happens is that reality in Cuba is controversial.

GORANI: One of the things that I read that you said was it's just incredible to stand on a street corner and be able to say whatever I feel like saying and not have to worry.

Now in your role as blogger, activist, you're describing real-life situations and it might be something that frightens the regime. But I wonder what your advice would be to a blogger or an activist in the Middle East, in China, in other parts of the world where they could possibly be jailed; they could be tortured, they could be killed.

What message of encouragement do you have for them to continue doing what they're doing?

SANCHEZ: Well, I would say that even with those risks, the risk to go to jail, to die, to have a public stoning, it is worthwhile getting up every day and saying I'm going to behave like a free person today.

GORANI: What was the most interesting thing so far this trip?

SANCHEZ: The Cubans I have met. I came to New York. I landed and I went to the immigration officer with my passports. He looked at my passport and he said, "Are you Cuban? So am I." And I'm discovering Cuba outside of Cuba, many people who carry the island in their heart, in their memory, who have preserved national traditions that we have forgotten in our country.

GORANI: So that's -- you're rediscovering Cuba outside of Cuba, a little bit?

SANCHEZ: Yes, it's incredible because Cuba is a country which is marked by masks, by silence; people are afraid to talk. For example, when they speak about politics or about the president, they lower their voice --

GORANI: They whisper. They whisper; it happens in many countries. You whisper when you talk about politics. But you want to be able to talk about politics. You want to be able to scream about politics if you want. Yes?

SANCHEZ: Yes, I want to stand on a corner and scream, there is no freedom here. The day I can do that we will have won something.

GORANI: Joani Sanchez, gracias.

SANCHEZ: Thank you very much.


GORANI: One of my five words in Spanish, I'm afraid.

"Behave like a free person today." Joani Sanchez's advice could apply to another courageous woman, an investigative reporter who refuses to be silenced at the risk of her own life.


LYDIA CACHO, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST AND MEXICAN JOURNALIST: Most of the aggressions and the killing of journalists have a lot to do with orders that come from the military or from the government.


GORANI: That is Lydia Cacho, and we'll hear her inspiring story when we come back.

But first, President Obama took to the podium in Israel and visited the occupied West Bank today, challenging both sides. Sara Sidner is in Jerusalem and she tells us how the president and his message have been received.

Sara Sidner, so how has the message and the speech and the appearance by President Obama been received by Israelis, first off?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, some people are saying, look, this is the first time they're really heard President Obama talk about Zionism, talk very strongly in support of the Zionist dream, as he said, in his speech. It seems to be that if you judge from what the crowd there did, they had a couple of standing ovations; they clapped for him many, many times during his speech.

And perhaps the loudest applause was when the president talked about the fact that if Israel wants to live in peace, that he must recognize that the Palestinians also need a state. And you saw huge applause there. An interesting point. But something that people here are quite used to, because if you look at any of the polls, the polls will tell you when Israelis are polled on this issue of the two-state solution. A very high majority of people say they do believe that is the answer to the problems here, at least in part, that the Palestinians do deserve to have a state by Israel. So an interesting point to be made there, he did challenge both Israel and the Palestinian territories, challenge them to look beyond some of the things that they have been holding onto dearly and try to accept one another, but definitely a challenge, talking about the fact that settlements, he believes, are a real difficulty and they make peace very, very difficult. He also talked about the occupation as well. But he also made very clear that he stands with Israel and that America is Israel's closest ally. He said that over and over again in different ways. And his speech is being received quite well, actually, by the Israelis. The Palestinians are slightly more skeptical, listening to what he's saying. But certainly there's some challenges, as you said, to go aside to try and get past old issues and at least take the time to sit down again and start these peace talks again so that a two-state solution really is possible, not a distant dream.

GORANI: And he was asked specifically by a reporter about settlement expansion in sensitive areas called the E1, very close to East Jerusalem. Were his answers satisfactory? I mean, do Palestinians believe this will go beyond rhetoric by the president?

SIDNER: I don't think the question there and the answer there was satisfactory. The answer by the presidents to the Palestinians was that he dodged the question to many who were listening; he did not say that he was going to ask for another settlement freeze, for example, disappointment by many of the Palestinians on that. You know that he did ask for a settlement freeze in 2010, but still the peace process did not get pushed any further. It has been stalled since that time. And so what he did talk about, though, was that the policies are very clear and that they haven't changed much when it comes to settlements that the United States does not support more settlement building inside of the West Bank and especially there on E1.

GORANI: All right. Sara Sidner in Jerusalem, thank you very much.

We'll be right back after a break. Stay with us.




GORANI: Welcome back to the program. I'm Hala Gorani, filling in for Christiane.

Torture, sexual assault, death threats, none of this has silenced investigative journalist Lydia Cacho, my next guest tonight.

Cacho has courageously reported on corruption, drug violence and sex trafficking in her home country of Mexico for several decades, sometimes even exposing government officials and high-powered business people.

Fearing for her life she was forced to flee Mexico last summer, but has now returned to continue her work in her country. I spoke with her earlier.


GORANI: Well, thank you very much for being with us today. I want to say it's an honor meeting you. Many people admire you for your bravery, for your fearless work covering a topic in Mexico that has gotten you in trouble, that has put you in danger. You've been abducted; you've been abused; you've been tortured, yet you go back and continue to do your work.

So where do you find this courage?

CACHO: Well, I suppose it has a lot to do with believing what journalism, it's all about. And I believe my work has helped a lot of people.

It, in fact, has transformed a lot of people a lot in Mexico. So you know, you're a journalist; sometimes you take risks.

I have lost seven friends in the last couple of years, assassinated in Mexico, journalists that were doing a good job, investigating the Mafias (ph) and the most of the aggressions and the killing of journalists have a lot to do with orders that come from the military or from the government.

It's not true that's it all only the Mafias (ph) who are attacking journalists.

GORANI: So the government, you're saying, in Mexico, is at least just as responsible for the targeting of journalists?

CACHO: Yes. The organization, Article 19, that is based in London, they did an amazing investigation in the last couple of years. And they demonstrated that most of the biggest attacks and abductions and illegal incarcerations were ordered by political parties or by the military or the police who are really uncomfortable with journalists.

GORANI: But so the question is, if you live in a country where not only the criminal gangs are targeting journalists, but according to you, even the authorities -- where do you turn when you feel vulnerable, when you feel targeted and threatened? Who do you talk to?

CACHO: What we do is we go to the courts anyway because Mexico has been going through huge change trying to transform the legal system and the criminal justice system has been changing little by little. But impunity is amazing. It's like 98 percent of all cases, of all criminal cases are not prosecuted in Mexico.

GORANI: So why do you keep doing what you're doing? Where does the hope that things will change come from?

I mean, are you just an incurable optimist, that no matter what evidence is presented before you, you will continue the battle?


CACHO: No, I think -- and it's not only me, of course. Everybody else is, you know, human rights activists and journalists are working to rebuild the country and the criminal justice system. GORANI: At great personal risk, I want to show you another number here. This is the Committee to Protect Journalists. And it comes out with its estimates of journalist killings and deaths for a country, 71 journalists killed in Mexico since 1992. But that is a very conservative estimate, yes?

CACHO: Absolutely, yes, because what they -- what the CPJ is saying is they -- there are only journalists. And Article 19 is also counting not only the assassinations, but also aggressions and sexual -- the rape of some journalists and the threats. And it comes to 207.


GORANI: 207, that's in -- what timeframe are we talking about here?

CACHO: Last year.

GORANI: Just last year?

CACHO: (Inaudible).

GORANI: So this figure we're seeing from the CPJ may be just, first of all, it's just a debt but also it may be an under -- it may be a lower estimate than the reality, you think?

CACHO: (Inaudible).

GORANI: So we -- I was reading some of the things that happened to you, some terrible things that would have discouraged many others, I think. And you -- there was recounted one incident in 2005 where you say you were abducted and tortured; you were abducted by the police.


GORANI: What was that about?

CACHO: Well, I published a book called "Demons of Eden," that will become a movie soon. And where I investigated a network of child pornography -- I mean of interpreters that were doing child pornography in Cancun. They had sex with almost 200 kids from 4 years to 13 years old. And they were doing sex tourism because they own a hotel in Cancun.

So I exposed these guys with all their names and also politicians who were involved, including five governors. And I printed all the names of everyone. So one of the governors was agreed with Kamel Nacif (ph), one of the other mobsters, to get me in jail. And what they wanted was --


CACHO: -- they demand the resignation of the governor of Puebla because they were planning my incarceration, my rape and my torture in order for me to say that the contents of my books were a lie. So right now, eight years later, the main leader of that child pornography network has been sentenced to 113 years in Mexico.

GORANI: And that's a huge victory for you and your profession as well. And we talk about the problem. But I guess one of the questions is also what is a possible solution?

CACHO: There's one thing that is really important for us in Mexico, that in 2006, the new criminal justice system, a transformation was approved. And now it has to be implemented by -- in two years.

And when it changes open trials and two different judges there with the media in front of them and with the possibility to have more transparency in the system, will actually improve things. And some of the states in Mexico have already implemented this criminal justice system. And it's changing little by little. I mean, it's not all bad.

But then on the other hand, what we have to do is truly change cultural values regarding impunity and corruption, which is -- I mean, it's a huge task.

GORANI: I mean, are you always living in fear? Or do you sometimes - - are you able to relax?

CACHO: Oh, yes, I relax. I go scuba diving. I, you know, walk with my dogs and I have a life. I won't let them take that away from me. It's just absurd if you just -- if I lived like that, I will have left Mexico. But I'm not willing to.

So yes. Well, I've -- I don't know. I learn not to live in fear. It's a decision; you make a choice every day not to live in fear. So this, today, when I wake up, it's like today I'm not going to be, you know, live in fear. So I'm going to enjoy life and just go for it.

GORANI: Thank you very much, Lydia Cacho. It's a great pleasure meeting you and talking to you today.

CACHO: Thank you so much.


GORANI: And when we come back, another remarkable study in courage. Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani teen who defied the Taliban and lived to walk the walk to school, we'll be right back.




GORANI: And finally tonight, earlier we spoke of Malala Yousafzai, the brave Pakistani teenager who made her own powerful statement this week just by putting on her backpack and going to school. What an amazing journey it's been for this extraordinary young woman who has inspired so many around the world. It began in her classroom back home in Pakistan when she was one of many smiling school girls hoping for an education. How could she have known the hornet's nest that she would kick over when she took on the Taliban and insisted on her right to reading, writing and arithmetic?


YOUSAFZAI: I have rights. I have the right of education. I have the right to play. I have the right to sing. I have the right to talk. I have the right to go to market. I have the right to speak up.


GORANI: Well, the whole world knows what happened next, how the Taliban responded with a bullet to her head, nearly costing her life. But after finding medical care in a new home in Britain, Malala's dream lives on for herself and for others.


YOUSAFZAI: I want to learn about politics, about social rights and about the law. I want to learn how to bring change in this world and how to do work for the happiness and for the education of the girls.


GORANI: Malala Yousafzai there.

Now that's our program, three brave women fighting for a better world, despite the obvious dangers around them. Meantime, you can always contact us on our website, or find us on Twitter. Thank you for watching and goodbye from New York.