After 20 unsuccessful tries in five years, Yoani Sánchez, Cuba’s most famous blogger, is free.
She is among the first opposition journalists to be approved for travel under Raúl Castro’s new rules that eliminated the exit permit, which until last month had been required of all Cuban citizens by Fidel Castro’s revolution for five decades. Of course, Cuban authorities aren’t giving the green light to all Cubans. The dictatorship can still nix travel plans for certain Cubans, such as doctors, claiming it’s a matter of “national security.”
Indeed, several other Cuban dissidents and opposition leaders have not been allowed to travel outside Cuba. But Ms. Sánchez’s international acclaim — she has won various prestigious awards for her blog posts about life in Cuba, including named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time magazine in 2008 — made it tough for Cuban officials to turn down her request to travel. It would have once again exposed the blunt fine print in Cuba’s so-called liberalized travel rules.
So now Ms. Sánchez has a three-month permit to travel. For the first time, she will be able to post her blog without having to send it surreptitiously to friends abroad for posting to bypass the Cuban government’s censors. On arrival in Brazil, she was embraced by supporters and predictably blasted by pro-Castro leftist protesters.
No matter. Ms. Sánchez, who lived for a short time in Switzerland in 2002 where she learned computer science before returning to Cuba to find she couldn’t leave again, sent out a tweet Monday after arriving in the northeastern city of Recife and later Salvador, Brazil:
“At the arrival many friends were welcoming me and other people yelling insults. I wish it would be the same in Cuba. Long live freedom!” she told her 409,000-plus followers on Twitter. (The irony is not lost that her followers are abroad because Cuba blocks her posts so that Cubans cannot see them.)
She called the protests, which some Brazilian newspaper reports say are being coordinated with the Cuban regime, “a shower of democracy and pluralism,” once again focusing on what makes a nation free: the power of the individual to protest.
“The Recife airport was a place for embraces,” she wrote on Twitter. “There were flowers, gifts and even a group of people insulting me which, I confess, I really enjoyed, because it allowed me to say that I dream that ‘one day people in my country will be able to express themselves against something publicly like this, without reprisals.’
“Later I also looked at an Internet so fast I could barely understand it, without censored pages and without officials looking over my shoulder at the pages I visit.”
There will be many stops ahead for the 37-year-old activist-writer who has made her Generation Y blog an international phenomenon. From the Czech Republic and Spain to Mexico and Peru, with New York and Florida on the itinerary, too, Ms. Sánchez is well-prepared for the protesters trying to defame her by suggesting she is “financed by the CIA.”
Asked about copies of U.S. dollar bills thrown at her by protesters and their cries of alleged CIA links — all coordinated by Cuban diplomats, according to a story published by Brazil’s influential magazine, Veja — Ms. Sánchez took it in with her usual calm.
“That doesn’t surprise me, it’s part of an information war,” she said.
Cuba’s most famous blogger knows of what she speaks.