FEIRA DE SANTANA, Brazil -- Boisterous protesters backing the Cuban government blocked the Monday screening of a documentary featuring one of Cuba’s best-known dissidents, the blogger Yoani Sánchez, who was in attendance after being allowed to leave the communist island for the first time in nearly a decade.
Small groups of protesters met Sánchez when she arrived earlier Monday at two airports in Brazil’s northeast. They called her a “mercenary” who was being financed by the CIA and tossed photocopied U.S. dollar bills her way. One protester got close enough to pull her hair.
Sánchez was also met by supporters, and throughout the day in Tweets and a blog posting, she expressed her joy at being in Brazil, the first stop on her 80-day tour of about a dozen nations.
Yet at the evening screening in a museum, about four dozen protesters surrounded her the moment she walked through the door, shouting “Cuba yes! Yankees no!” and forcing guards to evacuate her to a nearby room.
“I was expecting it, even before leaving Cuba I knew this could happen,” Sánchez told The Associated Press minutes later inside the room where she was taken for protection. “It’s sad because I’ve been waiting one year for this, I really wanted to see [the] film.”
About an hour after being taken out of the screening room, Sánchez, accompanied by Brazilian Sen. Eduardo Suplicy, went to speak to the crowd, which included both protesters and supporters.
“After remaining silent for a long time, after living in a society where not speaking up was the option of the majority of my countrymen, after so much silence, one fine day I couldn’t take it anymore and I started a blog,” she told those gathered, some who cheered, some who booed.
Sánchez stayed with the crowd for about 45 minutes, then left the venue.
Sánchez’s ability to leave her homeland was seen as a test of a new Cuba law that eliminates the exit permit that had been required of islanders for five decades. Cuban authorities can still deny travel in cases of defense and “national security,” among other reasons, and some dissidents continue to face restrictions. Still, the exit permit’s demise is seen as one of the most significant reforms of President Raúl Castro’s ongoing plan to refashion some elements of the economy, government and society.
Several Cuban dissidents have already traveled or received passports under the new law, which took effect Jan. 14. But passports have been denied to at least two government opponents, one who had a criminal sentence pending against him and another who said she was turned down for allegedly belonging to “counterrevolutionary groups.”
Brazil’s most influential magazine, Veja, published a story this weekend alleging that Cuban diplomats were working with Brazilian leftists to organize protests against Sánchez during her stops in the country, where she is expected to stay for a week. “That doesn’t surprise me; it’s part of an information war,” she told the Salvador-based A Tarde newspaper. “Obviously I don’t like it, but I understand that facing this siege is part of my profession.”
After Brazil, Sánchez plans several stops in the United States, with appearances at universities in New York, visits to Google and Twitter offices and time with family in Florida.