In My Opinion

Fabiola Santiago: Yoani Sánchez, a courageous Cuban, breaks through to the outside world

For those of us who have followed her brave reports from Cuba during the past decade, it was moving and at the same time nerve-wracking to watch Yoani Sánchez waving goodbye as she cleared airport checkpoints rolling a small suitcase marked with the logo of her famous blog, Generation Y.

“Through door #9,” she tweeted, “my lucky number!!!”

And we exhaled with relief when Sánchez tweeted again from a stop in Panama, confirmation that there were no last-minute reprisals against her.

Even on her final, emotion-filled day on the island, Sánchez reported on new detentions of dissidents.

And when she finally flew Monday, she became the news.

Only in a country without the most basic freedoms is the trip abroad of a journalist the subject of worldwide news reports, a ground-breaking moment covered as a feat of Olympic proportions.

But in Cuba, accomplishing something as mundane as getting a passport — and then actually being allowed to board a plane — is extraordinary.

Now Sánchez’s cross-continental journey — with a much-anticipated stop in Miami when she will speak April 1 at the iconic Freedom Tower — is a test of the Cuban government’s newly announced migration reforms.

For the first time during the Castros’ five-decade rule, Cubans can allegedly travel to whatever country issues them a visa by applying for a passport. (I say allegedly because already some dissidents have been denied passports, given an exemption to the reforms for “enemies” that can be applied at whim).

After some 20 denials in years past, authorities finally issued a passport to Sánchez, the most prominent and effective chronicler of life in Cuba, and she is traveling to Latin America, Europe and the United States to speak at conferences and collect journalism prizes.

In trademark fashion, Sánchez is chronicling the odyssey — from her mournful goodbye to a gray Havana to the overwhelming emotions of arrival and discovery — in 140-character tweets.

As she revels in freedom, she’s experiencing things we take for granted: 24-hour — and quick — access to the Web; searching the Internet without blackouts or government officials monitoring; unhindered interactions with people from all over the world.

But the reprisals against her have come swiftly, in hideous little ways — well-organized campaigns online with people posting comments questioning the financing of her trip, warning her not to become too full of herself — and in the all-too-familiar violent “ acto de repudio” staged in Brazil.

A pro-Cuban government mob, according to the Brazilian press arranged by the Cuban embassy and Communist Party activists, heckled Sánchez at the airport and later disrupted the showing of a movie about press freedoms where Sánchez was speaking.

She was unfazed.

“Some day in my country people will be able to express publicly their disagreement like this without reprisals,” she told the demonstrators at the airport.

Later, she chronicled in her blog how the mob continued the harassment.

“Their neck veins swelled, I cracked a smile,” she wrote. “They attacked me personally, I brought the discussion back to Cuba which will always be more important than this humble servant. They wanted to lynch me, I talked. They were responding to orders, I am a free soul.”

In the end, the only loser of the episode was Brazil, which gave up its sovereignty to the Cuban government when, instead of providing protection for the event, it allowed the unruly mob to shut down the film showing.

One day into her journey, Sanchez’s chronicle is already revealing.

To see Cuba through the eyes of its most prolific journalist is always illuminating.

To behold our free world as she experiences it — with the sharpness of the observer, the strength of the survivor and the enthusiasm of a child — is priceless.

Read more Fabiola Santiago stories from the Miami Herald

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