In Washington, Yoani Sánchez speaks with senators, Obama aide

Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez ended her two-day visit to Washington, D.C., Wednesday by holding private meetings analyzing U.S. policy toward Cuba, including the embargo, and offering her personal testimony on the situation of civil society in Cuba..

“It has precisely been this type of conversation that I dream of having someday in Cuba,” Sánchez said.

Sánchez, 37, met at the White House with presidential advisor for the Western Hemisphere Ricardo Zúñiga. And earlier she had held a meeting with Cuban-American U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Bob Menendez of New Jersey.

Sánchez wanted to clearly describe the difficulties the internal opposition faces, including the consistent harassment from the Cuban government.

Her agenda included a visit to the State Department in the afternoon to pick up her 2011 International Women of Courage Award, an honor she won in absentia two years ago. The award recognizes her commitment to integrity and the defense of human rights.

She later visited Georgetown University to speak at a forum with students and academics.

Sánchez said the meeting with the U.S. senators was positive and also highlighted the spirit of opening, despite the fact that she has expressed her opposition to the embargo the United States has maintained since 1962.

“We talked about relevant issues, of course, the support, the help and solidarity we can have from abroad,” said Sánchez, founder of the blog Generación Y. She added that there was also a touch of typical Cuban humor.” She said jokingly that she had invited the senators to have coffee “on the 14th floor of my Yugoslav-style building, where I hope someday they can go visit.”

As a pioneer in the use of dissenting blogs in Cuba, Sánchez said that technology is important to encourage a democratic process and an opening.

“Technology was also a part of this conversation,” Sánchez said. “The Cuban lock has to be opened from within and from outside.”

During the tour Sánchez has visited Mexico, Brazil, the Czech Republic and Spain. She began an 80-day tour in February after the Cuban government decided to reform its travel policy.

Rubio warned that the public should stay alert about Sánchez’s safety when she returns to Cuba.

He said that Raúl Castro’s regime is full of thugs and assassins and that the U.S. should join other nations in demanding human rights and safety not only for Sánchez but also for the entire Cuban people.

The Cuban government has not made any statement about the criticism that Sánchez and other opponents abroad have made, including Berta Soler, the spokeswoman of the Ladies in White, and Eliécer Avila, both on a tour through Europe.

Meanwhile, Menendez, D-N.J., said that Sánchez is a Cuban patriot committed to the future of her country as a free and democratic nation.

“She is a model to follow by the new generation of Cubans seeking to join the global community through technology and access to information and, ultimately, be able to enjoy freedom of expression, political rights and economic opportunities in their own motherland,” Menendez said.

“Her work as an independent journalist has been indispensable and, despite suffering in the hands of the regime, she remains optimistic about the future of Cuba.”

In a press release, White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said that Sánchez’s meeting with Zúñiga was to discuss the efforts made by the blogger to promote more respect toward freedom of expression in Cuba.

“The United States anxiously awaits the day in which all Cubans would have the opportunity to express themselves in public without fear,” Hayden said. “We will continue to support the policies that encourage the flow of information to and from Cuba.”

Sánchez will return to New York on Thursday to complete her calendar of activities. Then she will travel to Europe, and on April 1, she will visit Miami.

In South Florida she will be part of a program hosted by Miami Dade College with students and community leaders.

She will also receive the MDC Presidential Medal for her consistent work and commitment for human rights as well as Florida International University’s Medallion of Courage.

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