For more than six weeks, dissident Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez has crisscrossed the Atlantic, making a splash and garnering accolades as she hopscotches between high-profile events in Brasilia and Amsterdam, Mexico City and New York, Washington, D.C. and Miami, with an eloquent, unvarnished plea for freedom of expression in her homeland.
But how has this woman with limited Internet access at home in Havana, few high-powered connections, no organization and limited financial resources pulled off a grueling, attention-grabbing itinerary across three continents that would challenge even the most savvy road warrior?
As it turns out, the same way she has managed to make a living in Havana and cultivate hundreds of thousands of Internet and Twitter followers around the globe: by plugging into an extensive, informal network of dedicated supporters who for years have translated her blog and helped Sánchez get her reports on life under communism out to the world — and also by improvising like mad.
In Brazil, where she launched her world tour on Feb. 18 after the Cuban government granted her permission to travel, pro-Castro protesters threw fake dollar bills at the blogger and shouted she was being underwritten by the CIA. Others claimed she was being paid thousands of dollars a month by the Inter-American Press Association, a Miami-based organization that advocates for freedom of the press in Latin America. IAPA officials roundly deny the claim.
The reality appears to be far more prosaic.
Sánchez, whose husband and teenage son stayed at home, has no entourage, no minder, no professional travel planner. She has done nearly all her international flying by herself, friends and supporters say.
Some of the stops on Sánchez’s tour have been the result of seat-of-the-pants planning undertaken by her grass-roots supporters, who helped her take advantage of longstanding invitations from colleges and universities, human-rights groups, journalism organizations and tech conferences to cobble together a schedule and find funding for plane tickets and hotels.
Her flight from Havana to Brazil was covered by business supporters of a film festival that planned to screen a documentary in which she appeared. Another film festival took her to Prague. A Mexican university paid for her travel to Mexico City. The IAPA put up Sánchez, volunteer chair for Cuba of the group’s Freedom of the Press Committee, at its three-day conference in nearby Puebla, IAPA Director Julio Munoz said.
Her flight from the Netherlands to Miami? Paid for by her sister Yunia, a pharmacy tech who emigrated from Cuba two years ago, friends and supporters said. Her Miami point person? Her brother-in-law, José Antonio García, who does have some local connections because he works for the Miami-based Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, an independent spinoff of the Cuban American National Foundation, though leaders say neither group funded her visit.
“There was no grand plan or scheme going on here,’’ said Maria Werlau, a Cuban exile activist in New Jersey who hosted a dinner for Sánchez and a group of her collaborators, most of whom had previously met only on the Internet. “Everything was pretty much put together on the fly.
“She does not have a staff. She could probably use one,’’ Werlau said, laughing.