Though Sánchez has been repeatedly awarded international prizes and frequently invited to speak at conferences and academic institutions around the world, the Cuban government had consistently denied her permission to travel. That changed with recent immigration and travel reforms.
Henken said he contacted Sánchez as soon as she tweeted that she had received her passport, asking where she wanted to go and what she wanted to do. She relayed a list of goals that included visits to colleges and universities, news organizations and Washington. Also on the list: a visit to the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
New invitations soon began pouring in from all over the world, he said. U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, a Cuban-American Democrat, and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson were the first to invite Sánchez to visit Congress, but she insisted on seeing a bipartisan group, Henken said.
Henken and other volunteers began blocking out a schedule around planned events sponsored by groups that had long sought Sánchez’s participation, including an Amnesty International film festival in the Netherlands, a Manhattan symposium on the impact of digital technology on Cuban society that was jointly sponsored by the New School and New York University, and the IAPA’s Puebla conference.
Tech groups and conferences in particular have asked her to speak on her use of Twitter and other cyber-tools to spread news and information and circumvent official censorship.
“You notice she is crossing the Atlantic over and over,’’ said Porter. “That’s because the way the whole trip came together was based on other people’s dates on events they had planned. That’s why she’s not making a logical progression around the world. It’s exhausting for her. Everything was so crazy and last-minute and unplanned.’’
So exhausting was the pace, in fact, that on Thursday Sánchez canceled public appearances in Miami, tweeting that she had lost her voice.
During the New York and Washington visits, meals were often on the run, Porter said — including a plateful of cheese and crackers someone grabbed for Sánchez during an interview at CNN so that she could eat in the car en route to another appointment. Often they did not sit down to eat until evening, usually at a supporter’s home or at a thrown-together event such as a dinner at the D.C. home of the editor of Foreign Policy magazine, which has published many of her pieces.
The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank that also published a long piece by Sánchez and had previously invited her to speak, scrambled to host her on short notice too, Porter said. “They literally changed people’s schedules to do it,’’ she said. “A lot of this for Yoani was also honoring the people who were working with her all along, all these people who have been working and working and working to make the reality of Cuba visible.’’
Sánchez also wanted to visit groups that had awarded her prizes, especially the ones that came with cash attached, Henken said.
Her first stop, Brazil, was selected because she had a long-standing invitation from Brazilian filmmaker Dado Galvão to appear at a screening of his documentary, Conexão Cuba-Honduras. A group of Brazilian businessmen supporting the festival where the film was to be screened covered her airfare and picked up her food and lodging, said Galvão. He also raised additional funds through his blog.