In My Opinion

Fabiola Santiago: Dissidents’ return to Cuba an act of courage

 

fsantiago@MiamiHerald.com

Here’s Cuba, post-travel “reform,” round one.

In short lines sent from her cellphone — one could say guerrilla-style, for the way a word, a smiley face, a phrase began in one tweet and ended in another — the celebrated blogger Yoani Sánchez reported on her return to Havana.

“Back to blindly tweeting via SMS,” she wrote Thursday night to her 504,534 Twitter followers as soon she landed.

Sánchez remarked on her 30-minute path through customs, her reunion with loved ones, and on Friday, posted similarly truncated snippets on Facebook.

They began bittersweet with the rain — “like it’s the end of the world, but the sun will shine” — and by day’s end were critical of the limited digital TV the government says it will allow, of the outrageously priced Internet cafés that block most information China-style, and for the lack of accessibility to the average Cuban.

“My grandchildren will have Internet wi-fi sometime in 2032,” she wrote.

Without missing a beat, the 37-year-old dissident who traveled for 103 days through Europe and the Americas giving testimony about life in Cuba and denouncing human rights violations was back to describing what it’s like to endure a country where the most mundane possessions, including peace of mind, are inaccessible or forbidden, or both.

Sánchez, by far the most famous of Cuba’s traveling bloggers and dissidents — able to leave the island under liberalized travel rules after years of denials — is not the first to travel widely and return.

Ladies in White leader Berta Soler, Rosa María Payá, daughter of the late dissident leader Oswaldo Payá, and the young activist Eliécer Avila also recently went home.

On the day she returned, Payá was threatened by a pro-government blogger who accused her of defaming Cuba and breaking the law by calling for an international investigation into her father’s death.

Avila was detained at customs and his luggage searched for four hours. The government confiscated 26 books about culture, human rights and democracy, and photographed all his electronics.

He said he had no regrets.

“I was absolutely certain that [returning] was what I wanted; the sentimental ties I left in Cuba and the sense of responsibility with the future were powerful reasons,” he wrote in an essay in the digital Diario de Cuba. “In fact, I didn’t feel sad, I was happy to return.”

Whether Sánchez will face reprisals is yet to be seen. But a pro-government blogger attacked her arrival, calling her “ la vacacionista,” the vacationer, and saying she had received “90 days of training to topple the island’s government.”

It takes guts and commitment to take on a dictatorship from inside, and by returning to continue their fight for democratic change, Cuba’s brave traveling dissidents have proven their worth.

While in exile, in Miami or elsewhere, they would be one more among us.

Their credibility lies in the strength of their voice from inside Cuba.

Their return home closes a historic chapter — but also opens a new, and more important one perhaps, for the island’s future.

Read more Fabiola Santiago stories from the Miami Herald

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