Cuba’s best-known dissident, blogger Yoani Sanchez, said she plans to make good use of “my victory” when she leaves on an 80-day tour of more than a dozen countries on Sunday.
Ms. Sanchez, under Cuba’s sweeping migration reform that went into effect this year, was granted a passport two weeks ago, after being denied permission to travel more than 20 times over the past five years. Ms. Sanchez, considered Cuba’s pioneer in social networking, told Reuters on Thursday that she would visit the headquarters of Google, Twitter and Facebook, and travel to Latin America and Europe.
“This is a victory after fighting five years for my right to travel, using patience, energy, legal and journalistic tools, and most of all the solidarity of many people,” she said.
“I feel like a runner who has run the 110-metre hurdle. Tired, exhausted but happy to have met the challenge.”
Ms. Sanchez, a 37-year-old Havana resident, has incurred the wrath of Cuba’s government for constantly criticizing its communist system in her Generation Y blog, and using Twitter to denounce repression. Ms. Sanchez, one of the world’s best-known bloggers, has tens of thousands of followers abroad, but few in Cuba where the government severely restricts the Internet.
Her blog is named after the penchant of Cuban parents during the Cold War era of Soviet backing for the island to choose names for their children starting with “Y” because of the many popular Russian names starting with that letter.
Cuba’s leaders consider dissidents traitorous mercenaries in the employ of the United States and other enemies. Official bloggers regularly charge that Ms. Sanchez’s international renown has been stage-managed by Western intelligence services.
Ms. Sanchez’ case is viewed as a test of the Cuban government’s commitment to free travel under reforms that require only a passport, renewed every two years, to leave the country.
Other leading dissidents have also received passports, though two less well-known government opponents, Angel Moya and Gisela Delgado, have been denied.
The old travel law was put in place in 1961 to slow the flight of Cubans after the island’s 1959 revolution.
The new law scrapped the much-hated requirement to obtain an exit visa and loosened other restrictions that had discouraged Cubans from leaving.
It was one of the wide-ranging reforms President Raul Castro has enacted since he succeeded his older brother, Fidel Castro, in 2008.
There are still travel restrictions, mainly for national security reasons and for those with pending legal cases. That may affect a number of dissidents like Mr. Moya, who is on parole after being jailed in a 2003 crackdown on dissent.
“It’s sweet-and-sour news. Yoani will travel to Mexico, Spain, Germany, and visit New York and Washington, D.C., and that’s ‘sweet’ for Cubans everywhere. But, as with most things emanating from official Cuba, it’s also ‘sour,’” said Marifeli Perez-Stable, Interim Director at Florida International University’s Latin American and Caribbean Center in Miami.
“That she was given a passport and others have been denied underscores the arbitrariness of the migration reform.”
Ms. Sanchez said the travel changes fell short of “granting to anyone born on this island the inherent right to come and go,” but nevertheless was a step forward that will have an “incalculable political and social impact,” including for the government.
“In a way, I am the flag bearer of this new era that’s beginning, where civil society is going to have access to international spaces and an international microphone and return with more information, knowledge and contacts,” Ms. Sanchez said.