Cuban dissident Yoani Sanchez embarked on her first trip abroad in five years, arriving in Brazil a month after travel restrictions were eased by the communist government that is keeping tabs on her visit.
Sanchez, who was last arrested in October, this morning flew into the coastal city of Recife for the first stop in an international tour. Sanchez writes the “Generation Y” blog that documents government measures and life in Cuba, including laws regulating travel, and has repeatedly tried and failed to leave the island. Last year she was denied permission to visit Brazil.
“Lots of friends welcoming me on arrival and other people shouting insults at me,” Sanchez wrote on her Twitter account, which has more than 400,000 followers. “I wish in Cuba you could do the same. Long live freedom!”
Sao Paulo-based magazine Veja reported on Feb. 16 that Sanchez may be under scrutiny while abroad. Cuba’s ambassador to Brazil held a meeting with members of the ruling Workers’ Party in Brasilia on Feb. 6 to discuss 24-hour-a-day surveillance of the dissident and implementation of a smear campaign, the magazine said. The Cuban embassy denied the report, Veja said.
Brazil’s secretary general said Monday evening that Ricardo Poppi, the agency’s coordinator for new media, went to the Cuban embassy on Feb. 6 to obtain an entry visa for the Caribbean nation. The Cuban embassy invited Poppi into a meeting about Sanchez and Cuban migration policy and he was given a compact disc with information about her, according to the statement.
Sanchez, who lived in Switzerland from 2002 to 2004 before returning to Cuba, applied for a passport after President Raul Castro’s new rules on travel went into effect Jan. 14. Under the regulations, Cuba no longer requires residents to apply for exit visas to go abroad, a rule that has prevented many citizens from leaving the island for decades.
Sanchez plans to visit 10 countries including the U.S., Mexico, Italy and Spain, according to Ted Henken, a professor of Latin American studies at Baruch College in New York who is helping organize her trip.
“It is significant that Cuba’s leading cyber activist doesn’t come running to Miami or Washington, but begins her tour in South America, and I think that’s not an accident,” said Henken in a telephone interview. “To me she’s trying to make a point that her support comes from all over the world and doesn’t come, as is often claimed or assumed, just from Miami exiles or from the U.S. government.”
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