RECIFE, Brazil Feb 18 Cuban best-know
dissident, blogger Yoani Sanchez, was greeted on Monday by a
small group of protesters calling her a CIA agent upon arriving
in Brazil, the first stop on a whirlwind tour that will take her
to a dozen countries.
A smiling Sanchez brushed off the student demonstrators who
sympathize with Cuba's communist government, saying she wished
Cubans had the same freedom to protest back home. Sanchez's
arrival in Brazil kicked off her first trip abroad since the
Cuban government finally granted her a passport after more than
20 refusals in the past five years.
The protesters, about eight leftist students from a local
university, shouted "Sell out" and "CIA agent" as Sanchez
arrived in the northeastern Brazilian city of Recife, according
to a Reuters photographer who was at the airport.
"Viva la democracia! I want that democracy for my country
too," she responded.
The Cuban government labels dissidents as mercenaries on the
payroll of the United States, its decades-old ideological foe.
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,
www.desdecuba.com/generaciony, and using Twitter to denounce
Sanchez, who was starting an 80-day tour, was granted a
passport two weeks ago under Cuba's sweeping immigration reform
that went into effect this year. She has won several
international prizes for her blogging about life in Cuba but has
been unable to collect them until now.
"I am so happy. It has been five years of struggle," Sanchez
told local media.
"Unfortunately, in Cuba you are punished for thinking
differently. Opinions against the government have terrible
consequences, arbitrary arrests, surveillance," she said in an
interview with GloboNews television.
Sanchez's visit touched a political nerve in Brazil, where
the left-leaning government of President Dilma Rousseff is often
criticized for not taking a more critical stance with Cuba's
one-party system and the repression of political dissent there.
According to local news magazine Veja, Cuban diplomats
recently met with militants from Brazil's ruling Workers' Party
in Brasilia and asked them to organize protests against Sanchez
during her stay in the South American country. One junior
official in the Rousseff administration was present at the
meeting, Veja said.
The report prompted some opposition legislators in Congress
to accuse the Rousseff government of tacitly endorsing a
Cuban-led smear campaign against Sanchez. One senator, Alvaro
Dias, said he would demand that the government formally explain
its role in what he called the "unacceptable monitoring" of
In the interview with GloboNews, Sanchez said recent reforms
undertaken by President Raul Castro have been positive but
minimal, such as the lifting of bans that prevented Cubans from
buying new cars and other goods.
"There is a difference between the reforms we dream of and
the reforms that are being carried out," she said. "We dream of
freedom of association, freedom of expression, but it does not
look like we will get this too soon."
Sanchez, considered Cuba's pioneer in social networking,
told Reuters earlier this week in Havana that she planned to
travel to Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Mexico, Spain, Italy, Poland,
the Czech Republic, and visit the headquarters of Google
, Twitter and Facebook in the United States.