* Yoani Sanchez starts world tour on Sunday
* Free to leave after repeated denials
* Visits to Facebook, Twitter and Google planned
By Marc Frank
HAVANA, Feb 15 Cuba's best-known dissident,
blogger Yoani Sanchez, says 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.
Sanchez, under Cuba's sweeping migration reform that went
into effect this year, was given her passport two weeks ago,
after being denied permission to travel more than 20 times over
the past five years.
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
Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Mexico, the United States, Spain,
Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic and other nations.
"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, as she
left her home Thursday morning to pick up a visa at a local
"I feel like a runner who has run the 110 meter hurdle.
Tired, exhausted but happy to have met the challenge," she
Sanchez, a 37-year-old Havana resident, has earned the wrath
of Cuba's communist government for constantly criticizing the
system in her "Generation Y" blog, and using Twitter to denounce
Sanchez, one of the world's best known bloggers, has tens of
thousands of followers abroad, but few in Cuba where the
Internet is severely restricted by the government.
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," in a nod to 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, and official
bloggers regularly charge Sanchez's international renown has
been stage-managed by western intelligence services.
Sanchez, who has won a number of international prizes for
her blog but was denied permission to collect them, said she
would now do so during her travels.
"I have various objectives. I am going to give conferences
at various universities, present my book (a collection of her
blogs), receive the prizes I wasn't given permission to collect
before and meet my readers, many of whom have followed me for
six years," Sanchez said.
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 got rid of the much-hated need to obtain an exit
visa and loosened other restrictions that had discouraged Cubans
It was one of the wide-ranging reforms President Raul Castro
has enacted since he succeeded his older brother, Fidel Castro,
There are still travel restrictions, mainly for reasons of
national security and for those with pending legal cases, which
may affect a number of dissidents like 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, DC., and
that's 'sweet' for Cubans everywhere. But, as with most things
emanating from official Cuba, it's also 'sour,'" said Marifeli
Pérez-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," she
Sanchez said the travel reform 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
"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," Sanchez said.