Acclaimed Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez left Cuba this past Sunday for the first time since 2004. Sánchez will visit and speak at universities, NGOs and government forums in Europe, Latin America and the United States until mid-May, when she will return to Cuba. The blogger has received countless invitations to visit other countries since her blog, Generación Y [es], became an international sensation in 2008. Until this January, she had applied for travel permission and been denied a permit by Cuban authorities over twenty times.
Upon receiving word that her passport had been renewed and permission to travel granted, Sánchez tweeted,
@yoanisanchez: Incredible!! They called my house to tell me that my passport is ready! They just gave it to me! :-)
Sánchez is among many beneficiaries of the country’s new, less stringent travel policy that allows Cubans to leave the country on a temporary basis. While the new regulations significantly reduce the number of administrative requirements for obtaining permission to travel, citizens can still be denied a passport. Various known dissidents who have applied for passports since the regulation went into effect on January 14, 2013, have had their requests denied.
While many voices around the world have expressed joy and excitement about Sánchez’s tour, responses have not all been positive. In Feira de Santana, Brazil, at her first public appearance outside of Cuba, Sánchez was met with protesters who called her a “mercenary” of the US government (a typical insult used by the Cuban government and its supporters) and heckled her as she spoke.
As seen in the video above, Sánchez began her speech, commenting on the lack of space for political criticism in Cuba:
Vivo en una sociedad donde la opinión es traición, donde [no se puede] decir una crítica sobre un gobierno que lleva 54 anos en el poder y que nunca ha permitido que exista otra fuerza politica, un gobierno que no podria competir en una sociedad plural…que ha utilizado la censura en la literatura, en la censura editorial, en la censura periodística.
I live in a society where opinion is treason, where [one cannot] criticize a government that has been in power for 54 years and has never allowed another political force to exist, a government that would not be able to compete in a pluralistic society…that has used literary censorship, editorial censorship, journalistic censorship…
The crowd grew louder, making her inaudible and forcing her to pause. Referring to the noise from the crowd, she said, “my government does this too.”
Diario de Cuba [es] reported that protesters asked for a debate with Sánchez, but that she was only able to say a few words before they interrupted her with insults.
Cuban blogger and government supporter Iroel Sánchez [es] wrote,
…para periódicos como El Nuevo Herald de Miami en el tal “debate” nunca hablaron los que lo propusieron. Es raro…que los partidarios de un régimen totalitario -así califican a Cuba los medios que difunden a Yoani Sánchez- propongan un debate y aún más raro es que cuando este se produce, la prensa partidaria de la libertad de expresión no nos pueda decir una sola palabra de lo que dijeron los que no[s] comparten sus ideas.
…according to newspapers like El Nuevo Herald of Miami those who proposed the “debate” never spoke. It is strange…that the supporters of a totalitarian regime — this is how the media that supports Sánchez describe Cuba — propose a debate and it is even more strange that when it takes place, the press that supports freedom of expression cannot tell us a single word spoken by those who shared their ideas.
Many outlets reported that the event was suspended early on due to the noise made by protesters and security concerns.
Global Voices will continue to cover the rest of Sánchez’s tour.