Over the past five years, Yoani Sanchez was denied permission to leave Cuba 21 times. But on Wednesday, persistence paid off for the dissident blogger and tough Castro critic, who has been granted a passport that will enable her to travel around the world.
"Incredible!" Sanchez tweeted Wednesday, "They called me at home to tell me that my passport was ready."
"The new passport has some changes with the regards to the old one," Sanchez wrote in another tweet. "There's a biometric code in it, and symbols of [Cuban] provinces on each page."
Migration reforms that came into effect on January 13th, now allow Cubans to travel abroad with a passport and a visa for the country that they're headed to, just like citizens of most countries in the world.
Previously, Cuban citizens had to apply for a special government travel permit, known locally as "the white card," before they could even get a passport.
But the new laws also enable the government to deny citizens a passport on "national interest," and "national security," grounds. Legal experts have said that these restrictions can be used to prevent activists, or highly skilled professionals from travelling outside the island.
Sanchez blogs about the difficulties of life in Cuba and has won several international journalism prizes. She said on Wednesday that her new victory against the government was "bittersweet."
"Many friends like Angel Moya, will not be allowed [to travel]," Sanchez wrote on Twitter.
Moya is a political activist who spent eight years in jail. He is married to Berta Soler, who leads the influential human rights group "Ladies in White."
In a phone conversation Moya told the Miami newspaper El Nuevo Herald, that he had applied for a passport on Wednesday morning. After checking his ID and looking at a computer screen, the woman managing the passport office told Moya that he had been barred from getting a passport due to reasons of "public interest." The reasons for which Moya could not get a passport were not laid out, he was only told that "sanctions" against him had not yet expired.
Because other activists cannot yet leave the island, Sanchez said that her newly-gained freedom to travel is like "shouldering a great responsibility."
"When I received this passport .. I felt relieved as If I had reached the end of a road," Sanchez said in a radio interview with Marti Noticias, a U.S.-based news service that focuses on Cuban issues. "Now a new road begins, because I will be able to leave the country to take a message, to share opinions, to show people what is happening in Cuba," Sanchez said.
Sanchez told Marti Noticias that she planned to visit several European countries, including Spain, Italy, Germany and the Czech Republic. She also said that she would go to some South American countries and visit a sister who is living in South Florida.
But Sanchez will probably not settle in the U.S. She said that after she is done with her travels, she plans to go back home to Cuba.