Yoani Sanchez's World Tour is Off to a Rocky Start

Protests and controversy mark Cuban blogger's visit to Brazil.

February 21, 2013, 11:14 AM

Feb. 21, 2013— -- Renowned Cuban dissident Yoani Sánchez's 80-day international tour is off to a lukewarm start.

In the few days since the award-winning blogger landed in Brazil –the first stop in her 12-country trip through Latin America, the United States, and Europe-- she has met with groups of supporters in different cities and faced highly-organized demonstrations at every event she has attended, spurring rumors of a concerted Cuban government effort to discredit her.

On Monday, Sánchez landed at the Guararapes International airport in the city of Recife in northeastern Brazil. She was greeted by journalists, friends, advocates, and by a troupe of about 20 protesters holding banners and screaming slogans such as "Viva Fidel" and "Yoani, sold to the Yankees."

Unfazed, she smiled and took pictures of the demonstrators with her phone.

"There were flowers, gifts and even a group of people insulting me which, I confess, I really enjoyed, because it allowed me to say that I dream that 'one day people in my country will be able to express themselves against something publicly like this, without reprisals,'" she wrote in her blog, Generacion Y.

A similar scene awaited her in the city of Salvador, where she left the airport through an alternate exit to avoid protestors. Sánchez was set to attend a screening of a documentary about her life alongside Brazilian filmmaker Dado Galvão, but yet another group of demonstrators thwarted the event.

Sánchez, 37, is no stranger to controversy in Cuba –her award-winning blog, Generación Y, has been blocked in the island since 2008, and in 2012 she was arrested alongside her husband, Cuban journalist Reinaldo Escobar, when she attempted to cover the trial of a Spanish political activist. But Sánchez was shocked by some of the demonstrations abroad.

"I remember a particularly violent [act of repudiation] that I experienced with the Ladies in White, where the hordes of intolerance spat on us, pushed us and even pulled our hair," Sánchez wrote on her blog on Tuesday. "But last night was unprecedented for me. The picketing of the extremists who blocked the showing of Dado Galvao's film in Feria de Santana was something more than the sum of unconditional supporters of the Cuban government."

On Wednesday, Sánchez visited the Brazilian Congress, and the scene once again repeated itself. Left wing senators shouted slogans accusing her of working in tandem with the United States, while other legislators voiced their appreciation and attacked the Castro regime.

"I dream of the day when we Cubans can express ourselves freely, and have a legislature where all opinions can be heard," Sánchez told reporters afterwards. "The legislature of my country has a sad record. It has never said 'no' to any law proposed by the government."

The apparently coordinated opposition has generated unease among Sánchez's supporters and international observers. Alvaro Dias, a senator from the PSDB, Brazil's main opposition party, asked the Cuban ambassador to explain the possible role played by the embassy in what he called the "unacceptable monitoring" of Sánchez.

Christopher Sabatini, Senior Director of Policy for the Council of the Americas, an American business organization that promotes free trade and social development, expressed an analogous concern.

"That they would allow and not investigate what is a coordinated effort to discredit a woman who is simply speaking her mind is appalling," he told Univision News.

For Sánchez, who had been asking for permission to leave the country for nearly five years, the tour has offered her a unique opportunity to experience other systems of government and the freedom she has craved for in most her blogs. The trip is "a true gift of plurality for me, coming from an Island they have tried to paint in the monochromatic color of unanimity," she wrote on Monday.

Sánchez received a passport early last month as part of a recent wave of reforms implemented by Raúl Castro's government, and she now plans to travel to Argentina, Mexico, Peru, Spain, the Czech Republic, Italy, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the United States, where she wants to visit the headquarters of Google, Twitter, and Facebook.

Sánchez is also expected to visit Univision headquarters in Miami in April, where she will sit down for an interview with the Sunday show Al Punto.

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