After five years of fighting for her right to travel abroad, Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez’s arrival in Brazil today was bittersweet.
Touching down on foreign soil for the first time since she was granted a passport earlier this month by the regime she has campaigned against, the 37-year-old activist felt the twin faces of democracy.
While the multi-award winning author of the Generation Y blog was welcomed by crowds of supporters and friends at Guararapes International airport in the north-eastern city of Recife, they were also joined by supporters of the Cuban regime, and its retired leader Fidel Castro.
Demonstrators met Ms Sanchez with placards and banners accusing her of complicity with the United States, and chanted slogans including “Viva Fidel” and “Yoani, sold to the Yankees”. One poster accused the blogger, who says she has been denied an exit permit 20 times in the last five years, of being a CIA agent, while another protester threw fake dollar bills at her.
In Salvador, her second destination in Brazil, she was forced to leave the airport through a different exit to avoid the 20 demonstrators. But Ms Sanchez appeared to welcome the protests.
“At the arrival many friends were welcoming me and other people yelling insults. I wish it would be the same in Cuba. Long live freedom!” she told her hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter.
Despite the pro-Castro protests, Ms Sanchez said she was being treated “like a sister” in Brazil.
She was received by Brazilian film-maker Dado Galvão, and was due to attend the screening of Galvão’s documentary, Connecting Cuba-Honduras, in Feira de Santana, Bahia.
During the five years in which Ms Sanchez has been forced to remain in her own country, Brazil has survived a recession to emerge as a new super-power, won its bid to host the 2016 Olympics and lifted millions out of poverty. Relations with Cuba remain cordial despite Brazilian authorities issuing Ms Sanchez a visa in the face of Havana’s former reluctance to allow her to travel.
She was finally able to fly out of Cuba when relaxed laws allowed its population to travel on a passport alone, without also requiring an exit permit. The award-winning activist also plans to travel to Argentina, Peru, Mexico, Spain, Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic and the US, where she hopes to visit the HQs of Google, Twitter and Facebook.
* Pro-Cuba protesters in Brazil halted an event featuring Ms Sanchez. Around 60 boisterous protesters took over a film screening last night in Brazil's northeastern Bahia state.