01/16/13 - San Francisco Chronicle - Cuba now lets dissidents leave, return
For years, Cuban dissidents say, authorities' message to them has been the
same: Sure, you can leave the country. Just don't expect us to let you
Now, two prominent and outspoken government opponents - Yoani Sanchez
and Guillermo Farinas - say they've been told they can come and go
freely under a new law that eliminated decades-old travel restrictions on
nearly all islanders.
It's a calculated risk that potentially enables the dissidents to become
high-profile ambassadors for change in the communist-run country,
traveling abroad to accept awards and slamming the government back home in
speeches to foreign parliaments. At the same time, it blunts one of their
main criticisms of Cuba's human rights record, that it effectively held
them and others hostage by restricting their movement.
"Previously the policy was just to get them out of the country, which
really, really did work for the maintenance of the Castro government,"
said Ann Louise Bardach, a longtime Cuba analyst and author of "Cuba
"But if they are allowing them to come back, we are looking at a
game-changer of sorts because that could usher in the first embryonic
state of some democratic process," Bardach said. "If people can go abroad,
criticize the government and return, that's a new day in Cuba."
Sanchez, a dissident blogger who has garnered fame overseas for her
writings about the frustrations of daily life, says she has been turned
down 20 times when she asked for permission to travel abroad to accept
awards or attend conferences. Authorities told her she would be allowed
out only if she were leaving for good.
Sanchez said that to her surprise, an official told her Monday she will be
able to leave and return once she has her new passport, a process that
should take around two weeks.
Farinas, a noted hunger striker and 2010 Sakharov winner, said state
security agents took the trouble of driving out to his home in the central
city of Santa Clara to let him know he'll be allowed to travel and return.
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