MIAMI, Florida – Dissident Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez paid a visit to Miami on Monday, home to the biggest community of Cuban-Americans, who welcomed her with cheers – and some concerns.
Here since Thursday as part of an international tour that also included a stop at the White House, the award-winning blogger and journalist spent some bittersweet time over the weekend meeting with relatives who had left the Americas’ only communist country for the United States two years ago.
On Monday, the 37-year-old visited Miami’s Freedom Tower, a highly symbolic landmark to the more than 850,000 Cuban-Americans in South Florida who fled the Castro brothers’ more than five-decade rule.
“Welcome Yoani Sánchez, we support you in your struggle for Cuba’s freedom,” read one of the banners waving in honor of the writer who was named by Time magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2008.
Yet she is still largely unknown in her own Caribbean nation of 11 million next door, where the state controls all media and Internet access is limited.
“Yoani has become an icon of the struggle for freedom of speech, and for Cubans’ rights,” said Ramón José Sánchez of the Miami-based Democratic Movement.
“She represents a fresh vision of new and progressive ideas, which are reaching the international community, about what the Cuban regime really is,” he said. “She has managed to tell the world what we all wanted to say but for some reason no one heard.”
But some members of hardline groups such as Vigilia Mambisa are critical of her support for ending U.S. economic sanctions on Havana. A full U.S. embargo has been in place since 1962.
“I don’t think that she is defending the situation of political prisoners the way she ought to be,” said Miguel Saavedra, leader of that group.
Still, Yoani Sánchez drew a mostly warm crowd that included everyone from multimillionaire music producer Emilio Estefan to humble workaday Cubans who have emigrated in droves, year after year for decades.
The Cuban government refers to Cubans living in Florida as part of a vast “Miami mafia” bent on undoing its communist revolution.
Yet from Miami, Sánchez said she would take away “the idea of [Cuban-Americans] who are multifaceted, democratic, and inclusive, the way I would hope Cuba will be someday.”
The dissident is on a global tour after Cuba issued a reform in October that allows its citizens to travel abroad for the first time without a reviled and costly exit visa, and which also gave Sánchez her long sought-for permission to travel.