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Dissident blogger allowed to leave Cuba on tour

Yoani Sanchez converses with her husband Reinaldo Escobar before departure from Havana's airport on February 17, 2013
Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez converses with her husband, opposition activist Reinaldo Escobar, before her departure from Havana's airport on February 17, 2013.

Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez, who has been denied permission to travel abroad for many years, was allowed to embark Sunday on a three-month trip to Latin America, Europe and the United States.

"My trip will begin in Brazil and could take me to as many as 12 countries," Sanchez told AFP.

"With this tour, I am starting a new phase in my life and what will also be a wonderful experience journalistically," she said, shortly before boarding a flight that was to take her to Brazil via Panama.

Sanchez, 37, who often criticizes the Cuban government in her "Generation Y" blog, had a visa to visit Brazil last year but was unable to make the trip because the government refused to issue her a passport.

But Cuba recently made an about-face, issuing a reform allowing its citizens to travel abroad for the first time without a reviled and costly exit visa, and also giving Sanchez her long sought-for permission to travel.

"It has taken a five-year battle (against government rejections of her requests to travel) for that absurdity to end ... and now we have reached the goal," said Sanchez, who earlier lived in Switzerland before returning home.

While the Americas' only one-party Communist-ruled nation might not mind if Sanchez stayed away, she has said she plans to return to Cuba, and keep writing critically, as she has after past international travel.

All media in Cuba are state controlled so Sanchez is not well known in her own country. But she is regarded as a prominent human rights activist abroad.

Sanchez won the Ortega y Gasset prize for best online journalism, granted by Spain's El Pais newspaper, in 2008.

She also was named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in 2008, and CNN has called her blog among the world's 25 best.

During Sanchez's planned two-day stay in Sao Paulo, she will attend the launch of her book and give interviews to local media, according to Contexto, the publisher.

The blogger also is to attend the opening of Brazilian filmmaker Dado Galvao's 2009 documentary "Connection Cuba-Honduras," in which she is interviewed.

Galvao had launched a campaign to secure Sanchez's visit to Brazil.

After Brazil, Sanchez plans to visit Peru, the Czech Republic and Mexico, where she is to attend a meeting of the Inter-American Press Association on March 8, as well as Argentina, Italy, Poland, and the Netherlands.

In the United States, the woman who has built a platform using new media not yet available to most Cubans said she would visit offices of Google, Twitter and Facebook.

Just before her plane took off, Sanchez, who has gained a large following on Twitter, wrote on the microblog: "My name has not been read out over the loudspeakers.

"They have not taken me to a little room to strip me, or read me allegations. Everything is going well."

After a sendoff from her husband and son she also cheekily tweeted a warning to the Cuban government not to "even dream about" the idea she will not return.

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