Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez urges Czechs to keep up pressure on Cuban government

Yoani Sanchez, photo: Kristýna Maková

Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez arrived in the Czech Republic this week on what is her first trip abroad since Cuba’s communist authorities partially lifted restrictions on travelling. Ms Sanchez, best known for her acclaimed blog Generation Y, is attending the One World festival of human rights documentaries in the Czech capital.

Yoani Sanchez, photo: Kristýna Maková
One of Cuba’s best-known dissidents, Yoani Sanchez received her passport just last month, after she had been denied the right to travel 20 times in the past. After a stop in Brazil, the 37-year-old blogger, arrived in Prague on Tuesday. Ms Sanchez warned however that the partial lifting of travel restrictions did not mean any significant change in the Cuban’s government policy.

“I don’t think that this is a sign of significant political change. Instead, the government is trying to create the impression that Cuba is progressing and improving, that the country has begun to open up. The reality is that repression continues on the island, and that human-rights and opposition activists continue to be violently oppressed.

“I do hope that there will be change. But I don’t believe it could come from the government. Rather, the civic society, which has developed and acquired new tools such as technology, can push for a process of democratisation. That’s my hope.”

The Czech Republic considers the support for human rights and liberties a major focus of its foreign policy. Czech officials have spoken out on behalf of opposition activists in Cuba, Belarus, Burma and other countries. Yoani Sanchez expressed appreciation of the role the Czech embassy in Havana has played in support of Cuban dissidents.

“I would like to express my gratitude for the enormous work done by the Czech embassy in my country. For many Cubans, the embassy has become a space of freedom. It’s a place that provides the great service of free internet access in a country where the internet is very much censored and controlled.

“The Czech embassy has enabled many people to pursue their professional as well as civic goals by giving them free internet access. So I would like to thank Czechs for their solidarity which however should be maintained for a long time to come.”

Photo: Richard Hewitt, Stock.XCHNG
Yoani Sanchez, who said she only knew Prague from the books of Milan Kundera, will attend the One World festival of human rights documentaries which begins in the capital next week. She will also appear at a concert in support of Cuban artists, organized by the humanitarian Czech NGO People in Need, which has for years provided support for Cuban journalists and opposition activists. And Yoani Sanchez has urged Czechs to keep up the pressure.

“It seems to me very important that the Czech Republic continues pressuring the Cuban government to recognize, accept and respect human rights. The position of the Czech government towards the opposition – one of solidarity, collaboration and support, is very important at this moment. It seems that for many, Cuban affairs are beginning to lose importance because many people believe that Cuba is changing. Maintaining the pressure is crucial.”

After Prague, the dissident blogger is set to visit Spain before moving on the United States, Mexico, Peru and other countries on her 80-day-long journey, a voice for those who have not been allowed to travel, or speak freely about the situation in their country.