HAVANA (Reuters) - Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez, wearing a brightly colored dress and a big smile, returned on Thursday to the homeland she both loves and lambastes, after more than three months on a tour through the Americas and Europe.
Her family and about a dozen supporters applauded loudly and shouted “welcome home” as she emerged from the customs area at the Havana airport
With tears in her eyes, she hugged them all as curious Cubans awaiting other passengers looked on and asked reporters who she was.
In brief comments to the press, the 37-year-old who has dark, waist-length hair said she had had a “marvelous trip, a trip that’s going to change my life in many ways.”
“I‘m here with many projects,” Sanchez said. “The future is wide open.”
Even though the Cuban government considers Sanchez public enemy No. 1 because she regularly blisters the country’s leaders and socialist system in her Generation Y blog, she whisked through immigration and customs and was one of the first passengers off the Air Europa flight from Madrid.
Her trip was made possible by a newly liberalized travel law that ended the requirement for an exit visa from the government, which she has said were denied her 20 times.
After leaving Cuba on February 17 she traveled to a dozen countries, including the United States, where she collected previously won prizes for her work, gave speeches criticizing the Cuban government as well as U.S. policy toward the communist-led island and occasionally was the object of protests.
In Mexico City, opponents threw fake U.S. dollars at her, implying, as the Cuban government does, that she is funded by Washington.
Sanchez deflected their antagonism by saying she wished such open protests were permitted in her own country.
The trip raised her international profile and gained her 100,000 new followers on Twitter.
In the past, she has been subjected to a steady bombardment of government derision and has been detained on a number of occasions, and it appeared on Thursday the derision, at least, would continue.
A government blogger, Yohandry Fontana, sent tweets about her arrival saying that the U.S. government had paid for her trip.
“How much must the more than 90-day trip of Yoani Sanchez have cost USAID,” he said, referring to the U.S. Agency for International Development. “They say it was more than $250,000.”
“Can someone tell me how a trip of 90 days through I don’t know how many countries can be financed with a blog? So I can learn, ha ha ha, ” Fontana said in another tweet.
Sanchez said during her trip that she plans to launch a media company, which will likely run afoul of the government, which controls Cuban media.
Since the liberalization of the travel law took effect on January 14, a number of the island’s best-known dissidents have traveled abroad to collect prizes and give anti-government speeches.
So far, all those who have returned have had few problems.
Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta; editing by Christopher Wilson