Cuban dissident blogger inflames splits in Brazil's Congress

Reuters News

2/18/2013 8:46:06 AM - Reuters News

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Cold War politics appeared to take over Brazil's Congress on Wednesday during a visit by Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, with leftists heckling her as a pawn of U.S. imperialism and others praising her for standing up to Cuba's communist government.

Sanchez, Cuba's best-known dissident, has been followed by boisterous sympathizers of the Cuban government since she arrived in Brazil on Monday on her first trip abroad since receiving a passport to leave the Caribbean island.

After the screening of a documentary about Cuba that she was due to attend in northeastern Brazil was disrupted by demonstrators, Brazilian opposition politicians invited Sanchez to the capital Brasilia for a showing of the documentary in Congress.

But her visit ended up exposing entrenched political divides in Brazil reminiscent of the Cold War, with those on the left hailing Cuba as a victim of U.S. aggression against communism while others praised Sanchez for fighting against political repression on the island.

"Mercenary, go to Disney," shouted those opposed to her visit, repeating the Cuban government's view that all dissidents on the island are on the payroll of its ideological archenemy, the United States.

"Down with the dictatorship," yelled sympathizers who welcomed the blogger.

Sanchez, 37, was shielded from the protesters by congressional and Senate leaders of Brazil's main opposition party, the PSDB, led by feisty Senator Alvaro Dias.

Dias has called on members of the ruling Workers' Party and the Cuban ambassador to explain to Congress media allegations that the Cuban embassy in Brasilia has spied on Sanchez and distributed a "dossier" on the blogger as part of carefully orchestrated smear campaign.

An unperturbed Sanchez visited a committee room to see parts of the documentary, titled "Cuba-Honduras Connection," that she had not been able to attend on Monday in Bahia state. The screening of the film, in which she is featured, was the main reason for her trip to Brazil in the first place.

"I dream of the day when we Cubans can express ourselves freely, and have a legislature where all opinions can be heard," Sanchez told reporters. "The legislature of my country has a sad record. It has never said 'no' to any law proposed by the government."

Sanchez's visit touched a political nerve in Brazil, where the left-leaning government of President Dilma Rousseff is often criticized for not taking a more critical stance against Cuba's one-party system and the repression of political dissent there. ID:nL1N0BJ08I]

Sanchez has won several international prizes for blogging about life in Cuba but has been unable to collect them until now. She began a whirlwind 80-day international tour on Sunday after she was granted a passport two weeks ago under Cuba's sweeping immigration reform that went into effect this year.

In Brazil, Sanchez praised recent reforms undertaken by Cuban President Raul Castro but said they were too little.

(Reporting by Maria Carolina Marcello; Writing by Anthony Boadle)