At least half a dozen Cuban activists are now crisscrossing the globe,
more or less at the same time, publicly airing their grievances against the
Cuban government and meeting with high-level officials and politicians abroad.
What gives? Many Cuba watchers are wondering why a society and government that has been closed for so many years is now allowing opposing voices to speak so freely abroad and collect awards _ some with significant amounts of money attached.
In the past, Havana sporadically granted an exit visa allowing a human rights activist to travel, but a reform instituted in January swept away the need for the reviled tarjeta blanca, or exit visa. Dissidents and opposition bloggers quickly began testing the waters, requesting their passports and accepting international invitations that in some cases had been stacking up for years.
Some say money _ or lack of it _ is the motivating factor in Cuba's decision to institute economic and migration reforms. With Cubans freer to come and go, they can work abroad and make international contacts.
But the big question Cuba analysts are asking is: Is Cuba truly opening up _ or just trying to burnish its image at a critical time when the future of its main benefactor, Venezuela, is uncertain and it needs to reach out to the world?
"Cuba has taken some modest steps towards opening up. Easing up on travel restrictions has been one key area," said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based policy analysis center. "Cuban authorities can say that it is easier now for Cubans to travel to the U.S. than for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba."
Regardless of the dissidents' critical messages abroad, their travel gives the Cuban government the opportunity to appear less restrictive. "Every time they take a plane and travel they are proving this point," said Domingo Amuchastegui, a former Cuban intelligence analyst who now lives in Miami.
But Pepe Hernandez, president of the Cuban American National Foundation, an exile organization, says that rather than giving more legitimacy to Havana, the trips are more advantageous to the dissidents and their views.
"They are giving a face to Cuban reality that is different from what the government is putting out. I think this will change the world's view of the internal situation in Cuba," he said. "We also have an opportunity to relate more personally with these people that we have been helping for quite some time."
Another benefit for the dissidents, he said, is "when they return, they will be protected by the knowledge and the contacts they're collected outside." And some will return with additional monetary support, he said, from the prizes they've received and the contacts they've made.
But he worries that with all the focus on the world travelers, no one is paying much attention to the repression and continuing arrests of dissidents on the island.
Amuchastegui said the new travel policy also is a response to a changing world. "The rules of the game have changed ... and Cuba is trying to respond to these new rules."
In the end what prevailed among the Cuban leadership is the idea that "we have to deal with these people (dissidents) in a different way," he said.
But Rosa Maria Paya, daughter of Oswaldo Paya, perhaps Cuba's most
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