When Berta Soler, leader of Cuba's dissident Ladies in White, returned
to the island last month after her first-ever trip abroad, she felt ready to
resume the grinding struggle against the communist government.
Soler had received a hero's welcome in the United States and Europe. Large audiences had applauded her denunciations of the Castro system. And her group had secured new supporters, contacts and more than $65,000 in prizes and donations.
Guillermo Farinas, also on his first trip abroad as a dissident, said he has gained "spiritual, material and ideological oxygen," as well as a new and better understanding of Cuban exiles and even a good book on transitions to democracy.
After Cuba eased its travel regulations in January, more and more dissidents have been not only traveling abroad but also returning to the island well-rested, with more energy and ambitions, more supporters and contacts abroad and access to more cash.
Before the changes, most dissidents could not leave the island except on one-way tickets. The government stamped "Final Exit" on their migration documents and did not allow them to return except for rare humanitarian visits.
Regis Iglesias, one of 116 political prisoners freed and virtually forced into exile in Spain in 2010 and 2011, said he applied to return one year ago to resume his work for the opposition Christian Liberation Movement. Havana has not answered his request.
Compare Iglesias to Soler, who returned to Havana on May 27 after a 78-day international trip and immediately announced bold plans to expand the activities and membership of the Ladies in White, which now stands at about 230.
"I feel stronger. I am stronger," Soler said, because during the trip, she could "talk to other people, I could denounce the government. We went out looking for moral, spiritual and material support and we go it. ... This gives me tremendous strength."
Cuban exiles promised to arrange scholarships for children of dissidents who are often denied the schools of their choice, added the 50-year-old lab technician. And several nongovernmental organizations around the world offered their support in various ways.
Soler said that during her trip, the Ladies in White also gained access to their roughly $22,000 share of the Sakharov prize won in 2005, their $20,000 Vaclav Havel Prize won this year and $24,000 collected by Cubans in Miami, New Jersey and Puerto Rico. Cuba did not allow the women to leave the island in 2005 to collect the Sakharov prize.
She declined further comment on the money, but clearly it will be a tremendous help to the dissidents, who are often fired from their government jobs, in a country where the average state employee officially earns about $17 a month.
Soler noted also that she and fellow Ladies in White Belkis Cantillo and Laura Labrada felt "rejuvenated and re-energized" when they received standing ovations during their appearances before several exile audiences in Miami last month.
Havana blogger Yoani Sanchez, meanwhile, tweeted earlier this month that her ambitions for Cuba's future expanded so much during her own three-month trip abroad that her return home had been "like trying to return to a place where I once fit, and now feels tight."
"I am back. With an energy that the daily hassles will try to diminish, but
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