received scant media coverage.
But he added, "She was free to come and make her comments freely." However, in response to questions from the Inter-American Dialogue audience about Sanchez, Cabanas never said her name, referring to her as "this lady."
"The Cuban government officials are uneasy about what the bloggers and dissidents are saying outside of Cuba, and about all of the attention they are getting. The sharp criticism naturally makes them uncomfortable," said Shifter, of the Inter-American Dialogue.
"The authorities tend to be dismissive about the bloggers and insist that they don't represent anyone in Cuba, that they have no constituency," he said. "Of course, the bloggers claim no such thing; they are just expressing their views."
A few activists, including Paya, are now back in Cuba and others plan trips in the coming weeks.
How their taste of freedom of expression and the contacts and supporters they have gained abroad play out in their daily activities remains to be seen.
Sanchez has said she hopes to start a digital newspaper that will be distributed in Cuba via flash drive when she returns. Paya is continuing her campaign for an international inquiry into her father's death. And activist Eliecer Avila has said he wants to start a political party when he returns to Cuba.
Avila was the student who confronted then-National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon in 2008 with a series of tough questions _ including "Why can't the people of Cuba go to hotels or travel to other parts of the world?" _ when Alarcon visited his school. Video of the encounter was posted on YouTube and went viral.
But with little Internet access available to the average Cuban, the ongoing policy of short-term detentions of dissidents who become too public in their protests, scant recognition at home of the names that have become so high-profile abroad, and a largely politically apathetic Cuban public, dissidents face an uphill battle in getting out their messages on the island.
"As long as the government can control the internal situation, they could care less what the international view is," said Andy Gomez, a senior fellow at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami.
He said the government has allowed dissident travel as a way to relieve pressure on the island. "There is no way Raul Castro is going to lose control _ yet."
(EDITORS: STORY CAN END HERE)
And for dissidents returning to Cuba, it does seem to be life as usual. Paya, for example, tweeted that last Thursday afternoon police hassled friends who had stopped by her home to visit.
Even Yoani Sanchez acknowledges the political malaise in her homeland. "The average Cuban is apathetic and indifferent, doesn't believe in the government but also doesn't believe that anything is going to change," she said last week in an interview with Catalan blogger Joan Antoni Guerrero Vall in Madrid.
Many Cubans, said Sanchez, currently look to emigration as a solution. "As the national rebellion continues to be channeled outside our borders, the pressure cooker is never going to reach the temperature of explosion. The government knows this and encourages, promotes economic migration."
But Hernandez is optimistic the visits will represent a watershed event for Cuba. "This is going to change the Cuban scene without a doubt. This is finally coming to an end," he said.
"It is hard to know what the long-term effect of such travel might be on the political situation in Cuba," said Shifter. "There is no evidence that it marks the beginning of the end of the Cuban system, but clearly some change is happening in Cuba _ on that point, both the Cuban government and the bloggers seem to agree."
And the activists seem intent on moving forward with their quest to open more space within Cuban society for themselves and others.
Avila recently tweeted that while leafing through a magazine on a flight, this title caught his eye: "Move and the world moves with you; stop and the world will pass you by."
(c)2013 The Miami Herald
Visit The Miami Herald at www.miamiherald.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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