Inspiring millions of virtual fans with heartfelt dispatches and persistent calls for greater political freedom, blogger Yoani Sanchez is the most visible symbol of both sweeping change inside Cuba and the modern power of social media to crack some of the world's most closed societies.
Internationally recognized for years of frank and piercing criticism of the Castro government, Sanchez is on her first trip out of the country in more than 10 years and is expected to arrive in Miami on Monday as part of her 80-day tour of Europe and the Americas that began in Brazil last February.
Her trip became a reality in January when Havana eased restrictions on Cubans wanting to travel. Her stopover in Miami is likely to stir up the same passions in South Florida as the name Castro.
Maximo L. Cruz Gonzalez, president of Assault Brigade 2506, a Miami-based group of veterans from the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, told the Miami Herald:
“We have fought in an arena different from Yoani’s to restore democratic principles in our country. As such, we support all manifestation as a way of expression against oppressive and undemocratic regime that rules Cuba."
But during her recent stops in New York and Washington, D.C., Sanchez repeated her call to end the current economic embargo against Cuba, a contentious issue that divides even her most ardent Cuban-American supporters in Miami.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL, issued the following statement after meeting with Sanchez:
'I believe expanding Internet access to Cuba is an important foreign policy goal we should work towards, so that many more can follow Yoani's lead and help expose the reality of the regime’s inept and repressive nature.'
While many Cuban-Americans believe easing the embargo would prop up the Castro regime, Sanchez believes that most of any new trade benefits would flow to ordinary Cubans. She interviewed President Obama on the subject recently, posting it online, where her popularity has ballooned. She has almost half a million followers on social network Twitter.
On Monday, Sanchez has public appearances that include the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami, Miami-Dade College and Florida International University.