Cuban dissident barred from travel despite reforms

An opposition leader said Thursday she was denied permission to leave Cuba in the first known rejection since a reform took effect eliminating widely loathed exit visas needed for travel abroad.

That rule had been in effect for 50 years, and its abolition had been long sought after by Cubans. Some opposition figures remained skeptical, however, that they would in fact be allowed to leave. The reform took effect January 14.

Gisela Delgado, 47, who belongs to a protest group called the Ladies in White, told AFP Thursday she was denied permission to leave on the grounds that she had engaged in "counter-revolutionary" activities.

She had wanted to go to the United States to see her parents and daughter.

Hers is the first known case of the Cuban authorities refusing to let an opposition figure leave the communist-run island.

Under the old rule, besides the costly exit visa, Cubans hoping to travel abroad had to produce a letter of invitation from the people they were going to see.

The idea was that except for certain government officials, professionals and athletes -- people considered "vital" -- all other Cubans could travel abroad, so long as they had entry visas from destination countries.

The authorities had already denied departure to two former political prisoners. But that case was different, because they were out on parole.

Those two men -- Angel Moya and Jose Daniel Ferrer -- were among 75 dissidents jailed in 2003 and sentenced to terms of up to 28 years in prison.

They were all later freed after an unprecedented dialogue between the Roman Catholic church and the government of Raul Castro.

Another prominent dissident, the young blogger Yoani Sanchez, who had long been denied exit permits, has now been given a passport allowing her to travel abroad. She plans a foreign tour starting in Brazil on February 17.

Sanchez said in a Brazilian newspaper interview Thursday that economic reforms undertaken in Cuba have made people hungry for more change.

"Cuba is ready to enter the 21st century," Sanchez said, in the interview with the daily Folha de Sao Paulo.