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Cuba dissident gets passport after travel reform

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(GlobalPost/GlobalPost)

The leader of Cuba's Ladies in White opposition group obtained a passport Friday that will allow her to travel outside the country under an historic reform in the communist-run island.

Berta Soler said she went to a passport office where she had applied two weeks ago and obtained the document -- quickly and without a hitch.

Only a day earlier, a colleague of hers in the Ladies in White, Gisela Delgado, was denied permission to leave Cuba despite the reform, which eliminated widely loathed exit visas needed until now for travel abroad.

Delgado said she had been told she was denied permission because of her "counter-revolutionary activities." Hers was the first known case of an opposition member being denied permission to travel under the new reform.

"It looks like they are trying to establish an artificial contrast between some dissidents and others," said Elizardo Sanchez, who runs the illegal but tolerated Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

He said he will remain skeptical of the reforms until he sees dissidents on board departing planes.

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.

Soler's Ladies in White group won a major European Parliament human rights award in 2005, but the government of then-president Fidel Castro would not let her out of Cuba to go receive it.

Soler said she hopes the European Parliament will organize some kind of ceremony for her to receive the award. In the meantime, she plans to visit Spain in March and Germany in April.

The Ladies in White are wives and other relatives of 75 dissidents jailed in 2003 and sentenced to long prison terms.

The last of the group of dissidents were freed in 2010 and 2011 after unprecedented talks between the Catholic church and the government of Raul Castro, who assumed power from his ailing brother Fidel in July 2006.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130208/cuba-dissident-gets-passport-after-travel-reform