Cuban dissident warmly welcomed in Brazil Congress

Dissident Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez was warmly welcomed by opposition lawmakers in Congress here Wednesday in sharp contrast with the hostile reception she got from pro-Havana protesters in northeastern Brazil.

She was greeted with applause by opposition members and led to the plenary room of the House of Deputies where she was showered with gifts while outside pro-Cuban activists branded her "a mercenary."

"We are making up for the unacceptable violence shown toward a visitor to our country," said Octavio Leite, a deputy from the opposition Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB).

For more than two hours, the blogger exchanged views with Brazilians politicians and briefed them on the the harassment she has been subjected to Cuba due to her criticisms of the Americas' only one-party Communist regime.

"Thank you for welcoming a little citizen, but who has a great responsibility: tell the story of the real Cuba which has been silenced by official propaganda," an emotional Sanchez said.

She was also queried about her views on the more than 50-year-old US trade embargo on Cuba, US President Barack Obama's failure to honor his pledge to close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay; and the case of five Cuban agents serving long prison sentences in the United States for spying.

"The embargo must end, because as a means of pressure it failed and is the main excuse the (Havana) government uses to explain its economic failure," the dissident said.

Monday, she arrived in the northeastern Brazilian city of Recife, at the start of a foreign tour, after she finally won permission to leave Cuba.

There, she was welcomed by friends, supporters and journalists, but also by about 20 pro-Cuban protesters who waved signs accusing her of being an "agent of the CIA."

Sanchez responded, "Long live democracy. I want this democracy in my country, too."

Later in the northeastern town of Feira de Santana, pro-Cuba protesters disrupted a planned screening of a documentary on human rights in which Sanchez appears, leading to the cancellation of the showing.

Instead, the dissident agreed to a discussion with the protesters, who billed themselves as members of the Young Communist League, a Brazilian official who attended the event said.

In Brasilia Wednesday, several lawmakers offered apologies for the protests that prevented the screening of the documentary in Feira de Santana.

And a portion of the "Cuba Honduras Connection" documentary was aired in Congress.

The 37-year-old philologist, who found an international audience on the Internet with her prize-winning blog "Generation Y," is known for her biting commentary on the huge challenges in everyday life in communist Cuba.

The government in Havana for years denied permission for her to leave the country in response to invitations to speak in Brazil and elsewhere.

But it finally relented after easing travel restrictions for Cubans in mid-January, and eliminating the requirement of an exit visa.

Brazil is Sanchez's first stop on a three-month trip that will take her around the Americas and to Europe.

Besides Brazil, she is planning to visit Argentina, Mexico, Spain, the Czech Republic, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands and the United States. She plans to visit Google, Twitter and Facebook while in the United States.