Leader of Cuban dissident group allowed to leave on tour

The leader of Ladies in White, a group founded by wives of political prisoners, will travel outside of Cuba for the first time Monday when she heads to Spain for a visit.

Berta Soler, the group's leader, was availing herself of an easing of travel restrictions to visit Spain and possibly Poland and other countries during a 16-day tour.

"I am going as a representative of the Cuban people, not just Ladies in White, so that they may know firsthand the reality facing the Cuban people," she told AFP.

"My words will be the same words, but in a free and democratic country."

Soler was refused permission to leave the country in 2005 to accept the European Parliament's Andrei Sakharov human rights prize awarded to her group.

Wives and mothers of dissidents who were jailed in a major crackdown in 2003 formed the group to draw attention to the plight of their loved ones, marching in silence every Sunday to press for their release.

On January 14, the government of President Raul Castro relaxed the travel restrictions, eliminating the requirement of an exit visa and a letter of invitation from the host country.

The rule changes have allowed Soler and other Cuban dissidents, including blogger Yoani Sanchez, to travel abroad in recent weeks.