Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez set off on a three-month, dozen-nation world tour Sunday, after a new law eliminated the exit permit that had been required of islanders for five decades and was denied to her around 20 times in recent years.
Pulling a blue rolling suitcase emblazoned with the logo of her “Generation Y” blog at Havana’s international airport, Sanchez showed reporters her brand new passport with a fresh U.S. double-entry visa, valid for six months. She paid the $25 airport tax, disappeared beyond the passport control checkpoint and said via Twitter that the only thing left was to get on the plane.
"My name has not been called over the loudspeakers, they have not taken me to a room to strip me or give me a warning," she tweeted from the waiting lounge. "Everything is going well."
Sanchez is one of Cuba’s most prominent dissidents, though her blog is not widely followed on the island. Whether authorities would allow her to go abroad was seen as a key test of the travel law, one of the most significant reforms of President Raul Castro's ongoing plan to refashion some elements of the economy, government, and society.
Ted Henken, a professor of Latin American studies at New York’s Baruch College who studies social media and civil society in Cuba, said letting prominent dissidents travel is a “calculated risk” in which the government could figure good public relations outweigh the downside of people such as Sanchez using their bully pulpit to bash the Communist system abroad. Henken has been closely involved in arranging Sanchez’s U.S. meetings and appearances.
"The fact that Yoani is now flying to … Brazil is going to be something that is written about as a sign of something changing," Henken said. "And that’s positive."
The law, which took effect Jan. 14, ended the much-loathed exit visa requirement, which was routinely withheld from dissidents, doctors, military officers and other sensitive individuals. The reform also simplified other bureaucratic procedures that had made overseas travel complicated for Cubans.
However it contained a clause allowing the state to deny passports in certain cases including for reasons of national security, and it had not been clear whether dissidents would be allowed to travel.
So far the results have been mixed.
Sanchez was granted a passport, as was the leader of the Ladies in White protest group. Fellow dissident Eliecer Avila went to Sweden, and Rosa Maria Paya, daughter of the late dissident Oswaldo Paya, flew to Spain on Saturday. Hunger striker Guillermo Farinas has been told he can travel.
But passports were denied to two other government opponents, one who had a criminal sentence against him still pending and another who said she was turned down for belonging to “counterrevolutionary groups.”
Cuban authorities consider the small community of outspoken dissidents to be traitorous “mercenaries” who accept foreign money to try to undermine the government.
But some of them are now free to travel overseas to collect human rights prizes, take part in conferences and no doubt denounce President Raul Castro's government in public forums.
"She’s going to take advantage of any space that the government cedes to occupy that space and to push for greater civil liberties and political freedoms," as well as continue lobbying for travel by those dissidents who were denied passports, Henken said. "She’s clearly going to be beating that drum for the next three months."
At the airport Sunday, a smiling Sanchez told reporters she was optimistic while leaving for her trip and saying goodbye to her husband and 14-year-old son.
"I bring with me a message of hope," she said. "I am not naive. I realize there are problems, but I believe in the future and I have great hope for the people."
"This will be like ‘Around the World in 80 Days,’" Sanchez added. "I don’t want to be gone longer because I don’t like to be apart from my family. … Although I still haven’t left, I’m already looking forward to my return."
Sanchez was heading first to Brazil for the screening of a documentary film in which she appears, with a layover in Panama City where she said she was excited to try out the airport’s free Wi-Fi.
The tour includes several stops in the United States, with appearances at universities in New York and other academic programs, visits to Google and Twitter offices and time with family in Florida.
She’ll also travel to the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Peru, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland, with potential trips to Argentina and Chile in the works.
"I don’t have any fears about returning. Some friends worry that they won’t let me return, but I don’t think so because that would be a grave violation of the law," Sanchez said.
The Fraser Institute: New Zealand Ranked No. 1 in New Comprehensive Index of Human Freedom
New Zealand leads the world in human freedom, followed by the Netherlands then Hong Kong with the United States and Denmark tied for seventh, according to the most complete index of human freedom yet available, released today by the Fraser Institute, Canada”s leading public policy think-tank, and Germany’s Liberales Institut.
The index is contained in a new book, Towards a Worldwide Index of Human Freedom, which examines the characteristics of “freedom” and how it can best be measured and compared between different nations.
"Our intention is to measure the degree to which people are free to enjoy classic civil liberties-freedom of speech, religion, individual economic choice, and association and assembly-in each country surveyed. We also look at indicators of crime and violence, freedom of movement, legal discrimination against homosexuals, and women”s freedoms," said Fred McMahon, Dr. Michael A. Walker Research Chair in Economic Freedom (Fraser Institute) and editor of Towards a Worldwide Index of Human Freedom.
"The classical ideas of freedom from the time of the Enlightenment included economic freedom as essential to other freedoms, yet all the indexes available up to now either measure civil and political freedoms, often confusing what freedom actually is, or economic freedom alone. This is the first index that brings together these classic ideas of freedom in an intellectually consistent index."
The book is the first publication of the Human Freedom project sponsored by the Cato Institute (United States), as well as the Fraser Institute and the Liberales Institut.
The initial freedom index ranks New Zealand as offering the highest level of human freedom worldwide, followed by the Netherlands then Hong Kong. Australia, Canada and Ireland tied for fourth spot, with the United States and Denmark tied for seventh, Japan and Estonia tied for ninth overall. The lowest-ranked countries are Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Syria.
The index was created by Ian Vásquez of the Cato Institute and Tanja Štumberger of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation. They developed the initial draft of an objective measurement of overall human freedom, combining for the first time economic freedom with other forms of freedom. Such a measure will enable researchers to answer important questions on the impact (good and bad) of negative freedom and what supports freedom or undermines it.
Towards a Worldwide Index of Human Freedom also highlights the evolution of economic, political, and social freedoms from the ancient world to the present day over the course of 10 chapters by 13 academics and economists from Canada (Fraser Institute), the United States (Cato Institute, Emory University), Germany (Liberales Institut, Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main), and Russia (Institute of Economic Analysis). Chapters of note include:
This article traces the concept of freedom back to the classical world and examines modern discussions of freedom from the Enlightenment through to modern analytical scholarship. McMahon concludes that modern indexes are incomplete and often inconsistent. He argues for a complete measure of freedom that is consistent with the most common sense idea of freedom-Isaiah Berlin”s concept of “negative” freedom, meaning the absence of restraints on individual actions.
Bandow argues that to “have meaning, liberty must protect the freedom to act in ways which may offend individuals and even majorities. So it is with ”drugs” currently banned by the U.S. and other governments.” This should apply whether or not legalization produces bad results, but the author argues that a well-structured legalization will reduce harms, not increase them. More importantly, the author suggests the War on Drugs has sideswiped and reduced a range of other freedoms. For these and other reasons, the paper argues that drug use should be treated as “a protected liberty.”
The author draws a distinction between two types of freedoms: those that are costless or low cost for a society to provide and those which require the expenditure of resources to provide. The first set simply requires government to refrain from acting. Costly rights include security of property and persons and some aspects of freedom of speech, the latter because government needs to actively protect those who say unpopular things.
"The idea of freedom is one of the most contested in political and philosophical discourse and one of the most vital," McMahon said.
"Our book lays the foundation for a rigorous analytical framework and measurement to improve the objective measurement of human freedom worldwide."
The Fraser Institute is an independent Canadian public policy research and educational organization with offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal and ties to a global network of 86 think-tanks. Its mission is to measure, study, and communicate the impact of competitive markets and government intervention on the welfare of individuals. To protect the Institute”s independence, it does not accept grants from governments or contracts for research. Visit www.fraserinstitute.org.
Colombia rebels free last police, soldier captives
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For the better part of an hour, 42,000 college students stood in the frigid Atlanta night, patiently waiting for a statue illustrating the fight against human trafficking to be illuminated.
They filled the Georgia International Plaza next to the Georgia Dome stadium and stood in the crisp 40 degree air this week staring up at the 100-foot high hand reaching toward the sky. Just a few minutes after midnight, they lit candles and the lights below the statue came on. The students cheered then started to softly sing. A chant of “FREE-DOM! FREE-DOM!” grew momentum.
The event was one of the final gatherings during the Passion 2012 conference, an annual meeting of 18 to 25 year olds. The students were encouraged to donate money to causes that battle trafficking.
An update from the Comments:
Great cover on the story, but some things have changed since this was released. There were about 45,000 of us, me included. And also we raised 3,660,670 as of 1pm on 1/5/2012.
"The Art of Freedom Film Festival" began screening films on Saturday that were not approved by the strict Film Censorship Board.
Myanmar’s new nominally civilian government has relaxed some draconian security measures, although films are still supposed to pass the censorship board.
The event was organized by comedian Zarganar, film director Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
Zarganar, who uses one name, was recently released from three years in prison. He described the festival as freedom of expression through film.
US, 13 other countries vow to back online freedoms
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Newspapers multiply as Libya enjoys press freedom
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A retired couple in Michigan believes that every child should have the exalted feeling of riding alone with the wind in their face. So they build custom-made tricycles in their basement for hundreds of small children with disabilities.
It costs about $200 to outfit a standard three-wheeled bike to help stabilize kids with cerebral palsy and other physical challenges.
So far, 900 children now have the joy of riding free, thanks to Gordon & Connie Hankins.
Other physical benefits result, too, when kids are pushing their muscles.
(Here’a a link for those who would like to DONATE to help these generous grandparents.)