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Cuban Dissident Makes First-Ever Trip To U.S.


Now let's meet a Cuban dissident on his first trip to the U.S. The former political prisoner is crisscrossing the country to learn about democracy and the Internet. Then he plans to take those lessons back home. NPR's Michele Kelemen has his story.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: When Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia goes to Silicon Valley later this month, he's hoping to get some social media advice from Twitter and Facebook on how to reach young people in Cuba. He's also trying to figure out ways to improve Internet access at home.

JOSE DANIEL FERRER GARCIA: (Through interpreter) We're looking for help for the Cuban people so that they can connect to the Internet despite the regime's restrictions and limitations and the excessive costs.

KELEMEN: He says the Cubans who are able to connect now are mostly getting financial help from relatives abroad, and they use the Internet to communicate with family members. Few were willing to spend the time or money to read the Free Press, but he and his fellow activists are trying to change that.

FERRER: (Through interpreter) Our activists are going to these Wi-Fi zones to give away Internet access to young people. We encourage them to search for information.

KELEMEN: Ferrer was speaking to reporters in Washington at the start of a trip organized by the Cuban American National Foundation, an advocacy group that's pushing for a transition away from the Castro regime. He says dissidents on the island are divided over the Obama administration's new approach to Cuba. But the Cuban people overwhelmingly support it, so his organization, the Cuban Patriotic Union, does too.

He even met with the president when Obama made an historic trip to Havana in March. Still, Ferrer is urging Americans not to overlook Cuba's repressive record. He was in the U.S. for just a few days when he heard reports of another crackdown.

FERRER: (Through interpreter) What is worrying me is right after I left Cuba, but the aggression against members of my organization intensified. Our activists had been detained, and there had been raids on four of our offices. They've taken our computers, phones, DVDs, whatever they can find.

KELEMEN: Ferrer spent eight years in a Cuban jail. When he was released in 2011 under a deal negotiated by the Catholic Church in Spain, he was offered the chance to leave Cuba forever. He didn't take it. He says Cuban authorities didn't tell him why they let him travel this time, but he's sure the Obama administration helped. And he's determined to go back after this trip.

FERRER: (Through interpreter) If they try to block my return, I still remember how to row. I used to be a fisherman, so I'll just go back on a raft.

KELEMEN: This has already been an emotional journey for him. He choked up a bit when he spoke about seeing his mother and brother in Miami for the first time in 5 years. His brother is also a former political prisoner, though he went into exile after being released. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.