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FILE PHOTO: Actor and playwright Yunior Garcia gives an interview in Havana

WORLD NEWS: Missing Cuban protest leader Yunior Garcia lands in Spain

FILE PHOTO: Actor and playwright Yunior Garcia, 39, pauses during an interview at his home in Havana, Cuba, October 12, 2021. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini/File Photo

November 17, 2021

By Belén Carreño

MADRID (Reuters) -Cuban protest leader Yunior Garcia and his wife landed at Madrid’s Barajas airport on Wednesday afternoon, the dissident said on social media, putting an end to uncertainty over his whereabouts.

The young playwright took a commercial flight to Spain after the communist-run Cuban government blocked a major protest he helped plan for Monday. He had fallen silent on social media since then, sparking concerns among activists over his safety.

According to sources familiar with his travels, Spain granted Garcia a 90-day visa for “reasons of force majeure or necessity.” Government sources had previously said that he entered on a tourist visa.

Garcia, in his first interview since his departure, told Cuban film director Ian Padron that since Sunday, he had no access in Cuba to phone or internet. This cut him off from allies on the island and was one factor in his decision to leave Cuba, he said.

“The decision to leave the country was entirely mine, and it was taken that day,” he told Padron on YouTube. He said he had not sought asylum because he wanted to return to his home country.

“My idea is to return to Cuba…to accomplish my mission,” he said.

Cuba’s government had said Garcia was working covertly with the United States to overthrow the state.

Garcia and the U.S. government have denied that charge.

State security and Cuban government supporters on Sunday surrounded Garcia’s Havana home, preventing him from marching alone, as he had planned to build support for peaceful demonstrations.

Garcia became a central figure in Cuba’s dissident movement following protests in July that drew thousands onto the streets to demonstrate against shortages of basic goods, curbs on civil liberties and the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Garcia said he would speak again about his experience Thursday.

(Reporting by Belén Carreño in Madrid, Nelson Acosta and Marc Frank in Havana, writing by Nathan Allen and Dave Sherwood, editing by Andrei Khalip, Gareth Jones and Cynthia Osterman)

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