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Posted November 30, 2004 by publisher in Cuba Human Rights

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By ANITA SNOW | Associated Press Writer

International rights groups welcomed Cuba’s surprise release of three dissidents jailed last year in a broad crackdown and called on Fidel Castro’s government to free another 65 still behind bars.

The three men were freed unexpectedly early Monday for health reasons, according to friends, relatives and local rights activists, sparking hopes for additional releases in the coming days.

“Cuba’s release of these political prisoners is a welcome move, but many more remain incarcerated in violation of their fundamental rights,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “We call on the Cuban authorities to release all of them.”

Those freed on parole included economics writer Oscar Espinosa Chepe, who was hospitalized behind bars for months with a liver ailment. Espinosa Chepe’s cause has become well known among some rights groups outside Cuba.

“I’m feeling happy now,” Espinosa Chepe told The Associated Press at his Havana home, noting that Monday was his 64th birthday. “I had been really pessimistic. I didn’t think I was going to be let out.”

Also freed early Monday for health reasons were dissidents Marcelo Lopez and Margarito Broche. Lopez has a neurological disorder, and Broche suffered a heart attack behind bars in August.

The latest releases bring to 10 the number of dissidents in the original group of 75 who have since been freed after being sentenced to prison terms ranging from six to 28 years in April 2003. All were released for medical reasons.

They were charged with working with the U.S. government to undermine Fidel Castro’s socialist system, something the dissidents and American officials denied.

Vivanco regretted that the three men released Monday were freed on parole, rather than unconditionally.

“By granting them parole only, the Cuban government leaves open the possibility of returning the dissidents to prison to serve out their sentences in the future,” said Vivanco. “Its a way of intimidating them from exercising their fundamental rights.”

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said it was gladdened by the release of Espionsa Chepe, one of more than two dozen independent Cuban journalists held behind bars on the communist-run island.

“Their only offense was doing their jobs,” said the committee’s Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We again call on Cuban authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all imprisoned journalists, and to allow them to work freely.”

After his release, Espinosa Chepe spoke from his book-filled living room, where a small Christmas tree sat atop a refrigerator in the corner. He said he hoped the rest of the prisoners would return home.

“We are nonviolent people, who have not committed any crimes,” he said.

Despite the difficulties suffered in jail, Espinosa Chepe said did not want to leave Cuba.

“I feel Cuban and I want to die in my own country,” he said.

Castro’s government made no public statement about the dissidents Monday. The latest releases come just days after Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque announced his country had resumed formal contacts with Spain, whose new government has pushed to restart a dialogue with the island nation.


Spain has repeatedly criticized last year’s dissident crackdown. But the new Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has said all Spanish political parties and the European Union (news - web sites) should work to encourage the Caribbean island to open up.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher welcomed the releases but said the detainees never should have been imprisoned in the first place.

“We continue to condemn the unjust incarceration of dozens of other prisoners of conscious in Cuba,” Boucher said. “We hope that they can return to their work to build a truly just and open Cuban society,” Boucher said.

Veteran rights activist Elizardo Sanchez, who heads the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and Reconciliation, applauded the latest releases, but said no fundamental changes have been made on the island.

Sanchez said he thought the government released the dissidents for two reasons: to avoid their possible deaths in jail and to send “false signs of flexibility to the European Union and Spain.”

Publisher question: Do you think more will be released? When? Who? Why?

  1. Follow up post #1 added on December 01, 2004 by Cubana

    Of course all of the remaining unjustly imprisoned rights activists and independent journalists should be freed immediately. However this is probably unlikely in the short term especially as those released so far have had health problems. This shows that the Cuban regime is anxious to avoid the scandal of one of them dying in prison, rather than any genuine change of heart.

    One of the more well-known prisoners of conscience still incarcerated is Dr. Oscar Elas Biscet. His wife has recently reported that he has been refused permission to speak to her or to write letters and has described this situation as psychological torture (see the website [url=http://www.cubanet.org]http://www.cubanet.org)[/url] He should be released immediately.

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