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Posted February 16, 2008 by publisher in Cuba Human Rights

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The Associated Press

Cuban officials were preparing to release at least four political prisoners who will be sent to Spain, a veteran human rights activist and Spanish officials said Friday.

Elizardo Sanchez of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation said family members of the four and other prisoners he spoke to by telephone identified those being released as Pedro Pablo Alvarez Ramos, Omar Pernet Hernandez, Jose Gabriel Ramon Castillo and Alejandro Gonzalez Raga.

They were among 75 dissidents arrested in a government crackdown on the opposition in 2003.

Ramon and Raga were identified as independent journalists, who in Cuba send reports to Web pages, newspapers and broadcasters abroad from a country where all news media is state-owned and operated.

“We welcome the news that Cuba is planning to release at least two imprisoned journalists,” said Carlos Lauria of the New York-based advocacy group Committee to Protect Journalists. But he said the group remained concerned about and demanded the release of 22 other independent journalists it says Cuba still holds.

Sanchez said the releases appeared to be the result of human rights talks held in Madrid earlier this week by the Spanish and Cuban governments. “They will leave today or tomorrow,” Sanchez said of their flight to Spain.

Spain’s Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos also reported the action.

“This has been a unilateral decision by the Cuban authorities which we appreciate and for which we express our satisfaction,” Moratinos said in Spain. “We are going to continue working with them in the future always respecting their decisions and encouraging them to move forward in this sensitive sector.”

There was no immediate word on the release from Cuban officials.

Spain has a policy of engagement with the communist-run nation, and opposes U.S. policies aimed at isolating the island through economic sanctions and travel restrictions on Americans.

Cuban authorities rounded up 75 critics five years ago, tried them on charges of being U.S. mercenaries to undermine Fidel Castro’s government and sentenced to long prison terms. The independent journalists, rights activists and other dissidents denied they received U.S. government funds.

With new releases, 20 of the 75 will have been freed, leaving 55 behind bars. The 16 freed earlier were released on medical parole and several, including well-known writer and journalist Raul Rivero, have since left Cuba.

Alvarez, of Havana, and Pernet, from the central city of Villa Clara, were sentenced to 25-year terms in rapid trials following the roundup. Ramon, of the eastern city of Santiago, was serving a 20-year sentence and Gonzalez, from the central-eastern province of Camaguey, had a 14-year sentence.

Sanchez’s commission earlier this year reported that 234 prisoners of conscience were being held on the island.

That number was down from 246 on June 30 — continuing a decline since Raul Castro took over provisionally for his ailing elder brother Fidel in July 2006, when it listed 316.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on February 16, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    ElEconomista.es says that seven dissidents may be released.

    Cuba consulting services

  2. Follow up post #2 added on February 17, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    This article from the Associated Press says that four dissidents have arrived in Spain.

    I’m sure they are happy to be free but I wonder if they wanted to be exiled.

    A bittersweet moment I’m sure.

    Too bad Raul is not man enough to just release them and allow more of the famous dialog that he is calling for.

    Hey Raul, you may not always agree with the dialog. That’s why it’s called dialog. You let people say what they want to say then you can send in Ricardo Alarcon to rebuff the statements.

    Too bad he did such a terrible job responding to the Cuban students.

    The handwriting is on the wall and the videos are on YouTube.

    The genie cannot be put back into the box, especially after Fidel is in the box.

    Cuba consulting services

  3. Follow up post #3 added on February 18, 2008 by abh

    The Cuban authorities are making slow moves and small changes.  The release of the dissidents to Spain is supposed to show both that the Cuban government is respecting human rights AND that working WITH Cuba rather than not having political ties has benefits for the intl community. 

    I found the following article in the Miami Herald interesting.  It deals with this notion of the government moving away from Fidel’s influence.  This is the dynamic that Cuban-watchers are anxiously following.

    Are Castro’s writings subtle jabs at Raúl?
    Cuban leader Fidel Castro has written more than 80 editorials, which analysts say often contradict the policies of his brother, the acting president.
    Posted on Sun, Feb. 17, 2008

    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    About the time last year that Cuba announced plans to plunge into the ethanol craze, the ailing Fidel Castro launched a career as a newspaper columnist.

    His first topic: How biofuels made from food starve the world’s poor.

    Castro later blasted the United States—just after his brother Raúl called for a dialogue with Washington. And the day after the government announced that it would sign some international human rights accords, Castro wrote a column explaining why as president he never signed such pacts.

    As Cuba’s National Assembly approaches a Feb. 24 vote to pick the island’s next president, a vote that could—at least officially—sideline the dictator for the first time in decades, his writings have offered hints of fissures within the leadership that could affect the country’s future.

    Ever since he turned over the reins of power to Raúl 19 months ago, Fidel Castro, 81, has made no public appearances and has taken instead to writing ‘‘reflections’’ on everything from nostalgic memories of the good old days of the Cuban revolution to world leaders he has met.

    But some of his 90-plus articles contain what experts say are subtle jabs at Raúl’s interim administration, casting doubt as to who has the final say in Cuba these days and whether Raúl really has a free hand to adopt the economic reforms he has said Cuba desperately needs.


    ‘‘A lot of times, what Fidel writes is out of sync with what Raúl says,’’ said Daniel Erikson, a Cuba expert at the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington. ``Raúl will call for good cooperation with Guantánamo Bay, and the next day Fidel Castro will blast Guantánamo Bay. Raúl will talk about economic reform, and then Fidel uses fiery language against that.’‘

    Erikson says it’s all logical, given that Fidel Castro remains alive and that when he surrendered his titles to his brother after intestinal surgery in 2006, he specifically noted that the transfer of power was ``temporary.’‘

    ‘‘The fact of the matter is Raúl’s power in Cuba is still on loan from Fidel,’’ Erikson said.

    As long as that’s the case, he added, you may see a difference in rhetoric, but not policy.

    The two brothers have been a pair for decades, fighting together against dictator Fulgencio Batista in the 1950s and then dominating Cuba’s top jobs. Fidel was always officially president, while Raúl was always defense minister and the designated successor to his brother.

    But their relations have not always been smooth. When the economy collapsed in the early 1990s after the end of Soviet subsidies, Raúl pushed through several open-market economic reforms. But Fidel, who opposed anything but strict socialist ideals, began to roll back some of the reforms in the second half of the ‘90s.

    Since Fidel turned over power to his brother in July 2006, Raúl has talked often about the need for economic changes—but adopted only minor ones.

    He revamped state media to allow for critical coverage and convened nationwide town-hall meetings for Cubans to air their gripes—even as the elder Castro continued to call for socialist discipline and selflessness.

    ‘‘My conclusion is that indeed there is a clash between Fidel and Raúl’s view,’’ said Mauricio Font, who heads the Bildner Center for Western Hemisphere Studies in New York. ``On a couple of points, he kind of neutralizes Raúl, or tries to slow him down.’‘

    Veteran Castro-watcher Carlos Franqui said the contradictions began even before Castro got sick, and were most notable when the Cuban leader publicly talked about grooming a new generation of young leaders. Raúl is 76.

    ‘‘Raúl Castro once joked that Fidel spent his time in the hospital calling everyone but him. That’s Raúl’s black humor, but he’s recognizing a fact,’’ Franqui said by telephone from his home in Puerto Rico.

    ‘‘The bottom line is that these reflections are like decrees,’’ Franqui added, noting that to rule Cuba or at least block some of Raúl’s possible reforms, ``Fidel doesn’t need a job title.’‘


    The contradictions could be settled soon, perhaps opening the way for significant economic reforms that Raúl has talked about approvingly but which his older brother has continued to criticize.

    The newly elected National Assembly will convene Feb. 24 to elect members of the Council of State and that body’s president. The president is, in effect, the president of Cuba, the title always held by Castro.

    Castro has suggested that he is not seeking to hold on to power forever, and Assembly President Ricardo Alarcón has said Castro might decline the presidency.

    Experts are unsure whether the natural replacement would be Raúl, or whether the aging defense minister would allow someone younger to get the title while he continues to wield power through his control of the armed forces and the Cuban Communist Party.

    ‘‘I don’t think they want to look like they are ignoring Fidel, but they probably feel they have to,’’ said Vicki Huddleston, a former chief of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana. ``They just have to treat it as if what he says is important. In the meantime, it keeps Raúl from doing very much.’’

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