Oscar Espinosa Chepe
Dr. Marcelo Lopez
Jesus Mustafa Felipe
Surprise releases raise hopes for more (perhaps Raul Rivero)
Several of the original 75 dissidents arrested in a broad crackdown last year were released Monday without warning, according to friends, relatives and local rights activists. The surprise move raised hopes for additional releases in the coming days.
Those freed on parole included economics writer Oscar Espinosa Chepe, who had been hospitalized behind bars for months with a liver ailment. Espinosa Chepe’s cause has become well known among some rights groups outside of 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.”
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 other political prisoners would be able to return to their homes soon as well.
“We are nonviolent people, who have not committed any crimes,” he said.
Despite the difficulties he suffered in jail, Espinosa Chepe said he had no intention of leaving Cuba.
“I feel Cuban and I want to die in my own country,” he said.
Also freed early Monday were physician Dr. Marcelo Lopez, as well as fellow dissident Margarito Broche.
“I talked to Marcelo this morning at his parents’ house and he is fine,” Marcela Sanchez, a personal friend of Lopez, told the AP by telephone.
Veteran rights activist Elizardo Sanchez, Marcela Sanchez’s brother, confirmed the Monday morning release of Broche. Elizardo Sanchez heads the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and Reconciliation, which tracks the island’s political prisoners.
Elizardo Sanchez also confirmed the release Monday of dissident Jesus Mustafa Felipe, who was arrested a month before the original 75 and had finished serving his 18-month prison term.
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.
They were charged with working with the U.S. government to undermine Fidel Castro’s socialist system, something the dissidents and American officials denied.
It was not immediately clear if all those released Monday were ailing, but the previous seven released in recent months were all freed for medical reasons.
Castro’s government did not immediately provide an explanation about why this second group was suddenly let out of jail. But the latest releases come just days after Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque announced that his country had resumed formal contacts with Spain, whose new government has been pushing to restart a dialogue with the island nation.
Spain has repeatedly criticized Cuba’s crackdown on the dissidents last year. But the new Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has said all Spanish political parties and the European Union should work to encourage the Caribbean island to open up.
Hopes for additional releases were high among relatives of the imprisoned dissidents.
Over the weekend, the wife of imprisoned poet and journalist Raul Rivero was nervously awaiting more information after her husband was moved from a prison in central Cuba to a jail hospital in Havana.
“Cuban officials have not told me anything, but I’m thinking what the whole world is ó something has to happen,” Blanca Reyes told the AP on Sunday. She said authorities told her that she would be able to visit her husband at the Havana prison hospital before Wednesday.
Reyes said that by midday Monday she had not heard anything more.