By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
As many as 18 jailed dissidents have been transferred from provincial penitentiaries to the main prison hospital in Havana, relatives of the dissidents said Wednesday, raising hopes that they might soon be freed.
Óscar Elías Biscet, a doctor and activist, and Hector Palacios, a veteran opposition politician, were among those transferred late Tuesday to the hospital at Combinado del Este Prison, their wives said.
The Communist government of Fidel Castro has released five dissidents in the last week, all after checkups at the same prison hospital. They included perhaps Cuba’s best-known dissident, Raúl Rivero, a journalist and poet.
The prisoners released this week and those transferred to the hospital on Tuesday were among 75 independent journalists, opposition politicians, rights activists and others rounded up in a crackdown in March 2003.
Mr. Palacios’ wife, Gisela Delgado, told The Associated Press that her husband had called her on Tuesday night from the prison hospital. He had been serving a 25-year sentence at a penitentiary in the western province of Pinar del Río.
Dr. Biscet’s wife, Elsa Morejon, confirmed that her husband, who also had been sentenced to 25 years, had been transferred to the prison hospital from Pinar del Río as well. .
After asking relatives of other imprisoned dissidents, Ms. Delgado said as many as 18 had been transferred to the Havana prison hospital on Tuesday.
In previous months, seven other dissidents were freed, also for medical reasons, bringing the total of those released thus far to 12, and leaving another 63 behind bars.
The Cuban government made no public statement about the releases, but analysts said Cuba was eager to avoid the possibility of dissidents dying in jail, and wanted to show flexibility to the European Union and Spain amid warming relations.
The European Union is Cuba’s most important source of tourism and trade, representing about 80 percent of Cuba’s imports. The new Socialist government of Spain has pressed other European countries to encourage Cuba to open up.