By MONIKA SCISLOWSKA | Associated Press
WARSAW, Poland - Ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro is in decline, a leading dissident said Monday, suggesting that a “free Cuba” could be as little as a year away.
Hector Palacios, who was released from Cuban prison in 2006 for health reasons and has been undergoing treatment in Spain, spoke while visiting Poland with his wife,
Gisela Delgado, also a dissident.
“Today we see the decline of Fidel Castro,” Palacios told a news conference. “For the dissidents, Fidel Castro has ceased to exist. Castro is very sick and his revolution is also very sick,” Palacios, 65, said through an interpreter. “The Cuban nation is waiting for change. The change will come in the near future.”
Palacios added that «every Cuban person who lives at least a year will see a free Cuba.
Castro has not been seen in public since emergency intestinal surgery prompted him to cede power to a provisional government led by his younger brother, Raul, in July 2006.
“The greatest obstacle to change is Fidel Castro, but everyone knows that this obstacle is almost nonexistent,” Palacios said.
Palacios was among 75 dissidents rounded up in March 2003 on charges they were U.S. mercenaries working to undermine Cuba’s communist system _ accusations the activists and Washington denied. All 75 were convicted and sentenced to prison terms ranging from six to 28 years. Palacios was sentenced to a 25 years.
He served more than three years before being released in December 2006 for reasons of health. In Warsaw, he said that he will return to Cuba this year, describing that as «my patriotic duty.
Palacios described Sunday’s elections for a new Cuban parliament _ with one unopposed candidate per seat as a “farce”.
He was invited to Warsaw by pro-democracy institutions, including one run by the founder of Poland’s anti-communist Solidarity movement, Lech Walesa. He spoke alongside Leszek Balcerowicz, the man behind Poland’s transformation into a market economy after the end of communism in 1989. Balcerowicz read out an appeal, also signed by Walesa, for the Cuban government to release all political prisoners.
He described Cuba as “an inhuman dictatorship” and complained that the West is not doing enough to encourage change.