Adalberto Roque - (AFP)
Cuba released journalist Jorge Olivera, the seventh jailed dissident freed since November 29 from a group of 75 opponents rounded up last year in a communist government crackdown.
Olivera, who had been sentenced to 18 years in jail, attributed his release to pressure from the European Union and the mobilization of the prisoners’ relatives.
“Several elements contributed to the liberation of seven dissidents these last few days,” Olivera told AFP a few hours after his release. “There is the firm and determined position of the EU and the courageous attitude of our mothers and wives.”
Fourteen of the 75 dissidents arrested in March 2003 have been released since April 2004, including seven in the last eight days who were freed due to health problems. The dissidents had been given sentences of seven to 28 years in prison.
“Olivera was released because his health is very delicate,” said Elizardo Sanchez Santa Cruz, a prominent dissident who heads the Cuban Committee for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.
Sanchez said that other dissidents may be released in the next hours or days, but he did not expect a mass release of prisoners.
At the time of his arrest, Olivera, a former producer for Cuban television, was heading an independent news service called Havana Press. He served 21 months of his sentence.
Olivera said he felt good about being back home, but that he has been diagnosed with chronic digestive problems, stress-related high blood pressure and hiatal hernia.
President Fidel Castro’s government began releasing the seven dissidents four days after Spain’s ambassador to Cuba, Carlos Alonso Zaldivar, met with Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque in the first contact between an EU state and a senior Cuban official since the European Union imposed sanctions on the island last year.
The European Union set the sanctions to protest the crackdown against dissidents and the executions of three Cubans convicted of trying to hijack a ferry to the United States.
The release of dissidents has been viewed as an attempt at rapprochement with Spain and Europe by an increasingly isolated Castro.
“I was in prison and didn’t have much information, but I think that the releases are clear signals from the Cuban government” toward Europe, Olivera said.
He added that the release were also due to international media pressure and the courage of the “Ladies in White,” a group of relatives of imprisoned dissidents holding peaceful protests to demand the release of their husbands, fathers, sons and brothers.
“There is not a lone factor to explain our liberation,” he said.
Olivera said he will seek permission to leave Cuba and may head to the United States.