By DANICA COTO | Associated Press
A leading Cuban dissident said Tuesday that he plans to return to the communist-run island after a nearly two-year absence to fight for the freedom of political prisoners.
Hector Palacios, who was in Puerto Rico for a two-day visit, told reporters that he and his wife Gisela Delgado — also a Cuban dissident — would soon travel back to their Caribbean homeland to resume leadership of his outlawed opposition group, Liberal Unity.
Palacios, 66, was incarcerated in 2003 on charges of undermining Cuba’s communist system. He was released on medical parole in December 2006, cutting short a 25-year prison sentence.
“We want a country where people can live in peace,” Palacios said Tuesday, adding that he is willing to meet with President Raul Castro, who succeeded his elder brother, Fidel, in February. “Change is going to happen.”
Palacios said he does not fear being imprisoned again in Cuba and that he looks forward to helping liberate the roughly 230 political prisoners he claims are on the island.
It will be a hard fight, Palacios said.
“There’s one obstacle,” he said. “Fidel is alive.”
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. The Cuban crackdown was protested by governments and rights organizations across the globe.
His 2006 release from prison because of heart and respiratory problems marked the first high-profile release since Fidel Castro ceded power to his younger brother, who has implemented a series of reforms since taking over the government.
U.S. President George W. Bush on Tuesday called on Raul Castro to free all political prisoners, speaking in Slovenia during a U.S.-European Union summit.
The Cuban government says it holds no prisoners of conscience, only common criminals, and typically characterizes political opponents as mercenaries and traitors.