US President George W. Bush (L) embraces Yamila Llanes Labrada (R), whose husband, Jose Luis Garcia Paneque, is imprisoned in Cuba, during a celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC. Bush called for Cuba to release Paneque.(AFP/Saul Loeb)
President George W. Bush Wednesday called for the release of Jose Luis Garcia Paneque and all other political prisoners held in Cuba, after meeting the dissident reporter’s family at the White House.
“He did nothing more than advocate for freedom, and he is now in prison and not only is he in prison ... he is ill,” Bush said during a ceremony marking Latin American heritage.
“One of the messages I have for the Cuban leaders is: free this man and free other political prisoners. He is not a threat to you. Let him be reunited with the woman who loves him dearly and his four children,” Bush said.
At his White House meeting, Bush spoke with Garcia Paneque’s wife, Yamile Llanes Labrada, and her daughter Shirley.
After heading an independent news agency in Las Tunas, Cuba, Garcia Paneque was arrested in August 2003 and charged with collaborating with a foreign power, according to his wife. He is now serving a 24-year prison sentence.
Reporters Without Borders recently said the former plastic surgeon was seriously ill with gastric problems that took a turn for the worse after his imprisonment.
The White House said Garcia Paneque ran an independent library and took part in a grass-root campaign to press the Cuban government to show respect for human rights and open the country to democratic reforms.
Dissident sources in Cuba put the number of political prisoners in their country at around 250.