Free Cuba activists seek full Spanish citizenship

MADRID, July 16 (UPI) -- Eleven Cuban human-rights activists freed from jail want Spain to recognize their struggle by giving them Spanish citizenship.

The activists -- from a group of more than identified 50 political prisoners in Cuba -- arrived in Spain this week and immediately began campaigning for rights of citizenship as they did not wish to be considered as asylum seekers or immigrants.


Their release came about as part of a diplomatic deal involving Spain's government, the Catholic church and the Catholic archdiocese of Havana interacting with the Cuban government.

News of Cuba's human-rights violations has commanded less attention than it deserved because of the embarrassment it has caused supporters of the Central American country, analysts said. Opinions among socialist and liberal groups and organizations are divided over Cuba's violations because of entrenched views on Cuba's long-standing dispute with the United States.


Critics of those who have chosen to remain silent or confined their interventions to feeble protests say opponents of the United States feel reluctant to criticize Cuba lest their comments harm the government of Raul Castro, who power from Fidel Castro in July 2006 after dissent grew.

Protests against the government have continued since an ill-fated campaign for democratic rights in 2003 -- under Fidel Castro -- led to a major crackdown on the press, politicians and others involved with the protests. Several of the inmates were later handed down the death sentence in summary trials.

Exact numbers of activists in prison are not known but, after vigorous diplomatic efforts, the government agreed to release 52 and allow them to leave for Spain with their families. The 11 who arrived this week form part of that group.

Seven of the 11, speaking for the whole group, told a news conference they survived sub-human conditions in Cuban jails, where excrement and infestations of rats and other vermin routinely exposed the inmates to debilitating diseases, including tuberculosis.

Cuba prides itself in having devised one of the most comprehensive health care systems, but the privilege does not extend to the prisoners, campaigners said.


Ricardo Gonzalez Alfonso, a former correspondent for Reporters Without Borders who was among those flown to Madrid, said, "Our release is a first step, but it's no revolution. We haven't yet achieved anything in terms of bringing democracy to Cuba."

"My body wouldn't support the TB drugs I was taking," said Normando Hernandez Gonzalez, another journalist.

The Cubans told the media they were not happy with their current conditions in Spain, where they were housed along with other immigrants. Instead, they said, they would like to be considered for full citizen status and hoped their arrival would be a catalyst for a dialogue between Europe and Cuba on a restoration of human rights.

Havana's Catholic archdiocese announced July 7 the remaining political prisoners would be released in three to four months.

"While we are relieved for these prisoners and their families, the fact remains that scores of political prisoners locked up under Raul Castro continue to languish in Cuba's prisons," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "So long as Cuba's draconian laws and sham trials remain in place, they will continue to restock the prison cells with new generations of innocent Cubans who dare to exercise their basic rights."


The prisoners being released under the brokered deal are among 75 journalists, human-rights defenders, labor activists, and other peaceful dissidents arrested in the 2003 crackdown. All 75 were sentenced in closed, summary trials to an average of 19 years in prison, Human Rights Watch said.

"The government has relied largely on a provision of the Criminal Code that allows authorities to imprison individuals without ever having committed a crime, on the allegation that they are 'dangerous' and might commit one in the future," said Vivanco.

A recent Human Rights Watch report, "New Castro, Same Cuba," documented more than 40 cases of dissidents imprisoned for "dangerousness" in addition to scores more sentenced under laws criminalizing free expression and association.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, an independent human rights group not recognized by the Cuban government, documented 167 cases of current political prisoners.

Because Human Rights Watch was able to document additional cases of people imprisoned for "dangerousness," HRW believes the number of political prisoners is even higher, the campaign group said.

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