37 Cuban dissidents arrive in Spain

AFP , Friday 8 Apr 2011

37 Cuban ex-prisoners of conscience arrive in Spain bringing the number of political dissidents of Spain to 115

A last batch of 37 Cuban former political prisoners and their families flew into Madrid's international airport on Friday as part of a Spanish-brokered deal, a government spokesman said.

It was the largest group of Cuban dissidents to arrive in Spain under last year's landmark agreement between the Cuban government and the Catholic Church, which led to the release from prison of dozens of detainees.

"They arrived this morning. There are 245 in total, including 37 ex-detainees," a foreign ministry spokesman said.

The dissidents accompanied by family members were greeted on arrival by humanitarian groups and later bussed to reception centers.

"The arrival of these last prisoners of conscience marks the end of the release process begun last July 13," bringing to 115 the total number who have been given refuge in this country along with 647 family members since that date, the foreign ministry said.

The new arrivals include Orlando Fundora, one of a group of 75 opposition activists arrested during a 2003 crackdown by the Cuban authorities in Havana. He was released on medical grounds two years ago.

The ministry said the 37 were dissidents appearing on the lists of Amnesty International and other human rights advocacy groups.

Madrid has so far granted political asylum to 41 of the Cuban dissidents who have arrived over the past year.

THose who decide to stay in the country are initially housed in reception centres before being provided with housing and various forms of financial, psychological and social aid.

Last year's accord came after Cuban leader Raul Castro agreed to unprecedented talks with the Catholic Church. The subsequent agreement allowed for the release of 52 of the 75 opposition activists still in jail, 12 of whom decided to remain in Cuba.

That was the largest dissident release in Cuba since Raul Castro took over the reins from his brother Fidel in August 2006 and the number was later expanded to 115.

Fidel Castro had freed around 100 political prisoners soon after the late pope John Paul II's historic visit to the communist-ruled Caribbean island nation in 1998.

On February 4 Cuba released Guido Sigler, 57, who has refused exile in Spain. Sigler said he is considering emigrating to the United States.

Dissident sources say scores of political prisoners remain jailed in Cuba. They are considered prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International.

The island's communist regime, which has been subjected to a US trade embargo since 1962, rejects the claim, arguing that the dissidents are "mercenaries" in Washington's pay.

Havana "is using Spain's open door to get rid of prisoners who are bothersome" while keeping others in jail in an attempt to pressure them to leave the country, according to Elizardo Sanchez, who heads an illegal but tolerated Cuban human rights group.

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