The group of Cuban political prisoners who were released and sent to Spain as a result of the mediation of the Catholic Church called on the Raul Castro regime Thursday to immediately release those dissidents who refuse to be “deported” to Spain and desire to remain in Cuba to defend their ideas.
“The Cuban government has released those of us who have chosen exile,” said journalist Ricardo Gonzalez Alfonso during a press conference in Madrid. “It’s much easier to free those who want to stay,” he added. “All you have to do is open the prison doors.”
“If the intention is to release them all, what are they waiting for?” he asked. Alfonso questioned whether Castro’s intention is to use these political prisoners as “hostages” or pawns for future deals.
Alfonso said the government should release these political prisoners “at once” and not within three or four months, as was promised to Cardinal Jaime Ortega during negotiations.
Julio Cesar Galvez, another dissident who arrived in Madrid this week, echoed Gonzalez Alfonso's sentiments and said the eventual release of the prisoners in Cuba should also mean they will be free to move about the country and find work, without harassment from state security agents. “May those who want to stay there be freed,” he said.
Galvez read a statement from the nine dissidents in Madrid pledging their commitment to “continue the fight for the release of all the prisoners” and for “a free and democratic Cuba.” “If we defended our rights when it was impossible to speak up, it would absurd to give up the fight now that we have much more favorable conditions,” he said.
Omar Rodriguez Saludes, another of the dissidents sent to Spain, called on the Cuban government to first release those prisoners who are sick among the 52 it has promised to free, citing the particular cases of Efren Fernandez and Guido Sigler Amaya.
Julio Cesar Galvez also took the occasion to denounce the terrible prison conditions in Cuba, where sometimes as many as 40 prisoners share a cell infested with rats, cockroaches and other pests. They are often fed nothing more than water boiled with plantain peels.
Not only are the political prisoners subject to such harsh conditions, so are common criminals are as well. Many of them suffer from dengue fever and tuberculosis. Normando Hernandez Gonzalez, another freed dissident, said prison officials ignore the pleas of those who have fallen ill, leading many to fall into despair and commit self-inflicted wounds in order to gain the medical attention they need.
For this reason, Omar Rodriguez demanded the Cuban government allow the U.N. to visit prisons on the island and assess their conditions. Julio Cesar Galvez went even further and said U.N. inspectors should be allowed in “to show what is happening inside Cuba.”
Rodriguez also quoted a famous statement by Fidel Castro—“Ideas cannot be killed”—and said, “Neither can ideas be kidnapped or exiled, that is our message to the Cuban government.”