Freed dissidents want EU to maintain its policy on Cuba
Eleven freed Cuban dissidents recently arrived in Spain called Monday on the EU to maintain its policy on Cuba, which requires progress on rights and democracy before normalising relations.
The former political prisoners dissidents opposed any changes to the policy in place since 1996 as "the Cuban government has not taken steps that show a clear decision to move towards the democratization of our country.
"Our arrival in Spain should not be considered as a gesture of good faith but instead as a desperate action by the regime in its urgent search for credits of any type," their statement added.
"For this reason we ask European Union member states to not soften their demands for democratic changes in Cuba so that all Cubans can enjoy the same rights that European citizens have," it added.
The statement was read out by one of the 11 freed dissidents, 65-year-old Julio Cesar Galvez. He was serving a 15-year sentence for secretly working for US media outlets when he was freed.
The EU suspended ties with Cuba after a major roundup of 75 dissidents in March 2003, but resumed aid cooperation in 2008.
Spain has long advocated that the EU change its "common policy" on Cuba, arguing that dialogue with Havana is the best way to encourage change.
But several other EU member states, such as Sweden and the Czech Republic, as well as Cuban human rights groups, oppose such a move.
The 11 dissidents are part of a larger group of 52 dissidents which Cuba announced on July 7 it would release under a deal it reached with the Roman Catholic Church and Spain.
Spain is the former colonial power in the island -- the only one-party Communist regime in the Americas -- and its largest foreign investor.
The deal came after dissident hunger striker Guillermo Farinas had nearly starved to death -- and before the 27-nation EU carries out its annual review of its policy towards Cuba in September.
If Havana lets all 52 dissidents go free it will be the largest release of political prisoners in Cuba since 1998 when 300 dissidents were spared jail time following a visit by then-pope John Paul II.
Havana wants to avoid a repeat of the death in detention of political prisoner Orlando Zapata on February 23, who died on hunger strike.
Spain has said it is willing to receive all 52 freed detainees, who were sentenced in 2003 to prison terms of between six and 28 years. Another nine will arrive on Tuesday.
© 2010 AFP