Spain says awaiting 11 freed Cuban dissidents

12th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

The first of a group of political prisoners ordered released by the Communist rulers in Cuba will arrive in Madrid on Tuesday on two commercial flights, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel said.

"I believe that according to the latest figures they wull be 11 Cuban political prisoners along with their family members," he told reporters in Santander in northern Spain.

"We will not know until the last minite how many family members will be coming with them, but it will be between 62 and 65," he added.

After a politically embarrassing hunger strike to near-death by dissident Guillermo Farinas, Cuba agreed last Wednesday to free 52 political prisoners in a surprise church-state deal.

If all 52 activists are freed, it would be the largest prisoner release since President Raul Castro took over permanently from his brother Fidel Castro in 2008.

All 52 were part of a group of 75 dissidents rounded up in 2003 and sentenced to jail terms of between six and 28 years.

Spain, which helped broker the deal between the Cuban government and the Roman Catholic church, has said it is willing to receive all the prisoners after their release.

The Church has said the prisoners will not be forced to go to Spain, calling it a "proposal" and not "exile," as some opposition activists charge.

Some dissidents want to seek medical care in Spain before returning to Cuba; others expect to stay in Spain, according to Elizardo Sanchez, of the outlawed information clearinghouse Cuban Committee for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

Moratinos, who was in Cuba this week to participate in the negotiations, has said Castro pledged that the dissidents would be allowed to return to Cuba with special permits, and would not lose their property in Cuba, as is normally the case for those who emigrate.

He told reporters on Monday that Spain would provide "logistical support" to the former political prisoners and their families through the Red Cross and the Spanish Commission for Assistance to Refugees.

The Cuban government is keen to avoid the political embarrassment of a dissident's death, as it desperately seeks closer international ties to improve its grim economic situation.

Farinas launched his protest at the end of February, a day after another dissident, Orlando Zapata, died following an 85-day hunger strike.

His death sparked an international outcry and a rare reference to dissent in official Cuban media, which denied claims by Zapata's mother that her son was denied proper medical care and was effectively "killed."

© 2010 AFP

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