Two more Cuban dissidents arrive in Spain: ministry
Two more freed Cuban dissidents arrived in Spain on Wednesday, a day after the first batch from a total of 52 political prisoners who are being released by Havana, the foreign ministry said.
Journalists Normando Hernandez, 40, and Omar Rodriguez, 44, arrived at Madrid's Barajas airport on an Iberia flight along with 13 family members, a ministry spokesman said.
Seven others arrived in Spain on Tuesday, following Cuba's surprise deal with the Roman Catholic Church on July 7 to gradually free 52 detainees after dissident hunger striker Guillermo Farinas nearly starved to death.
It is the largest release of political prisoners since 1998 when 300 dissidents were spared jail time by a presidential pardon 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 as it seeks closer international ties to improve its grim economic situation.
The seven dissidents who arrived in Madrid on Tuesday said their release heralded a new era for the communist island nation.
"This signifies the start of a new stage for the future of Cuba and all Cubans," they said in a joint statement read out by one of the seven dissidents, 65-year-old journalist Julio Cesar Galvez.
But experts point out that the mass release in 1998 was not followed by any large-scale lifting of oppressive measures since then, as hoped at the time.
Twenty of the 52 dissidents being freed by Cuba this time around have agreed to emigrate to Spain.
Spain, the former colonial power in Cuba and the largest foreign investor in the country, helped broker the deal between the Cuban government and the Church.
It has said it is willing to receive all of the prisoners after their release.
© 2010 AFP