Six more Cuban dissidents to be released: Catholic Church

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Six more Cuban dissidents are ready to be released and sent to Spain, adding to a group of 20 who were released in July, the office of Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega said Friday.

The six were set to be released following church mediation, Ortega's office said in a brief statement.

In a Spain-brokered deal struck between the Catholic Church and Havana, Cuba agreed to free 52 of 75 detainees who had been sentenced in 2003 to prison terms of up to 28 years.

The agreement followed unprecedented talks between Ortega, who is also archbishop of Havana, and President Raul Castro on May 19.

The men being released are:

-- Marcelo Cano, 45, a medical doctor and father-of-three, who dissidents say has chronic arthritis

-- Regis Iglesias, a 40 year-old poet sentenced to 18 years in prison

-- Journalists Juan Carlos Herrera, 44; Fabio Prieto, 47; and Juan Fernandez, 61; and

-- Efren Fernandez, 57, who briefly went on a hunger strike.

The process of releasing the dissidents began in July and will last between three and four months, the Church said.

Elizardo Sanchez, a dissident, complained that authorities "needed three or four days to lock them up, but now needs three or four months to release them."

Sanchez told AFP that he believes the slow pace is on purpose to add "psychological pressure" to the activists that refuse to leave the country and go into exile, "because none of those have been released."

Church officials have stressed that emigrating from Cuba was an offer, not a condition for the release of the prisoners. Other countries willing to take the dissidents include Chile, France, Germany, Italy and Poland.

Relatives of some of the 52 prisoners have said they could refuse emigration or ask to be sent to the United States instead of Spain.

Cuban dissidents say that another 115 political prisoners will remain behind bars in Cuba even after the release of the 52.

If Havana lets all 52 dissidents go it would 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.

Spain is the former colonial power in the island -- home to the only one-party Communist regime in the Americas -- and its largest foreign investor.

© 2010 AFP

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