Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Cuba: Freed dissidents arrive in Spain

As we mentioned last night Cuba’s former dictator Fidel Castro appeared in an interview on state TV. While he focused on international affairs such as Western nuclear tensions with Iran and North Korea he remained mum on the planned release of over fifty jailed dissidents.

Earlier today the first group of liberated activists arrived in Madrid from Havana. The seven men- most of who were described by the AP as "independent journalists"- expressed their gratitude with the Cuban Catholic Church and Spanish authorities that helped negotiate their release. “Change begins with freedom, not only ours and our companions, but all Cuban citizens,” Ricardo Gonzalez said while one of his compatriots, Julio Cesar Galvez, added his “that those [prisoners] who remain in Cuba will enjoy the same freedom as we do."

According to Cuban church officials another thirteen jailed activists will be freed in the upcoming days after being imprisoned since 2003. Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation head Elizardo Sánchez reportedly said that three prisoners had requested to stay in Cuba in case they were to be freed.

International political pressure may have led to the deal reached with the Castro regime to free up to 52 prisoners over the next few months. Economic matters may have also had a vital role such as the possibility of easing U.S. agricultural restrictions on Cuba. As was noted on the AS/COA Online:
The releases should also be viewed “against Cuba’s truly grim economic backdrop,” writes John Paul Rathbone in the Financial Times. This year’s sugar harvest ranks as the island’s worst since 1905 and Raúl Castro described mending Cuba’s “complex economic problems” as an urgent priority during a speech at the end of May. By boosting its image through a prisoner release, Havana could make economic gains by winning support to weaken sanctions.
Image- AFP
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, CNN, AP, BBC News, The Guardian, AS/COA Online, Reuters

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