Relatives briefed on U.S. entry process
Relatives of Cuban political prisoners discussed the process for coming
to the U.S. in a meeting at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
U.S. diplomats in Havana began what they portrayed as routine meetings
Tuesday with relatives of political prisoners, briefing them on the
process for seeking U.S. entry if the prisoners are freed.
Cuba has promised to release 52 of its political prisoners -- the last
still in jail from the 75 dissidents sentenced to lengthy prison terms
during a 2003 crackdown -- following historic talks between Raúl Castro
and the Cuban Catholic Church backed by the Spanish government.
Twenty of the 52 have agreed to fly directly from prison to Spain, and
11 are already in Madrid. Ten others have vowed to remain in Cuba if
freed, and there has been no word on the remaining 22.
Dissident Ariel Sigler Amaya, freed on June 12, received Cuban
permission Tuesday to leave the island and fly to Miami within the next
few days, said his brother, Miguel Sigler, who lives in Miami.
``Yesterday, he was beaten up when he went to ask for his exit permit,''
the brother told El Nuevo Herald. ``Today, surprisingly, he got a call
from the same person he talked to, that his permit was ready.''
Ariel Sigler, who is paraplegic and uses a wheelchair, was granted a
U.S. ``humanitarian parole'' -- while still in prison -- after two
months of processing by the State Department, his brother said.
The individual meetings between U.S. Interests Section officials and
prisoners' relatives replaced initial plans for one session at 1 p.m.
Tuesday because of the many questions likely to be raised about applying
for migrant, refugee or other status, the mission's spokesperson said.
``There's nothing new or earthshaking in this,'' said a spokesperson for
the U.S. Interests Section. ``This is simply an opportunity to provide
information about the mechanisms available if they want to obtain
admission to the United States.''
At least six relatives went to the Interests Section on Tuesday, said
one of them, Berta Soler. Her husband, Angel Moya, is serving a 20-year
sentence and is among the 52 to be released.
Soler said she was told about the different options for applying for
U.S. entry, but was cautioned that they would take time to process.
``It will not be possible for the prisoners to go directly from jail to
the United States,'' she told the AFP news agency in Havana.
Some of the 52 have said they would not go to Spain, but would leave
Cuba if allowed to go to the United States, she added, but ``there are
[U.S.] procedures to be followed, and we have to respect them.''
Some of the other relatives who went to the U.S. mission said they were
told about the possibility of expedited handling of applications, but
the spokesperson said the options discussed were standard.
Referring to news reports Monday that representatives of the church and
the Spanish embassy had been invited to the Tuesday meeting, the
spokesperson said anyone interested in the subject has ``an open
invitation'' to meet with U.S. officials.
Asked if the Interests Section meeting signaled an effort by Washington
to support the Castro-church talks, the spokesperson added, ``I wouldn't
characterize it that way at all.''
``This is a service that we provide all the time,'' she said.
Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcón, meanwhile, appeared
to hint that Castro could free other political prisoners, as long as
they were not involved in acts of violence, the EFE news agency reported.
Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega has said publicly that ``the Cuban
government's desire is to free from prison all those persons who did not
commit crimes with bloodshed,'' Alarcón said during a visit to
Switzerland, according to EFE.