Thursday, August 26, 2010

Church helps son of ex-Cuban leader leave for US

Posted on Wednesday, 08.25.10
Church helps son of ex-Cuban leader leave for US
Associated Press Writer

HAVANA -- The Roman Catholic Church said Wednesday it has intervened
again on behalf of a political dissident, this time helping the ailing
son of one of Cuba's top revolutionary heroes go to the United States
for medical treatment.

Juan Almeida Garcia is the son of Juan Almeida Bosque, who fought
alongside Fidel Castro in the guerrilla uprising that brought down
dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

The father was among Cuba's ruling elite, sitting on the Communist
Party's Politburo and serving as a vice president on the Council of
State, the island's supreme governing body. When he died last September,
at 82, he was given honors befitting his title as a "commander of the

But it has been a different story for the younger Almeida, a dissident
who frequently criticizes the Castro government. In November he was
detained by state security agents for three days after protesting not
being allowed to leave the island for treatment. He was earlier arrested
for attempting to leave Cuba illegally.

Almeida, who worked for state security within the Interior Ministry in
the 1990s, suffers from ankylosing spondylitis, a painful, progressive
form of spinal arthritis.

He has received treatment in Belgium in the past after receiving
permission to leave Cuba. But authorities did not look as kindly on his
efforts to travel to Los Angeles to see a doctor at Cedars-Sinai Medical

His family contacted Cardinal Jaime Ortega who "got involved in the
matter" and personally informed Almeida earlier this week that Cuba's
government had agreed to let him go to the U.S., church official Orlando
Marquez said in a phone interview.

Almeida had already obtained U.S. permission, but when he would leave
for the United States was not immediately clear, Marquez said.

Cubans wishing to leave the island must first obtain permission from the
country they are visiting, then an exit visa. Doctors, scientists and
other key personnel, as well as the relatives of leaders in sensitive
military or political positions, are often denied permission for fear
they will not return.

Ortega's efforts in the case were the latest example of the Catholic
Church stepping in on behalf of Cuban dissidents.

Last week, church officials successfully spoke to the government about
calling off pro-government mobs that had broken up a weekly Sunday march
by Reina Luisa Tamayo, mother of a political prisoner who died in
February after a lengthy hunger strike.

Also, for weeks in April government supporters broke up the traditional
Sunday march in Havana of the Ladies In White, a support group for
political prisoners, until Ortega met with Raul Castro. Authorities
agreed to allow the march to continue as long as it did not deviate from
its traditional route.

On July 7, the church and the government announced a landmark deal
whereby Cuba agreed to free 52 political prisoners rounded up during a
sweeping government crackdown on dissent in 2003. So far, 32 former
prisoners have been released with their relatives into exile in Spain.

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