HAVANA – Several former political prisoners and the family of a
dissident who died behind bars earlier this year are being given the
opportunity to leave Cuba, members of the internal opposition said Thursday.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Havana conveyed the government's offer to
Reina Luisa Tamayo, mother of the late Orlando Zapata, a spokesperson
for the Ladies in White group of political prisoners' relatives told Efe.
Zapata died Feb. 23 at an Havana hospital after an 85-day hunger strike
he launched to pressure authorities into acknowledging him as a prisoner
Reina Tamayo told the archdiocese that while she wouldn't leave Cuba
without Orlando's remains, she has no objection if her other children
emigrate, according to Berta Soler of the Ladies in White, which
comprises kin of the "Group of 75" dissidents jailed in March 2003.
One of roughly a dozen Group of 75 prisoners who have been paroled on
medical grounds, economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, and his wife have also
been offered the chance to abandon the communist-ruled island.
The offer was made to them directly by a government official, the couple
said in a statement.
"I responded that I didn't want to definitively leave my homeland,
rather I wanted to be able to make temporary exits, that is: to be able
to go abroad and have the guarantee of being able to return to Cuba,"
Espinosa said. "My wife, Miriam Leiva, made the same decision."
The offer was likewise extended to several other Group of 75 parolees,
including Margarito Broche, Jorge Olivera, Carmelo Diaz and Roberto de
Miranda, human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez told Efe.
The offers come as Havana is in the process of freeing political
prisoners who agree to leave the island immediately for what the
dissidents hope will be temporary exile in Spain.
That initiative is the fruit of talks between the Catholic hierarchy and
President Raul Castro, who said in July that all of the Group of 75
still behind bars – then numbering 52 – would be freed by the end of
Thirty-nine dissidents have gone to Spain so far and the archdiocese
recently announced that three political prisoners who are not part of
the Group of 75 are to be released soon and leave for the Iberian nation.
More political prisoners are being considered for release, Cuba's
Catholic primate, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, said this week.
The Ladies in White submitted to the church a list of 113 prisoners to
be freed, including 12 Group of 75 dissidents who have declined to
accept exile in Spain.
The group demands that the Cuban government free those dozen prisoners