Church says Cuba freeing 7 political prisoners
By ANNE-MARIE GARCIA
HAVANA -- Cuba's government has agreed to free seven more prisoners, the
Roman Catholic Church announced Saturday. It said six who faced charges
of crimes against state security are bound for Spain, but a political
prisoner said he plans to remain on the island.
The releases continue a slow stream of prisoners who have been freed
recently at the behest of the church, with most of them quickly sent
But the Havana archbishop's office said that the new releases also
include one of the men who has refused exile: Ivan Hernandez, an
independent journalist who was among 75 people arrested in a major
crackdown on dissidents in 2003. The inmates who have vowed to remain in
Cuba have been the last to leave prison.
"This is what we have been waiting for so long!" Asuncion Carrillo,
Hernandez's mother, told The Associated Press from her home in Matanzas,
some 85 miles (140 kilometers) east of the capital.
The archbishop's office said the other six are Roger Cardoso, Yoan Jose
Navalon, Yosnel Batista, Juan Antonio Bermudez, Marco Antonio Zayas and
Bermudez was serving four years for attacks and causing damage, while
Zayas and Conception faced eight years in prison for terrorism,
according to the independent Cuban Commission for Human Rights and
National Reconciliation, which keeps a list of political detainees.
Commission President Elizardo Sanchez said that Cardoso was serving a
20-year sentence, while Navalon and Batista had been sentenced to prison
for piracy - a category that often includes seizure of boats by people
trying to leave the island.
Carrillo said that Cardinal Jaime Ortega called her on Friday to say her
son "would be freed in the coming hours. He did not say when or how, but
I am very happy. Imagine it!"
She said her son later called and told her that Ortega had also informed
him he was about to be released.
"It is great joy, but my also confirmed that he is maintaining his
decision not to leave Cuba, to stay in his country," Carrillo said.
Hernandez, 39, had been serving a 25-year sentence.
The government swept up 75 dissidents in 2003 and sentenced them to
lengthy prison terms for allegedly working with the U.S. government to
undermine Cuba's communist system. They deny the government's
allegations they are foreign agents.
Fifty-two of the group remained behind bars when the church announced
last year that the government had promised to free the rest.
Most were sent to Spain with a few relatives, but a small group has
refused to leave Cuba, and their releases have been delayed.
Last week, however, the government freed Angel Moya and Hector Maseda,
whose wives had crusaded for their release as part of the Ladies in
White group that staged weekly demonstrations in Havana. They said they
would remain in Cuba and, in fact wanted to remain in prison until
other, ailing dissidents were released or they were exonerated.
Officials tossed them out of jail anyway.
Only six of the original 75 remain.
Cuban authorities also have released the mother of a dissident who died
last year after a long hunger strike. Reina Luisa Tamayo said Saturday
that police held her for 12 hours at a station in her hometown of Banes.
She says her husband Jesus Ortiz also was held.
Tamayo's son Orlando Zapata died last Feb. 23 after an 83-day hunger
strike to demand. He was imprisoned for disrespecting authority.
Cuban police often haul in dissidents and their families, usually
allowing them to go free within hours or days.
Tamayo said she and 13 relatives have been given documents to go to the
United States as political refugees. She said they still await Cuban
The Cuban government had no immediate comment. Authorities rarely
acknowledge the dissidents, except to say that they are all common
criminals and stooges paid by Washington to destabilize the island.