Cuban political prisoners in Spain threaten hunger strike over treatment
Former Cuban political prisoners say Madrid has not kept promises it has
By Juan O. Tamayo
Three former Cuban political prisoners and 15 relatives living in
northern Spain are threatening a hunger strike unless authorities
resolve the "chaotic" conditions of their exile, complaining that they
fall short of the welcome promised by the Spanish government.
"They are treating us like simple immigrants," said Erick Caballero, one
of the more than 100 political prisoners freed by Cuba over the past
year after they agreed to go directly from jail to the Havana airport
and flights to Madrid.
Spain's Socialist government promised a broad range of benefits to the
former prisoners and nearly 900 of their relatives, but many have
complained that they were all but abandoned once they landed in Madrid.
The latest complaints came from Caballero, who arrived April 8 and along
with two other former political prisoners, 15 other adults and six
children were sent to a Spanish Red Cross migrant reception center in
Torrelavega, in the northern province of Cantabria.
Caballero said he and the 17 other adults will launch a hunger strike if
authorities cannot resolve their complaints. "Their care for us has been
chaotic," he told El Nuevo Herald by telephone.
He said medical care has been difficult — a woman who was treated for
cancer in Cuba and now has pains could not get a doctor's appointment
until next year — and some of the new arrivals have not been able to
attend job seminars because there's no money for transportation.
The promised pocket money of 49 Euros a month, about $70, was not
delivered until last week, Caballero added. The 177 Euros promised for
clothing has been delivered to only some of the newly arrived Cubans.
The food at the refugee center, a converted maternity hospital, has been
awful and its activities are highly regimented, he said.
"I came out of a high security prison, and here they have a schedule for
everything — bathe, eat, go out, watch television," said Caballero.
El Nuevo's efforts to speak with the director of the refugee center were
unsuccessful, but Spanish government officials have previously
acknowledged delays and other problems with the benefits for the Cuban
arrivals and blamed them on the country's economic crisis. The
unemployment rate stands at well over 20 percent.
Caballero was arrested in 2005 and sentenced to 6 ½ years in prison on
charges of "enemy propaganda" and damaging state property. He left Cuba
on the chartered airplane that flew the last of the freed political
prisoners and their relatives — about 200 people in all — to Spain.
The release was part of an agreement by the Raúl Castro government,
announced by the Cuban Catholic Church last summer, to free a large
number of political prisoners. The Spanish government agreed to take in
any prisoners and relatives who wanted to leave the island.
Caballero said Spanish authorities in Cuba gave each of the former
prisoners and relatives a long document titled Process for Receiving and
Socially Integrating Persons Seeking International Protection, which
laid out the government's promises and the exiles' duties.
Each family was then assigned to one of three non-government
organizations that provide benefits to refugees — the Spanish Red Cross,
the Spanish Catholic Association Commission for Migration and the
Spanish Commission for Help to Refugees.
But the head of the Red Cross migrant center in Torrelavega did not know
about the government promises, Caballero said, until he showed her the
document. Her center does not have the resources to meet the promises,
Complaints from previous Cuban arrivals had grown so harsh that when
Caballero's jetliner landed in Madrid, his group was kept away from
waiting reporters and put on buses that took them to refugee reception
centers, most of them far from the Spanish capital.
Former political prisoner Nestor Rodríguez Lobaina said he wound up in a
Red Cross shelter on the outskirts of Malaga where his toothpaste and
deodorant ran out last week and there's been no money for a haircut
since he arrived.
Rodriguez said he thanked the Spanish government for taking him and his
family out of Cuba and did not want to appear ungrateful, but added that
since arriving he has faced "bureaucratic hell."
"If the Spanish government did not have the conditions, because it faces
an economic crisis, I don't understand why it made a deal with the Cuban
dictatorship to send 1,000 persons to a place where there are no jobs,"