Thursday, June 23, 2011

Catholic Church details release of Cuban prisoners

Posted on Thursday, 06.23.11
Cuba church

Catholic Church details release of Cuban prisoners

A Catholic Church report says it was the Ladies in White that wanted
political prisoners to be free to leave the island.
By Juan O. Tamayo

Trying to put to rest complaints that Cuba's Catholic Church helped
force 115 political prisoners into exile in Spain, a church spokesman
Wednesday published a detailed account of the release process.

Spokesman Orlando Marquez wrote that the Ladies in White, female
relatives of the political prisoners, had asked that their men be
allowed to leave the country, and the government agreed.

"It is wrong to say they were forced into exile or to travel as a
condition for leaving prison. Even more wrong is to say the Cuban
government and church joined forces to exile these people," he added.

Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who also serves as archbishop of Havana, has been
accused recently of helping the Raúl Castro government to force the 115
political prisoners freed over the past year to go into exile in Spain.

Marquez wrote the allegations are based on errors or "intentional lies"
and that now is an "opportune time" to lay out the details of the
contacts between Ortega, Castro and the Ladies in White that led to the
prisoner releases.

The communications director for the Havana archbishopric posted his note
Wednesday in the online version of the church magazine he directs,
Palabra Nueva — New Word.

When pro-government mobs harassed the Ladies in White with increasing
virulence in the spring of 2010, Ortega grew convinced that "the church
… needs to act to stop the hounding," according to Marquez.

Ortega contacted government officials and was told to ask the women what
they wanted, he added. On May 1, the cardinal met with five leading
Ladies in White and was told they had three concerns for the 52
dissidents still in jail at the time from the group of 75 rounded up in

They wanted the men moved to prisons close to their homes, Marquez said.
They wanted the quick release of those who were sick. And they wanted
"that their dear ones could leave Cuba, even if unaccompanied, because
that was preferable to keeping them in prison."

Ladies in White spokesperson Berta Soler told El Nuevo Herald Wednesday
that Marquez "is telling the truth" and that the decision of the 115 to
leave for Spain was "understandable and voluntary."

Marquez said Ortega relayed the three requests to Castro on May 19 and
13 days later the government began moving prisoners closer to their
homes. On June 12 the first sick inmate was freed.

Spain then agreed to receive any prisoners who wanted to leave Cuba, and
on July 7 Ortega announced Castro had agreed to free the 52. Ortega was
put in charge of calling the prisoners to ask if they wanted to leave
the island.

"A few asked if the trip (to Spain) was a condition for leaving prison.
The cardinal told them no, and assured them that they would be freed
later, as indeed occurred," Marquez wrote.

The 115 who agreed to leave went directly from prison to the Havana
airport and a flight to Madrid. The 12 who refused to go into exile were
the last freed.

"It could be said that because of family pressures, or the experience of
eight years jailed under conditions that only they know, anyone would
accept the offer," Marquez added. "But it is more honest — and perfectly
understandable — to say that than to falsely accuse others of conspiring
to achieve the expulsion of these people from the country."

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