Cuba ordered the release of at least 37 political prisoners who will arrive in Madrid on Friday with their families on a Spanish government chartered aircraft, bringing the number of opponents expatriated after last summer’s agreement between the Catholic Church and Raúl Castro’s government to 115.
The group will stay in Madrid temporarily. According to sources in Spain’s Foreign Affairs ministry, they will be relocated to different centers in Spain where they will be received.
Opposition member Guillermo Fariñas labeled the expatriation of these prisoners as “a silent Mariel.” Fariñas has been under house arrest since Wednesday for demanding the release of activists arrested in the central city of Santa Clara during a peaceful protest earlier this week.
“The Cuban government is trying to save face in defeat so that, at the moment of a social explosion, the opposition base would be weakened,” Fariñas told El Nuevo Herald. “This can be a double-edge sword for the Castros, because if they continue encouraging the exit of dissidents with families and friends, many Cubans are going to feel motivated to join the opposition, which they will see as a group with an advantage.”
Unlike in the past, the office of Havana’s Archbishop’s did not reveal the names of all those released. Most of them have no link to the Group of 75 sentenced during the 2003 Black Spring, a repressive wave against independent journalists and human-rights activists.
On Thursday, Ramón Jáuregui, Spain’s minister of the presidency told the Senate that his country has “the greatness and pride of being able to tell the world that it has freed prisoners of conscience from Cuba’s jails.”
Internal dissidents’ sources told El Nuevo Herald that in the group of expatriates is activist Néstor Rodríguez Lobaina, leader of the Cuban Movement of Youths for Democracy, who had been waiting for his release since March 22. Rodríguez has been recognized as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. Also part of the group was Orlando Fundora, member of the Group of 75 who was released two years ago due to health problems.
Former political prisoner Héctor Maseda, recently released with an Extra Penal license, said from Havana that these releases will probably be the last chapter of a pact that Cuba has manipulated to benefit its political interests.
“The Church and the dissident groups, as well as the Ladies in White, have made quite a big effort to help political prisoners,” said Maseda, who refused to be expatriated. “Cuba has used this humanitarian approach to get dozens from the opposition out of the way.”
Several former political prisoners in Spain have criticized how the insertion process for new arrivals has been handled. In fact, one of them, Juan Herrera Costa, has even asked to go back to Cuba. Herrera, 44, arrived in Spain in August with his wife and two nephews. Since then, he has been criticizing the lack of humanitarian assistance.
“They began to take away the aid when we started criticizing the Spanish executive for the economic difficulties we are in and the way our case has been manipulated,” Herrera said.
Other exiles have denounced that Spanish authorities distance themselves from the problem once the public attention diminished.
Normando Hernández, a Cuban independent journalist who was sentenced to 25 years in prison and arrived in Spain recently, said that there was not enough collective support or integral assistance a few months after receiving them.
“That is why I disagree with this exile,” Hernández said. “A most serious and human approach would have been for all of us Cubans to have been given the choice of staying in our home country.”
Efrén Fernández, who also lives in Spain, said that despite the criticism it has been a step forward. “All things considered, this is something positive,” he said.
In Miami the news of the releases was not well received.
Ninoska Pérez Castellón, Radio Mambí radio host and member of the Council for the Freedom of Cuba, said that Spain’s mediation, which has resulted in the exile of the opposition, was unfortunate.
“To seek headlines on false releases for the sake of showing a positive image of the regime is unacceptable. They are boarding prisoners while repressing and carrying out acts of repudiation,” Pérez said.