Cuban Prisoners of Conscience Released; Others Expected to Be Freed Shortly
July 15, 2010
On Tuesday, July 13, 2010, Cuban surgeon and dissident José Luis García Paneque was released from prison and flown to Spain, together with six other Cuban prisoners of conscience and their families. He had been in prison since his arrest in March 2003 and had served more than 7 years of a 24-year prison sentence. Following private discussions between Cuban President Raúl Castro and leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Cuba Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino and Archbishop Dionisio García Ibáñez, President Castro agreed to release 52 political prisoners who have been in jail since 2003, when 75 dissidents were arrested in a widespread crackdown and sentenced to imprisonment of between 6 and 28 years. Dr. García was on the first plane to Spain. The remaining 45 prisoners reportedly will be released over the next few months. The Spanish government, that helped negotiate the releases, has said that it is willing to receive all of the prisoners and their families following their release. Press accounts say that the United States and Chilean governments have also offered to take the prisoners. The Catholic Church has stated that the prisoners will not be forced to go to Spain. According to dissident leaders in Cuba, some of the prisoners reportedly want to live in Spain permanently, and some wish to travel to Spain for medical care and then return to Cuba. Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, who helped negotiate the deal between the Cuban government and the Catholic Church, said President Castro has pledged that those dissidents who go to Spain will be allowed to return to Cuba with special permits and will not lose their property, as is usually the case for Cubans who emigrate.
The CHR, which undertook Dr. García’s case following his arrest in 2003, and member academies of the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies have taken a variety of actions to gain his release from prison. More than 50 letters of appeal were sent to the Cuban authorities in Dr. García’s behalf by CHR correspondents and national academies that are members of the H.R. Network. Over the years the CHR has been in regular touch with Dr. García’s wife, Yamilé Llanes Labrada, to give her moral support and to enable it to obtain up-to-date information on his situation. The CHR was particularly concerned about Dr. García’s state of health, which deteriorated significantly during his confinement. Suffering from anxiety, depression, and deficient intestinal absorption syndrome, he lost more than 40% of his body weight and appeared, in press photos, extremely thin but happy upon landing in Spain. The CHR expects that most if not all of its remaining six cases in Cuba will be released in the coming months as part of Cuba’s deal with the Catholic Church. All are prisoners of conscience imprisoned during the 2003 government crackdown on dissent. The CHR will update this article as others are released.
On July 15, 2010, Cuban medical doctor Luis Milán Fernández
arrived in Spain with members of his family. At the time of his release, Dr. Milán was serving his 13-year sentence in a "work camp" in Santiago de Cuba that is part of the island's prison system. With regard to his health, Dr. Milán reportedly suffers from pancreatitis and a tumor in the left humerous which causes numbness in his arm.
On July 22, 2010, Cuban medical doctor Ricardo Silva Gual arrived in Spain, accompanied by his wife and son. Shortly after his release from prison, Dr. Silva is quoted as saying, "I have to think about redirecting my life here and try to bring up my son, something I have not been able to do for all these years." Dr. Silva served more than 7 years of a 10-year sentence.
On August 17, 2010, Cuban medical doctor Marcelo Cano Rodríguez arrived in Spain, accompanied by his son and an aunt. His wife, brother, and two daughters traveled from Havana the next day to join him in Spain. When asked whether he intended to stay in Spain or seek resettlement in a third country, Dr. Cano reportedly confided that his wife, an economist by profession, has been diagnosed with cancer and stated, "We are analyzing the situation, right now it is premature to say anything, but yes I am sure that I will continue my struggle for democracy in Cuba and as long as my country is not free, we will not be happy regardless of where we live." Dr. Cano served more than 7 years of an 18-year prison term.