Last Cuban Exiles Arrive in Spain

Former Prisoner Affirms Victory of the People

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By Nieves San Martin

MADRID, APRIL 12, 2011 ( On Friday, an Air Berlin charter flight landed in Madrid with 37 former Cuban prisoners and 246 of their relatives.

Among those who arrived were exiles whose release from prison was announced beforehand by the archbishopric of Havana, Cuba.

“This is the novelty,” ZENIT was told by former Cuban prisoner Alfredo Felipe Fuentes, that “Castro released prisoners in the face of internal pressure, not external pressure as on many other occasions.”

“Hence, it has been a great political victory of the Cuban people in the face of the dictatorship,” he said.

The plane’s arrival took Spanish media by surprise, as was its departure from Havana amid great secrecy. Not even the Cubans in Spain knew about its arrival.

ZENIT gave the news to Fuentes, an economist who lives in Malaga with his wife Loyda, also an economist. He expressed appreciation for the news, with which the commitment of the Cuban and Spanish governments comes to a close, and also that of the Catholic Church that had been announcing the successive releases to the beneficiaries.

Civic courage

Fuentes told ZENIT, “These releases do not come from the good will of the Cuban regime, but from the uncompromising civic courage of Cuba’s Ladies in White, who, together with the martyrdom of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the heroism of Guillermo Fariñas, and aided by the Cuban Catholic Church and international solidarity, obliged Castro, for the first time in 52 years, to give in faced to the pressure generated within the island.”

Fuentes, who described himself as a “former prisoner of conscience,” exclaimed, “Long live the Ladies in White of Cuba, Zapata and Fariñas!”

He expressed his “gratitude to the Catholic Church, to the Cuban exiles for supporting us and to the Spanish people for receiving us.”

At the end of the process, a total of 115 former prisoners have arrived in Spain, accompanied by 647 relatives.

This figure includes the 52 prisoners of the “Group of 75,” detained in March of 2003. Of these, 40 are in Spain, while the remaining 12 stayed in Cuba according to their preferences.

The former prisoners and their relatives who arrived in Madrid on Friday were taken directly to the authorities’ pavilion in the terminal, and not to the usual passengers’ exist where the journalists were awaiting them. From there they were taken directly to buses. They could only greet people with their hands and give gestures of victory.

Only two are staying in Madrid, for medical reasons. One of these is Orlando Fundora, of the Group of 75. With his health visibly deteriorated, he disembarked with his wife from the Red Cross bus that transported them, almost hiding his smile behind a poster of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, patroness of Cuba. Fundora, sentenced to 18 years in prison, was released in 2009 because of heart problems.

The rest of the exiles were taken directly by bus, without going through the capital, to various destinations: Seville, Puente Genil, Torrelavega, Valencia, Alzira, Cullera, Malaga, Baracaldo, Siguenza, Barcelona and Valladolid.

Prisoners of conscience

Among these exiles was Néstor Rodríguez Lobaina, president and cofounder of the Cuban Youth Movement, detained in December 2010, who was adopted by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience.

The release in Cuba of the last two members of the Group of 75 was announced on March 22 by the archbishopric of Havana.

In addition to the former prisoners included in the Group of 75, the Black Spring cohort, other prisoners on lists of Amnesty International, the Ladies in White and other organizations of human rights or of journalists were released.

It is difficult to distinguish between these former prisoners who are true “prisoners of conscience” — convicted for having expressed opinions contrary to Castro’s regime, and those who went to prison for other reasons but in prison underwent a process of awareness that led them to be sponsored by several organizations.

Some of the former prisoners decided to go to the United States, Chile, the Czech Republic and Canada.

The end of the release process happened a few days before the celebration of the 6th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party.

The majority of the former prisoners accepted the status of assisted international protection, a measure that implies the granting of work and residence permissions and opens the door to obtain Spanish nationality in two years time.

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