Cuban Political Prisoners Exiled

Samantha Shinn

Last Friday, three more Cuban political prisoners were released and exiled to Spain after over 20 years of being imprisoned. With these prisoners released, the total of released political prisoners in Cuba is now 39, and if the prominent dissidents have their way, it will be a total of 50 by Sunday, November 7.

The Roman Catholic Church and the Spanish government have spent the past several months negotiating the release of these political threats to be exiled to Spain. Since July of this year, the Cuban government has been discharging these prisoners in a piecemeal fashion, usually three to ten at a time.

Castro’s regime declared all of the political prisoners as domestic opposition figures and accused them of being spies paid by the U.S. Therefore, the prisoners were charged with treason and given a long prison term to serve. The three that were released on Friday were accused of hijacking and sabotage. Marco Antonio Soto Morell was serving a 35 year sentence for sabotage and escape and was arrested in 1990. Ridel Ruiz Cabrera was serving over 20 years in prison; he was arrested in 1997 for hijacking and an attempt to leave Cuba illegally. The third prisoner, however, Rolando Damas Dominguez, was arrested for an unknown reason and was not listed as a political prisoner.

Several prominent dissidents in Cuba have threatened the government with activities, such as a hunger strike, if the last of the original 13 prisoners from the 2003 massive crackdown on dissidents were not released, as the Cuban government indicated, by Sunday, November 7. However, Cuban officials consider the dissidents as little more than common criminals, and have said that they are mercenaries paid by Washington to undermine the Cuban revolution.

Despite the promise of freedom if the prisoners agree to exile, many of the prisoners have opposed this rule. They claim that they will not be “deported” from their own homeland. Most of the 13 still in prison might not be released by Sunday because of their refusal to leave Cuba after they are no longer imprisoned. “The Cuban regime is in a political and diplomatic quandary right now,” said Luis Israel Abreu, a former Cuban political prisoner and the executive director of the Committee to Aid Cuban Rights Activists. “It basically promised to release these political prisoners because it hoped to improve its standing in the international community,” said Abreu, “but it does not want them out in the streets again, opposing the regime publicly and organizing dissidents, at the same time. If it keeps them in jail, it will be criticized for continuing to detain people for their political beliefs.”

Raul Castro, brother of Fidel Castro, wants to relax the international pressure that has been on Cuba since February, when well known dissident Orlando Zapata Tamay died due to a hunger strike for improved prison conditions. Castro has claimed to want all of the political prisoners released and exiled to Spain to appease the international community. It is said that he wants to earn more credibility in the eyes of the European Union, even the U.S., so that other countries might help Cuba and its increasingly declining economy.

Hopefully these political dissidents will be released in a timely manner so as to prevent more people from getting hurt during the Cuban revolution.