Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Departure or exile?

And say'st thou yet that exile is not death?
– Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene 3

Seven of the 52 Cuban political prisoners slated to be released from jail arrived in Spain yesterday with their families, where they issued a statement proclaiming a new phase of their civic struggle.

“We are the beginning of a path that can be the beginning of a change” in Cuba, said the statement, which was read by Ricardo Gonzalez Alfonso. Asked whether they are being manipulated, Gonzalez answered in the negative, noted that all negotiations include concessions, and “each one has taken the path that he has considered to be convenient.” He added: “We are sure that, given the seriousness of the church and Spanish government, all prisoners will be freed.” He credited Zapata, Farinas and the Damas de Blanco for their roles in securing their freedom. He also congratulated Spain’s world champion soccer team.

AP covers their arrival here and provides their bios here. Here’s coverage from BBC, and EFE’s story in Spanish is here.

Cuba’s Catholic Church says that of the 52, 20 have so far “accepted the proposal to leave prison and go to Spain.”

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley called the release a “positive development” and concluded: “All those released from prison should be free to decide for themselves whether to remain in Cuba or travel to another country.” He wasn’t as poetic as old Romeo above, but his point is clear: it is better all around that the prisoners be released, but if it’s forced exile, it’s a different kind of punishment.

And the issue bears examining because on many past occasions, the Cuban government has released prisoners on the condition that they depart Cuba. And Raul Castro has offered to release these prisoners in exchange for the return to Cuba of the Cuban Five – but his idea was that the prisoners and their families would come to the United States.

So the key question is: Are the releases unconditional? Spanish officials and Church authorities say they are. We will know for sure in due course, as we’re beginning to see reports that some of the prisoners are saying they want to remain in Cuba.

Meanwhile, if you are trying to stay on top of this, here are some news items that help.

  • EFE: Spanish foreign minister Miguel Moratinos on July 9: “The Spanish government has accepted the proposal that all those who are released may travel to Spain if that is their wish.”

  • El Pais reports that the Spanish embassy had personnel at the airport Monday night to conduct visa interviews in which they made sure “that this was not a deportation, but rather that their exit from the country is voluntary.”

  • From the same report: “The leader of the Damas de Blanco, Laura Pollan, explained that of the 26 political prisoners reached by Sunday by the Church, 20 said they were disposed to leave Cuba while ‘six had said no, they are staying in their Patria.’ It is not yet known what will happen with them.” AFP reports that about 20 of the 52 say they do not want to leave Cuba. Blogger Claudia Cadelo tweets that Pedro Arguelles, Eduardo Diaz, and Regis Iglesias say they do not want to leave Cuba.

  • In an interview published Saturday in El Pais, Hector Palacios – himself one of the 75 jailed in 2003, who has been released on licencia extrapenal for medical reasons – had this exchange with reporter Mauricio Vicent:

Q. The government has imposed a condition that the prisoners leave the country…

A. I don’t think that is so. Just yesterday a prisoner of the group of 75, Eduardo Díaz Fleitas, called me from jail. Cardinal Jaime Ortega had just called to inform him that he would be released in another group of prisoners, and he told him that he didn’t want to leave the country. The cardinal responded that that seemed fine to him, that it was his decision and it had to be respected and was not going to affect his release at all. Another thing is that the majority of the prisoners do want to leave, and it is their right.

  • Prisoner Pedro Arguelles, interviewed by Yoani Sanchez (English here, Spanish here): “…on Saturday, July 10, I went to the office of the head of the prison and there they put me through on the phone to talk to the Archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega. He informed me that I was on the list of those who would leave for Spain if I would agree to go. I told him that no, I had no interest in leaving my country. He asked me about my wife as well, if she would have any interest. I said no. Well, he told me, he would report back and he said goodbye. That is all I have been told, they haven’t told me anything more, I’m here waiting for events and their development.”

  • I haven’t seen a precise definition of the status and conditions of those who are leaving for Spain. Reports indicate that 1) they are considered emigrants, but not with the salida definitiva status that would require their homes and properties in Cuba to be liquidated; 2) they will need a permit to return to Cuba; 3) their families can return as they please. See reports from La Jornada, AFP, and EFE.


Anonymous said...

why does this post is labeled under britney spears?

Phil Peters said...

because if I type SP it brings that up; there is a label for Ms Spears because some time ago we noted some important news regarding her and Cuba

error corrected