Cuba to free 2 dissidents who refused Spain exile

The two were serving 20 year prison sentences after being arrested in 2003.

Updated: Feb 05, 2011, 12:45 PM IST

Havana: Cuba will soon release two political prisoners who have rejected exile in Spain, the Catholic Church said on Friday, in a break in an impasse over the fate of dissidents that President Raul Castro promised to release months ago.

The statement by the office of the archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, said Angel Moya, 46, wanted to stay in Cuba while Guido Sigler, 57, would emigrate to the United States.

Both were serving 20 year prison sentences after being arrested in a 2003 crackdown that swept 75 dissidents into Cuban prisons.

Moya, a construction worker, is the husband of Berta Soler, one of the leaders of the Ladies in White group of female relatives of dissidents.

Sigler is an economist whose brother Ariel, a paraplegic, was freed and allowed to travel to the United States in June. He has another dissident brother, Miguel, who was released for health issues in 2005 and is also living in the United States.

"My husband wants to continue the struggle for democracy and freedom in his homeland," Soler said. "I am happy, I want my man in my home but I want the others also in their homes," she said.

Castro promised in July to release 52 political prisoners by November 07 in a deal brokered by the Catholic Church, but 11 prisoners have remained in jail after rejecting offers of exile in Spain.

These releases "give continuity to the process of liberation" of the detainees, the statement from Ortega`s office said.

Two other dissidents in the group, Diosdado Gonzalez and Pedro Arguelles, began a hunger strike on Tuesday in solidarity with Gonzalez`s wife Alejandrina Garcia, who stopped eating solid food on January 28, demanding her husband`s freedom.

The 11 jailed dissidents are considered prisoners of conscience by the rights group Amnesty International.

Up to now, the only other political dissident released in Cuba was Arnaldo Ramos, 68, who was set free in mid-November and allowed to stay in the country on parole because of his advanced age.

"We`ve been waiting for Guido`s release for a long time," said Juan Francisco Sigler, one of Sigler`s brothers, who lives outside of Havana in the province of Matanzas.

"We respect the decision that he took" to travel to the United States, he said in a telephone call.

"We are currently in limbo. We know nothing -- whether he is in prison, or on the road to the airport, or somewhere in Havana," he said.

Dissident sources say around 100 political prisoners remain jailed in Cuba. The island`s communist government rejects the claim, arguing that the dissidents are "mercenaries" in Washington`s pay.

The Catholic Church on Wednesday said Cuba would release four other prisoners charged with piracy and send them to Spain. They were not among the 52 prisoners covered by the July agreement.

According to Elizardo Sanchez, who heads an illegal but tolerated human rights group, those men are accused of using violence in an attempt to hijack vessels in failed attempts to flee Cuba, as well as other acts of violence.

The Castro regime "is using Spain`s open door to get rid of prisoners that are bothersome" while keeping the dissidents in prison in an attempt to pressure them to leave the country, he said.

Bureau Report