Spain to host 37 more ex-Cuban political prisoners

AP News
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Posted: Apr 07, 2011 11:32 AM
Spain to host 37 more ex-Cuban political prisoners

Thirty-seven former Cuban political prisoners and some 200 of their relatives are being brought to Madrid, the largest group yet to arrive since the two countries agreed to such transfers.

A plane from Havana chartered by Spain will arrive Friday in the Spanish capital with political prisoners who were freed this week, a Foreign Ministry official said Thursday.

Cuba has been gradually freeing a group of 75 dissidents rounded up in 2003 under an agreement reached between Cuban President Raul Castro and Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega. So far Spain has accepted 40 of those dissidents.

But Friday's group is separate from the 75, except for one man, whom the Spanish official named as Orlando Fundora. More than a dozen other former Cuban prisoners arrived practically in secret in Spain last month, as the government did not announce it.

Cuba considers all the dissidents to be common criminals financed by the United States to destabilize its government.

Officials in Havana have complained that their government has received little credit in Washington and European capitals for the releases, which come as Raul Castro has overhauled the economy and legalized some private enterprise.

Alejandro Gonzalez Raga, a former prisoner who came to Spain in 2008, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the Cuban government is using the process to get rid of opposition members it finds "annoying" as well as common criminals.

"Cuba is obliged to free political prisoners and let them go home," said former Cuban prisoner Regis Iglesias, one of the Group of 75. "But the Spanish government has to be careful who it lets into the country."

Many Cubans do not qualify as political prisoners because they were sentenced for violent _ though politically motivated _ crimes such as hijacking and assault. Cuba's communist government has freed dozens of such inmates _ more than 60 in all _ even though that wasn't part of its deal with the church.

Of the 40 already in Spain, five have since emigrated to the United States and another 30 hope to do so, Iglesias said.

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Daniel Woolls contributed to this report from Madrid.