HAVANA – Several former political prisoners and the family of a dissident who died behind bars earlier this year are being given the opportunity to leave Cuba, members of the internal opposition said Thursday.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Havana conveyed the government’s offer to Reina Luisa Tamayo, mother of the late Orlando Zapata, a spokesperson for the Ladies in White group of political prisoners’ relatives told Efe.
Zapata died Feb. 23 at an Havana hospital after an 85-day hunger strike he launched to pressure authorities into acknowledging him as a prisoner of conscience.
Reina Tamayo told the archdiocese that while she wouldn’t leave Cuba without Orlando’s remains, she has no objection if her other children emigrate, according to Berta Soler of the Ladies in White, which comprises kin of the “Group of 75” dissidents jailed in March 2003.
One of roughly a dozen Group of 75 prisoners who have been paroled on medical grounds, economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, and his wife have also been offered the chance to abandon the communist-ruled island.
The offer was made to them directly by a government official, the couple said in a statement.
“I responded that I didn’t want to definitively leave my homeland, rather I wanted to be able to make temporary exits, that is: to be able to go abroad and have the guarantee of being able to return to Cuba,” Espinosa said. “My wife, Miriam Leiva, made the same decision.”
The offer was likewise extended to several other Group of 75 parolees, including Margarito Broche, Jorge Olivera, Carmelo Diaz and Roberto de Miranda, human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez told Efe.
The offers come as Havana is in the process of freeing political prisoners who agree to leave the island immediately for what the dissidents hope will be temporary exile in Spain.
That initiative is the fruit of talks between the Catholic hierarchy and President Raul Castro, who said in July that all of the Group of 75 still behind bars – then numbering 52 – would be freed by the end of this month.
Thirty-nine dissidents have gone to Spain so far and the archdiocese recently announced that three political prisoners who are not part of the Group of 75 are to be released soon and leave for the Iberian nation.
More political prisoners are being considered for release, Cuba’s Catholic primate, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, said this week.
The Ladies in White submitted to the church a list of 113 prisoners to be freed, including 12 Group of 75 dissidents who have declined to accept exile in Spain.
The group demands that the Cuban government free those dozen prisoners without conditions. EFE