Cuba releases political prisoner who chose jail over exile
The Cuban government freed Arnaldo Ramos late Saturday, one of 13 political prisoners who refused to accept exile in exchange for their freedom. The decision follows the July 7 talks on the issue with the Archbishop of Havana.
AFP - The Cuban government late Saturday freed Arnaldo Ramos, one of 13 imprisoned dissidents who had refused to leave the country and go into exile, his family announced.
"He was freed, and I feel very happy," Lidia Lima, the wife of the dissident told AFP. "They brought him home just a few minutes ago."
Her husband was now resting in a house in central Havana, she added.
Ramos, 68, was part of a group of 52 political prisoners President Raul Castro's government agreed to release following talks on July 7 with Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the Archbishop of Havana.
Of the dissidents Castro agreed to release, 39 were let go after agreeing to emigrate to Spain with their families, but the remaining 13 refused to be exiled.
The agreed-upon deadline for their release expired a week ago.
An economist, Ramos was sentenced to 18 years in jail for dissident activities. He was the oldest member of a group of 75 opponents of the Cuban government arrested in 2003.
But he said upon release that seven years in jail have not broken his will to fight for human rights.
"I was told that my release was unconditional, and I would not accept any other" Ramos said. "I owe nothing to anybody. I will stay in the country and continue my political activity."
He added that years in jail had not changed his opinions, and he continued to dislike Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Lima said she had received a call from Cardinal Ortega at noon Saturday and was informed that her husband would be released.
"We have decided to stay in the country and not to emigrate," explained the 70-year-old woman, a retired doctor. "At our advanced age, it is difficult to start a new life in a different country."
Dissident sources say there are around 100 political prisoners still jailed in Cuba, in addition to the remaining 12 on the list agreed with the cardinal.
On Thursday, The Ladies in White, the wives of political dissidents, asked Pope Benedict XVI to press Havana for the release of the remaining prisoners the Cuban government had promised the Catholic Church it would release.
The human rights group met with the pope's representative in Cuba and told him "we feel cheated," said group leader Laura Pollan.
Pollan said her group had asked the pope's envoy, Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu, to ask Benedict "to intercede for the 13 that are still in prison."
The Ladies in White, winner of the European parliament's prestigious Sakharov human rights prize in 2005, also met with Belgium diplomats -- Belgium currently occupies the rotating European Union presidency.
The Belgian ambassador said the prisoners would be released, Pollan said.
And on Wednesday, Ladies in White members met with Spanish diplomats.
"I am happy," Bertha Soler, one of the leaders of the group, told AFP after learning of Ramos's release.
"Arnaldo is not my husband, but he is like a member of the family. We will continue fighting for the release of all of them. This is a new stage."
National Assembly speaker Ricardo Alarcon said in Geneva on July 20 that the Americas' only one-party Communist government wanted to free all of those on international dissident lists who had not been imprisoned for violent crimes.
One of the jailed dissidents, Diosdado Gonzalez, declared a hunger strike on Monday to protest the government's non-compliance with the accord.
But he halted it after 48 hours when a security official assured him that the remaining political prisoners would be freed in 15 days or a month.