In Spain, Cuban dissidents are hopeful but sceptical

Dissidents exiled in Spain hope that Cuba is finally on the path to reform but remain sceptical that changes will come soon. (Report: A. Percept, C. Perrouault, T. Elven)


Four Cuban dissidents freed by the communist regime at the weekend said Tuesday that Fidel Castro's decision to step down would change little on the island.

"We are not sure what will change under Raul," said former union leader Pedro Pablo Alvarez Ramos, referring to Castro's brother who is tipped to succeed him as president.

"There will be no change as long as the Cuban people do not have the right to decide their future," he told a joint news conference with his three fellow dissidents.

All four were among 75 arrested in a crackdown on the opposition by Castro in 2003. They arrived in Spain on Sunday with their families.

Their release follows talks on human rights between Spain and Cuba in Madrid last week -- part of the Socialist government's policy of constructive engagement with Havana.

The four met Tuesday with Spain's minister responsible for Latin America, Trinidad Jimenez, just hours after the ailing 81-year-old Castro announced he is stepping down.

Castro's decision means "there is a nominal transfer of power", but he will remain "in the background" as an "advisor of the revolution," said independent journalist Jose Gabriel Ramon Castillo, another of the four.

"No one is going to remove him from power because in Cuba there is no one who questions him," he said.

Castillo said the opposition in Cuba has been "reborn" with new movements such as the Women in White, the Cuban Youths for Democracy Movement and others.

He hailed the Spanish government's efforts to dialogue with Cuba as "a diplomatic achievement, as no other government has had as much success with the Cuban government."

Omar Pernet Hernandez, who was injured during his imprisonment, described their situation as "an exile not a liberation."

Cuba also agreed last week to free three other dissidents, who were to travel to the United States. Cuban sources in Spain identified them as Alfredo Pulido and journalists Normando Hernandez and Jorge Luis Garcia Paneque.

In a message published by the online version of the Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma Tuesday, Castro said he would not retain the presidency when the national assembly meets later this week, citing poor health.

He did not say who he thought should be his successor. Any member of his inner circle is arguably a contender, although many Cuba-watchers believe Raul Castro, who has been serving as interim president, is the leading choice.

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