Spain reveals Cuba's plan to free all political prisoners

The Spanish Foreign Minister yesterday told his country's parliament that Cuba would soon release "all" political prisoners and suggested that the EU and US could respond by softening longstanding sanctions against the communist island nation.

Miguel Angel Moratinos's speech marked a step beyond the previous promise that 52 more dissidents would be freed in the next four months following negotiations with the Catholic Church hierarchy in Cuba. Some 11 have already been released.

Mr Moratinos, who helped broker that historic release while pushing to soften EU policy toward Cuba, cited a statement by Ricardo Alarcon, head of the Cuban parliament.

"All of the political prisoners in Cuba will be liberated," he said during a routine parliamentary session. "Even those who don't want to leave Cuba will be able to remain on the island."

The prospect of former political prisoners remaining free in Cuba contradicts the belief among Cubans abroad that the Church-brokered release to Spain amounted to "forced exile", a cynical ploy to earn foreign applause while keeping the regime's perceived troublemakers at bay.

But the Spanish Foreign Minister continued in his optimistic riff, adding that the releases, which began with the first group of 11 prisoners last week, will be followed by "political consequences". "It's not just a humanitarian gesture," he said. "It's a new stage."

Mr Moratinos, a former EU envoy to the Middle East, then predicted that the US would soon lift its historic embargo on trade, financial and diplomatic relations, first enacted in 1960, during the Cold War, after the then-spry commandante, Fidel Castro, nationalised American properties on the island.

He also said that the European Union would scrap its so-called Common Position on Cuba, which makes progress toward democracy and human rights a precondition for normal diplomatic and economic relations with the island.

The policy was spearheaded by Spain's conservative former Prime Minister, José Maria Aznar, after Mr Castro incarcerated 75 journalists in what came to be known as the "Black Spring" of 2003. Since taking office in 2004, Spain's Socialist Prime Minister, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, has lobbied to relax that position somewhat, and trade ties improved as the regime released small quotas of political prisoners between 2005 and 2008. Germany, France, Sweden and the Czech Republic are hesitant to drop the policy.

Ten of the 11 dissidents who landed in Madrid last week held a press conference earlier this week to express their fears that the hardline EU policy would be undeservedly lifted. "Our departure for Spain should not be considered a goodwill gesture but a desperate action by a regime in an urgent search for credit," said former political prisoner Ricardo Gonzalez, a correspondent for Reporters without Borders, reading from a statement.

"Conscious of the expressed will of some countries to modify the EU policy, we state our disagreement with such [a] measure, because the Cuban government has not shown a clear decision to advance toward democracy in our country."

But Guillermo Fariñas, the political prisoner whose 135-day hunger strike helped put pressure on the Cuban regime, shares some of Mr Moratinos's optimism.

"This is the moment to look forward," he said in a telephone interview with the Spanish newspaper El País after the first group of prisoners landed in Madrid last Tuesday. "We can't remain where we are, neither the government, nor the opposition, nor the international community: a window has opened and we have to take advantage [of it]."

He suggested relaxing EU policy "on a temporary basis, for one year" to see if the government takes further steps.

A twelfth Cuban dissident, 58-year-old Arturo Perez de Alejo, president of a human rights agency who was sentenced to 20 years in prison, arrived in Spain last Wednesday. Eight more political prisoners are expected to land at Madrid airport later this week.

The dissidents are being housed temporarily in a dreary, €25-per-night (£21) hostel on the outskirts of the city while the Red Cross and state agencies search for housing. They store their clothes in metal lockers. They and their families share one bathroom.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Foundation Phase Teacher required

£90 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Exciting opputunities availabl...

Learning Support Assistant

£65 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Due to the continual growth and...

Learning Support Assistant - Newport

£65 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Due to the continual growth and...

Operations Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I am currently recruiting for an Operati...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz