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Cuba Moves Political Inmates Near Homes

Wednesday, 02 June 2010 08:03 AM

HAVANA, Cuba — Cuba's communist government started relocating political prisoners Tuesday closer to their families after church-government talks aimed at ending politically embarrassing hunger strikes, dissident and family sources said.

The action came after church-government talks launched May 19 aimed at ending hunger strikes in support of the political prisoners, which have become a major political embarrassment for President Raul Castro.

So far, the Cuban government moved six political prisoners to jails closer to their families on Tuesday, the Archbishop of Havana's office announced.

The prisoners who have been relocated are Felix Navarro (sentenced to 25 years), Antonio Diaz (20 years), Diosdado Gonzalez (20 years), Ivan Hernandez (25 years), Jose Luis Garcia Paneque (24 years) and Arnaldo Ramos (18 years), the office said.

They all are among the 53 dissidents still jailed after a major 2003 roundup that sent 75 Cubans to jail for opposing the Americas' only one-party communist regime.

Ortega said he had been informed by Cuban authorities of those six relocations. But he did not mention the case of another dissident Adolfo Fernandez whose family believes he also has been moved.

The government agreed with church mediators to move the sickest among the prisoners -- as many as 25 according to dissident sources -- to hospitals for treatment. But there was no relocation of that kind immediately known.

Garcia Paneque is a doctor, 45; Hernandez, a journalist, 39; Ramos, an economist, 68; Navarro, a teacher who is 56; Gonzalez, a farmer, 45; and Diaz, an electrician, 47.

The Ladies in White, an activist group of relatives of political prisoners, welcomed the news it has been waiting years to hear.

"It is a door that is opening, it is the beginning of something that we are waiting for, which is freedom for everyone," Berta Soler, one of the group's leaders, told AFP.

Last week a dissident on a three-month hunger strike had said the government would take the steps; Guillermo Farinas went on his latest strike demanding that 26 sick political prisoners be freed before he would end the protest, a source of shame for Castro's government in the only one-party communist regime in the Americas.

Church officials negotiated with the government on behalf of Farinas.

An opposition journalist, Farinas began his 23rd hunger strike since 1995 -- denying both food and water -- the day after leading Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata died on February 23 following an 85-day hunger strike.

Farinas is currently in Santa Clara hospital in central Cuba, where he has been treated with an intravenous drip since March 11.

Farinas' case no doubt alarmed the government after Zapata's drew widespread international condemnation.

Dissident groups say there are more than 200 political prisoners held in Cuban jails. Amnesty International considers 65 of them as prisoners of conscience.

Cuba denies it holds any political prisoners and calls dissidents "mercenaries" funded by the United States and a conservative Cuban-American "mafia."

The Catholic Church has been pressing Castro's regime on the issue of political prisoners without, however, resorting to confrontation.

It recently persuaded authorities to drop a ban on a group of wives and female relatives of jailed dissidents known as the Ladies in White holding a public march in the capital calling for their loved ones to be freed.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

© Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Wednesday, 02 June 2010 08:03 AM
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