Ladies in White

Freed Cuban calls for release of political prisoners
Wed Oct 21, 2009 5:59pm EDT
By Jeff Franks

HAVANA (Reuters) – A day after his surprise release from , Cuban
Nelson Aguiar urged the government on Wednesday to free all
political prisoners and said he was at one stage held in "Stone Age"
conditions during his six years behind bars.

Aguiar, 64, told Reuters he was stunned that he was out of jail because
he still had years to go on a 13-year sentence handed out in a 2003
government crackdown on dissidents.

"They never said they were going to free me. When they told me to
collect my things, I thought I was moving to another prison," he said in
an interview at the Havana apartment he now shares again with wife Dolia
Leal Francisco.

He thanked the Spanish government for helping to obtain his ,
which followed a visit to communist-led Cuba by Spanish Foreign Minister
Miguel Angel Moratinos.

Aguiar was one of 75 government opponents and jailed in what
became known as the Black Spring of 2003. In 1999 he founded a tiny
political party known as the Orthodox Party, and continued running it
from jail.

"I've worked only for my ideas," he said.

Dressed in a green T-shirt, khaki pants and running shoes, Aguiar moved
gingerly about his apartment, where the walls are adorned with photos,
drawings and news clips of his imprisonment.

He called on Cuba's government "to recognize its errors and little by
little, if they can't do it all at once, to continue freeing the
prisoners of conscience."

"They should be released quickly because they are innocent," said his
wife, who is one of the founders of the "Ladies in White," a group of
family members of political prisoners that holds a silent protest on
Sundays in Havana.

During his six years behind bars, Aguiar developed a variety of
problems, which he attributed to brutal jail conditions, particularly in
a prison in the southeastern city of Guantanamo.

For a year there, he said he lived in isolation in a small cell that had
no light and no ventilation except for a hole where guards slid in his
. He said he would sleep next to the hole to catch the air for
relief from the "enormous heat."

A hole in the floor was his toilet, and his only water came from a small
tube next to it. The conditions, he said, were like something from the
Stone Age.


The 2003 crackdown on dissidents caused the to impose
diplomatic sanctions on Cuba. Last year, at the urging of and
others, the 27-nation lifted the sanctions and re-established
cooperation with Cuba.

Moratinos met with Cuban Raul Castro for three hours on
Monday, during which time he said were discussed "in
general terms."

When Aguiar was released on Tuesday, a Spanish diplomat said it was an
affirmation of Spain's policy of engaging with communist-ruled Cuba
rather than seeking confrontation. Moratinos was criticized at home for
not meeting with dissidents during his visit to Cuba.

In an August report, the independent Cuban Commission on Human Rights
estimated that Cuba had 208 political prisoners, including now 53 of the
75 jailed in 2003.

Cuba says dissidents are U.S.-aided traitors and that it has no
political prisoners.

Now free, Aguiar seemed uncertain about his immediate future. He said he
would continue his political activities, but at the same time said he
wanted to go to Spain for back surgery.

More urgently, he needed to obtain an income, which may be problematic
in Cuba, given his political baggage.

Prison life was difficult, but freedom is complicated.

"It's not easy," Aguiar said, using a common expression with which
Cubans confront daily challenges in their lives.

(Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Kieran Murray)

Freed Cuban calls for release of political prisoners | Reuters (21
October 2009)

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