Ladies in White

Freed by Cuba, dissident couple doubt quick changes
By Celeste Jones

Havana (AFP) – A couple who were among 53 political prisoners Cuba freed
under a US detente deal thanked Washington on Tuesday but voiced doubts
of seeing immediate changes on the communist island.

Haydee Gallardo, a 51-year-old member of the Ladies in White dissident
group, and her husband Angel Figueredo, 53, were freed last Thursday
after spending eight months in prison.

They were among political prisoners whose release was part of the
historic pact last month between US President Barack Obama and Cuban
President Raul Castro to normalize relations after a half-century of
Cold War rivalry.

“I want to thank the US government for making this deal and forcing the
Castros (Raul and his brother Fidel) to free us,” Gallardo told AFP from
her modest apartment in Havana, surrounded by her two children and
granddaughter.

In the family’s living room, the words “Change” and “Freedom” were
framed on the wall.

Gallardo and her husband were jailed last May after a heated argument
with neighbors who back the government. The couple, married for 38
years, was detained for “disturbing public order.”

Prosecutors requested a sentence of two years and a half against
Gallardo, who was awaiting trial when she was released.

She recalled the tough first three months behind bars, losing weight and
getting hit sometimes.

“When I saw my children again it was glorious. A little later, I saw my
husband,” she said, relishing the reunion.

“It’s something that a mother and wife feels at that moment. What you
want the most is to hug your children, kiss them, enjoy them because you
gave them life,” Gallardo said.

– ‘More strength in opposition’ -

The official document of her release grants her “immediate release” but
Figueredo’s says it is “conditional,” which to him means he could
“return to prison whenever they want.”

Despite their ordeal, the couple insisted they were determined to
continue their struggle in favor of more human rights and political
openness in single-party Cuba, where any opposition remains illegal.

“I am going to change, but with more conviction and more strength within
the opposition to the Castro regime,” Gallardo said.

For his part, Figueredo said his opposition activities were aimed at
“backing human rights and the Ladies in White” and that after leaving
prison “the idea remains the same, but stronger now.”

The Ladies in White emerged after the so-called “black spring” of 2003,
when Cuban authorities rounded up 75 dissidents and sentenced them to
lengthy prison terms.

Mothers, wives and daughters of the prisoners marched silently every
Sunday down a boulevard, all dressed in white, after attending a Roman
Catholic mass.

They were awarded the European Parliament’s Sakharov rights prize in
2005. Many of them left Cuba after their relatives were freed in 2010
and 2011 following the mediation of Spain and the Catholic Church.

But the group refilled its ranks with around 100 new women, including
Gallardo.

– ‘Things look worse’ -

Echoing other dissidents, the couple had mixed feelings about the
US-Cuba rapprochement because Washington did not secure any guarantees
on human rights.

“I don’t seen any changes or improvements. Things look worse,” Gallardo
said.

Her husband had a more nuanced view, noting that Obama wants human
rights at the center of talks between the two nations.

“If Obama wants to reestablish relations, the most important thing is
for human rights to be respected in Cuba, and that the people have
access to information,” Figueredo said.

“That’s what’s important, and that’s through the Internet,” whose access
is restricted by the authorities, he said.

In his December 17 announcement of the US-Cuba deal, Obama pledged to
allow exports of some telecommunications materials in Cuba to develop
the Internet, and maybe give dissidents a voice.

“But I am certain it won’t happen like that,” Figueredo said.

Source: Freed by Cuba, dissident couple doubt quick changes – Yahoo News

http://news.yahoo.com/freed-cuba-dissident-couple-doubt-quick-changes-212614706.html;_ylt=AwrBEiJieLZUAVkAOc7QtDMD

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