FM: Spain ’satisfied’ with Catholic Church’s work on human rights in Cuba, but wants more

By Will Weissert, AP
Tuesday, July 6, 2010

FM: Spain wants more progress on Cuba human rights

HAVANA — Spain hopes Cuba’s agreement with Roman Catholic leaders that led to the release of one political prisoner for health reasons and transfers to jails closer to home for a dozen others is just the beginning, the Spanish foreign minister said Tuesday.

Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, in Havana for two days to meet with Cuban President Raul Castro, said Spain is “very satisfied with the work the Cuban Catholic Church is doing in its dialogue with Cuban authorities.”

“We hope that, logically, this work will produce results,” he said.

Moratinos is expected to press Cuban authorities to release more imprisoned dissidents.

Spanish media have reported that his visit may lay the groundwork for a larger effort ensuring dozens of political prisoners eventually are released into forced exile in the European country.

But Moratinos did not discuss such plans with reporters after meeting with Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega. He added only that “the Spanish government is, logically, supporting, accompanying all activities and actions” the church has taken to persuade authorities to soften their usually unwavering hardline stance against organized opposition.

Ortega had no major announcements, saying that “we are at a moment where we have to look at the future with hope, and I think his visit reaffirms that hope.”

The Catholic Church has recently become a major political voice on Cuba, though only with the consent of the Castro government.

In May, Ortega negotiated an end to a ban on marches by a small group of wives and mothers of political prisoners known as the Ladies in White.

The cardinal and another church leader subsequently met with Castro for four hours. Church officials then announced the government would transfer political prisoners to jails closer to their families and give better access to medical care for inmates who need it. That led to 12 transfers last month, and freedom for paraplegic Ariel Sigler.

All were among the 75 leading opposition activists, community organizers and journalists who were jailed in a crackdown on dissent in March 2003, charged with conspiring with Washington to destabilize Cuba’s political system.

Whether Cuba will announce more prisoner releases or transfers during or shortly after Moratinos trip remains to be seen.

The Vatican’s foreign minister, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, visited for five days last month and met with Castro, sparking widespread hope that more prisoner movements were imminent — but none were made.

Moratinos had no plans to meet with any opposition leaders or dissidents, including Guillermo Farinas, a freelance journalist who has refused food and water since February. He is demanding freedom for dozens of political prisoners and protesting the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a dissident who died after his own lengthy hunger strike behind bars.

Farinas has been kept alive through intravenous feeding, though state media have reported he suffered a blood clot in his neck that could kill him.

Cuba’s leading human rights group said Monday that Cuba now holds 167 political prisoners, the lowest total since Fidel Castro took power in 1959.

The government insists it holds no political prisoners. It brands opposition activists as mercenaries or paid stooges of the U.S. government.

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