*important* - MH : Catholic Church details release of Cuban prisoners
- Catholic Church details release of Cuban prisoners
A Catholic Church report says it was the Ladies in White that wanted political prisoners to be free to leave the island.
By Juan O. Tamayo
Trying to put to rest complaints that Cuba's Catholic Church helped force 115 political prisoners into exile in Spain, a church spokesman Wednesday published a detailed account of the release process.
Spokesman Orlando Marquez wrote that the Ladies in White, female relatives of the political prisoners, had asked that their men be allowed to leave the country, and the government agreed.
"It is wrong to say they were forced into exile or to travel as a condition for leaving prison. Even more wrong is to say the Cuban government and church joined forces to exile these people," he added.
Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who also serves as archbishop of Havana, has been accused recently of helping the Raúl Castro government to force the 115 political prisoners freed over the past year to go into exile in Spain.
Marquez wrote the allegations are based on errors or "intentional lies" and that now is an "opportune time" to lay out the details of the contacts between Ortega, Castro and the Ladies in White that led to the prisoner releases.
The communications director for the Havana archbishopric posted his note Wednesday in the online version of the church magazine he directs, Palabra Nueva New Word.
When pro-government mobs harassed the Ladies in White with increasing virulence in the spring of 2010, Ortega grew convinced that "the church needs to act to stop the hounding," according to Marquez.
Ortega contacted government officials and was told to ask the women what they wanted, he added. On May 1, the cardinal met with five leading Ladies in White and was told they had three concerns for the 52 dissidents still in jail at the time from the group of 75 rounded up in 2003.
They wanted the men moved to prisons close to their homes, Marquez said. They wanted the quick release of those who were sick. And they wanted "that their dear ones could leave Cuba, even if unaccompanied, because that was preferable to keeping them in prison."
Ladies in White spokesperson Berta Soler told El Nuevo Herald Wednesday that Marquez "is telling the truth" and that the decision of the 115 to leave for Spain was "understandable and voluntary."
Marquez said Ortega relayed the three requests to Castro on May 19 and 13 days later the government began moving prisoners closer to their homes. On June 12 the first sick inmate was freed.
Spain then agreed to receive any prisoners who wanted to leave Cuba, and on July 7 Ortega announced Castro had agreed to free the 52. Ortega was put in charge of calling the prisoners to ask if they wanted to leave the island.
"A few asked if the trip (to Spain) was a condition for leaving prison. The cardinal told them no, and assured them that they would be freed later, as indeed occurred," Marquez wrote.
The 115 who agreed to leave went directly from prison to the Havana airport and a flight to Madrid. The 12 who refused to go into exile were the last freed.
"It could be said that because of family pressures, or the experience of eight years jailed under conditions that only they know, anyone would accept the offer," Marquez added. "But it is more honest and perfectly understandable to say that than to falsely accuse others of conspiring to achieve the expulsion of these people from the country."
Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/06/22/2279738/catholic-church-details-release.html#ixzz1Q5v0VPZ3