HAVANA TIMES, June 23 — When the massive release of political prisoners from prison began in Cuba, we at BBC Mundo debated over the terms we should use when describing this, and we reached an agreement to not speak of “releases” as long as all of them were being sent outside the country.
Things changed with the freeing and sending home of the first prisoners who refused to travel to Spain, which implied the rest of the freed inmates could also remain in Cuba.
This was just confirmed by Laura Pollan, the spokesperson of the Ladies in White and the wife of one of the 12 prisoners who was released on the island. “No one has forced any prisoner to leave the country,” she assured, adding that anyone who says the opposite “is lying.”
Despite such evidence, an attempt is now being made to accuse the hierarchy of the Catholic Church of Cuba of conspiring with the Cuban government and the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) to “force” the political prisoners to travel abroad.
A few days ago I met with former political prisoner Orlando Fundora and his wife at the Plaza del Sol in Madrid. They complained a lot about the conditions of life in Spain and, to my surprise, assured me that “we ate better in Cuba.”
Their protests are not being welcomed warmly by your average Spaniard, which can understand that it was necessary to bring them to that country but can’t figure out why it’s necessary to pay for their upkeep or why they demand to live in Madrid, and much less how they can demand better hotels.
For months the Spanish press used the term “destierro” (exiling or banishment), as they sought to sell the idea that if the doors were not opened these people would remain in prison, something completely false, as was explained in a recent official statement of the Catholic Church.
Fundora and his wife admitted to me that they could have remained on their beloved island. They assured me that at no time were they pressured to leave the country as a condition of being released.
The same thing can be said of the hundreds of relatives who have accompanied them. In fact, Spanish authorities had to put limit on the number of people some prisoners included their lists since some were asking for distant cousins distant and former wives to leave the country with them.
Less than 10 percent of the 127 released prisoners decided to remain in Cuba and were sent to their families’ homes, among them some of the most active and radical, as is the case of Dr. Oscar E. Biscet.
Nonetheless, a deputy of Spain’s right-wing Popular Party has just attacked Cardinal Jaime Ortega, alleging that he’s simply a messenger used by Cuban president to improve his international image.
Not only does he accuse Oretga of “forcing” the prisoners into the exile, he also asserts that the prelate visited Europe under orders and as a representative of the Cuban government, a position that the deputy described as “pitiful and shameful.”
Relations between the Catholic Church and the Cuban government have experienced a number of critical moments since 1959. It’s possible that dialogue today is greater but there are so many differences that these make it difficult to believe Ortega receives orders from Castro.
Of course that deputy of the Popular Party is careful to leave the Catholic Church outside of his accusations, affirming that the cardinal participated in these negotiations on his own, without the backing of his superiors.
It’s therefore also difficult to believe that in such a centralized organization someone can arrive at such an agreement without the approval of Rome. If that were true, if there were a Catholic-communist plot, the Vatican would have also had to have been involved.
Beyond these strange conspiracy theories, what’s certain is that the church intervened in a successful dialogue to free 26 physically ill political prisoners, a figure that subsequently expanded to around 50 and finally covered all of them.
But if the prelate expected some gratitude for his actions, he was mistaken. Almost from the beginning he was the target of attacks by the most radical members of the Cuban exile community and now Spanish politicians as well, who are using him for sparring in their domestic fights.
Cardinal Ortega cannot even count on the support of the prisoners who, thanks to the negotiations of the church and the Spanish socialists, today walk freely in their mother country. At the Puerta del Sol plaza, Fundora explained to me with complete straightforwardness, “Our ally is the Popular Party.”
An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original) published by BBC Mundo.