Reuters, May 22, 2010
Cuba has agreed to move political prisoners held in far-off jails to facilities closer to their hometowns and transfer sick prisoners to hospitals, a dissident said on Saturday, following talks between Catholic Church leaders and President Raul Castro this week.
Guillermo Farinas, on a hunger strike for 88 days demanding ill prisoners be released, told Reuters in a telephone interview that he received the news from a bishop who visited him in the hospital where he is being fed intravenously. A Catholic Church source, speaking on condition his name not be used, confirmed what Farinas said. "Everything appears that is what will happen," he said. Cardinal Jaime Ortega and Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba Dionisio Garcia, who heads the Cuban Bishops' Conference, held a four-and-a-half-hour meeting with Castro in Havana on Wednesday which they both described as positive. Farinas said Prelate Juan Dios Hernandez, the auxiliary bishop of Havana, brought him the message from Ortega after the cardinal was informed by the government that measures were being taken as agreed in the meeting. "These are first the transfer of all the prisoners to their respective provinces of residence, and the transfer also of all sick prisoners to hospitals," Farinas said. He said he was told a second meeting would be held next week toward "resolving the situation of the prisoners." There was no immediate word from Cuban officials. Wednesday's meeting was the Cuban Catholic Church leaders' first talks with Castro since he took over the presidency of the Communist-ruled island from his ailing elder brother Fidel Castro in 2008.
"The Church is interested in there being some kind of relief in the situation of the prisoners, which could include the freeing of some of them, and that is what we're talking about," Ortega said during a news conference on Thursday. He said the subject was being discussed seriously, but neither he nor Garcia offered specific details of what steps the Cuban government might take over the political prisoners. The cardinal added the talks would continue. The rare meeting, which received wide coverage in the official media, followed Ortega's successful mediation between the Communist authorities and female relatives of imprisoned dissidents earlier this month hat allowed them to resume weekly marches without being harassed by government supporters. The Vatican's foreign minister, Archbishop Dominique Memberti, is due to visit the island next month as Cuba is facing increasing economic difficulties and international attention on human rights abuses in the country. Political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died in February after a hunger strike. Memberti is expected to press authorities to release political prisoners whom the government brands as mercenaries and subversives in the pay of the United States. Local human rights organizations put the number of political prisoners in Cuba at around 200, while Amnesty International says there are around 60 prisoners of conscience.
Monday, May 24, 2010
BBC, May 20, 2010
Cuban President Raul Castro has held a rare meeting with leading members of the Catholic Church. Mr Castro met Cardinal Jaime Ortega, head of the country's Church, along with Archbishop Dionisio Garcia of Santiago. Wednesday's talks touched on the sensitive issue of imprisoned political dissidents, Church sources said, without providing details. This comes ahead of a visit next month by the Vatican's foreign secretary. Dissidents hope that the visit of Archbishop Dominique Memberti could lead to the release of some political prisoners, says the BBC's Michael Voss in Havana. The official Communist party newspaper - Granma - said the discussions had covered relations between Church and state, as well as international and domestic issues. 'Small steps' Archbishop Garcia, the head of Cuba's bishops' conference, was cautious when asked whether the discussion might lead to an agreement to free dissidents. "There will be a process and this process has to start with small steps and these steps will be made," he was quoted as saying by AFP. "We hope that the conversation will go in that direction." Earlier this month Cardinal Ortega successfully mediated between the Cuban authorities and a group of wives and female relatives of imprisoned dissidents, known as the Ladies in White. That resulted in the group being allowed to resume their Sunday marches in Havana free from harassment by government supporters. In the early days of the revolution, Cuba officially became an atheist state, but relations with the Church have been steadily improving since Pope John Paul II's historic visit in 1998.
Cuban President Raul Castro held a rare meeting on Wednesday with leaders of an increasingly active Roman Catholic Church to discuss international and domestic issues, the official media reported on Thursday. The meeting followed Cardinal Jaime Ortega's successful mediation between Communist authorities and female relatives of imprisoned dissidents earlier this month. That resulted in the group, known as the Ladies in White, resuming Sunday marches along a main Havana avenue free from harassment by government supporters. "During the meeting various issues of mutual interest were analyzed, in particular the favorable development of relations between the Catholic Church and Cuban state and the current international and domestic situation," the official media said in a communique. It was accompanied by photographs of Castro with Ortega and the head of the Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop Dionisio Garcia. The Vatican's foreign minister, Archbishop Dominique Memberti, is due to visit the island next month amid increasing economic difficulties and international attention on human rights abuses in Cuba. Dissident hunger striker Orlando Zapata Tamayo died in February and another, Guillermo Farinas Hernandez, has been hospitalized since March. Memberti is expected to press authorities to release political prisoners whom the government brands as mercenaries and subversives in the pay of the United States. "This is the first time the conference has had such a high level meeting," Jose Feliz Perez, spokesman for the bishops conference, told Reuters. "It was especially relevant in the context that the church has recently been working to mediate solutions to a number of difficulties in society." In an April interview with the Archdiocese of Havana's magazine, Palabra Nueva (New Word), Ortega said economic woes and accusations of human rights abuses had placed Cuba in "a difficult situation, the most difficult we have experienced in the 21st century." He criticized authorities for moving too slowly on economic reforms and mistreating dissidents. But he also said the international reaction to human rights abuses was overblown and aggressive. Laura Pollan, leader of the Ladies in White, termed the meeting "very important" in the context of the efforts to free jailed dissidents and Memberti's visit. "If only all this could prove successful and lead to the freeing of prisoners," she said. Relations between the Church and Cuba's government have been marked by bitter recriminations in the past, but have steadily improved since the 1990s, especially after a visit by Pope John Paul II in 1998.