Published: June 23, 2011
HAVANA, June 23 (UPI) -- Cuban President Raul Castro made no deal to free 115 political prisoners if the Catholic Church got them to be exiled to Spain, a church spokesman said. The exile was totally voluntary, Orlando Marquez said in a statement. Representatives of the Ladies in White opposition movement, consisting of wives and other female relatives of jailed dissidents, said some family members thought it would be best if "their dear ones could leave Cuba, even if unaccompanied, because that was preferable to keeping them in prison," Marquez's statement said. Spain agreed to accept any prisoner wishing to leave Cuba, but going there was not a requirement for freedom, said Marquez's statement posted on the Web site of the church magazine Palabra Nueva. Cardinal Jaime Ortega, archbishop of Havana, called the prisoners -- 52 of whom were rounded up in 2003 -- to ask if they wanted to leave the island, Marquez said."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 airport in Havana and flew to Madrid. The 12 who refused to go were later freed too, he said. Ladies in White spokeswoman Berta Soler told Miami's El Nuevo Herald Marquez was "telling the truth" and the decision of the 115 to leave for Spain was "understandable and voluntary." Ortega was recently accused helping Castro by forcing the 115 political prisoners freed during the past year to go into exile in Spain.
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