14 July 2010
The first of 52 Cuban political prisoners have arrived in Spain after being released. Cuba came under international pressure to free them after one jailed dissident starved himself to death earlier this year.
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The first group of political prisoners are on their way to freedom, heading for exile in Spain.
Under a deal worked out between Cuba's president, Raul Castro, the Roman Catholic Church and the Spanish government, 52 prisoners are due to be released in the coming months. Five were meant to be freed initially, but that number appears to have grown.
Omar Ruiz, who had been serving a 12-year sentence for treason, said by phone from Havana Airport that he and six other inmates had been driven there, where they were reunited with their relatives in a special waiting room.
Another prisoner, Jose Luis Garcia Paneque, called from an Air Europa jet as it was taking off for Madrid. "You can imagine how a man in prison for seven years, including 17 months in solitary, must feel," he said of his release.
More prisoners are believed to be aboard an Ibera flight which left Havana about an hour and a half later.
All the dissidents were arrested under a major government crackdown in 2003, when Fidel Castro was still in power.
Shortly before the first flight took off, the 83-year-old former leader made a rare television appearance. In an hour and a half long interview on a current affairs programme, Fidel Castro made no mention of the prisoners. Looking frail but lucid, he used the occasion to attack the United States, warning that it was preparing for a new war in the Middle East, this time against Iran.
Michael Voss, BBC News, Havana
Click to hear the vocabulary:
- political prisoners
people who have been put in jail because of political activity
forced to leave and live in another country
the crime of being disloyal to your country
a punishment where prisoners are kept alone and not allowed to see other people
people who publically criticise the government
held by the police because of supposed criminal activity
strict, repressive action against people who the authorities feel have broken the law
clear and easy to understand