Latin America & Caribbean

'Cuba not opening up to democracy' - released prisoners

Released Cuban political prisoners Jose Luis Garcia Paneque (left) and Normando Hernandez (centre)
Image caption Mr Hernandez (centre) says the release was "a trick" by the Cuban government

Former Cuban political prisoners have said their release does not signal a change in political conditions on the Communist-run island.

Nine dissidents arrived earlier this week in Spain under the terms of an agreement brokered with the help of the Catholic church in Cuba.

Normando Hernandez, one of the former prisoners, said Havana's motives should not be misunderstood.

He said that "Cuba is not opening up to democracy."

"I personally think it is a trick by the Cuban government. The economic needs on the island are huge. The social situation is critical, the political stagnation.

"This is why it is important to draw the international communities attention to this aspect of the Cuban government so they don't get fooled again," the dissident told the BBC in Madrid.

Mr Hernandez was imprisoned in 2003 allegedly for organising an independent college of journalism in Cuba.

He told the BBC that his health had been badly damaged by poor food and sanitary conditions during his seven years in jail.

Uncertain future

The Cuban exiles are now living in temporary accommodation on the outskirts of the Spanish capital.

Many of them are accompanied by wives and children as well as by other relatives already living in exile.

Mr Hernandez reunited with his mother after seven years apart, but he said they now face an uncertain future as refugees.

Some of the former prisoners want to continue living in Spain, where finding a job could be hard.

Others talk of trying to move to the US. All said they would rather return to Cuba.

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