Cuba frees the first of 13 political prisoners

HAVANA—The first of 13 remaining Cuban dissidents jailed since 2003 was released from prison Saturday and returned to his home in the capital, a strong signal the government intends to release all of the men despite their refusal to go into exile.

Bertha Soler, a member of the Ladies in White dissident group, told The Associated Press that Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique had “arrived at his apartment” in central Havana after his wife received a telephone call from Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega informing her of the government’s intentions.

Soler said another of the 13, who had been on the fence about whether to accept the government’s offer to go into exile with his family, had finally decided to take the deal. She said the man, Luis Enrique Ferrer Garcia, would leave for Spain soon, along with his family.

There was no immediate comment from the Roman Catholic Church, which had announced all of the previous releases. The government has refused to comment as the process has unfolded.

The 68-year-old Ramos was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 2003 along with 74 other activists on charges of receiving money and support from the United States to destroy the revolution. Some of them were later released for health reasons.

After a meeting with President Raul Castro on July 7, Ortega announced that the 52 still in prison would be let go over the course of four months. Thirty-nine of the men were freed and sent into exile in Spain, but progress stalled as the last 13 refused to leave the island.

A Nov. 7 deadline passed without news on the men’s fate, but in recent days the government has given signals it still planned to make good on its word.

The wife of another of the men told the AP on Friday that a state security official visited him in jail to tell him he would be home within the month, and Laura Pollan, a leader of the Ladies in White, said that church officials had told her to be patient.

“They said the agreement has not been broken and the process of liberation will continue, even though the deadline has passed,” she said.

Still, Ramos’s release was the first concrete sign of continued progress.

“Arnaldo is the first of the 13 to be freed. He is fine,” said Soler, whose husband Angel Moya is one of the prisoners who have refused to leave the island. Some of the men have vowed to continue their fight for democracy the moment they get out of jail, but it was not immediately clear if Ramos will return to political activities.

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