HAVANA – The dissident Ladies in White expressed support for Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega against the criticism of Spanish conservative lawmaker Teofilo de Luis of the Popular Party, or PP, about the prelate’s role as mediator in the process of freeing political prisoners that began last year.
The political prisoners “were not forced” to accept the offer of going to Spain in order to leave prison, about which they were consulted by the archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the island’s top Catholic authority, the dissident group’s spokeswoman Laura Pollan said.
“Many thought that going there was the only choice if they wanted to leave prison, and seeing that others were there believed that, but in fact the prisoner who says they forced him to go is lying, because the proof is in the 13 who are still here in Cuba,” Pollan said.
Twelve of the 52 opposition members of the “Group of 75” who left prison as a result of the unprecedented dialogue between the Cuban government and the Catholic Church with the support of the Spanish government “are out on the street” in Cuba, Pollan said.
A total of 115 Cuban political prisoners were released and sent to Spain together with 647 family members between July 2010 and April this year.
During a parliamentary debate in Spain, PP lawmaker Teofilo de Luis described as “merciless and shameful” the collaboration of Cardinal Ortega in the process of releasing political prisoners and said that the prisoners “were not given the choice of remaining in Cuba” and were “forced into exile.”
The Archdiocese of Havana said in a note that the statement by Luis was “absolutely false” and that Cardinal Ortega told the prisoners included in the process about their imminent release and asked them whether they wanted to go to Spain or not.
“No one forced any of the prisoners to leave the country,” Pollan said, and as examples cited the cases of Rafael Ibarra, a political prisoner of another group who refused to accept the condition of leaving the country in exchange for his freedom and is still behind bars, and her own husband, Hector Maseda, one the 12 who were freed even though they decided to remain in Cuba.
After the Ladies in White made their usual march after attending Mass at Havana’s Santa Rita Church, their leader said they will continue to demand the release of political prisoners.
“We never asked that they go to another country, our fight is for their freedom and to get them out of prison,” she said. EFE