MADRID – Forty former Cuban political prisoners who arrived in Spain in 2010-2011 following an agreement between Havana and Madrid have been camping outside the Foreign Ministry here to demand a solution to their financial woes.
They say they are among a group of roughly 80 Cuban exiles and their relatives who will likely face homelessness once they are cut off from an 18-month financial assistance program.
“We expect the rest of our countrymen, who are already in our predicament in many cities throughout Spain and won’t have anywhere to live when they can no longer pay their rent, will be joining us little by little,” Juan Antonio Bermudez, one of those affected by the economic hardship, said Wednesday.
Like Bermudez, Osbel Valle Hernandez and Oswaldo Gonzalez Montesinos, who arrived in Madrid from the regions of Asturias and Valencia, asserted their right to dignified employment and said if they can’t find it in Spain they should to allowed to travel to other EU countries.
“We didn’t ask to come here. We didn’t know about this crisis. We understand there are 5 million people unemployed and it’s difficult, but they have to do something to help us. We don’t want to be taken care of but they can’t leave us in the street,” Valle said, referring to a years-long Spanish economic slump.
Gonzalez, meanwhile, said it is not just the former political prisoners who are suffering, “but also the women, children and elderly” who traveled to Spain in search of “freedom that now doesn’t do us any good.”
“What good is it for us to be out of prison if we don’t have enough to live on? If I’d known this before, I’d have stayed in prison fighting for my people and my family. At least they’d have a home and the support of those who stayed there,” he said.
The Cuban dissidents said they will continue to camp outside the ministry as long as necessary to resolve their situation, while one demonstrator said he is willing to launch a hunger strike “if that’s what’s needed.”
The former political prisoners said they are unsure if Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s administration will seek a solution to the “chaos” they are now enduring.
The dissidents came to Spain under an agreement between the Communist regime in Havana and the administration of Rajoy’s predecessor, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
“We understand this was inherited from the previous Spanish government, but we hope the new foreign minister and Mr. Rajoy come up with a solution to our problem,” Bermudez said.
Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo said Wednesday the government will help the former prisoners find employment and is seeking ways to continue providing them with financial assistance after the current aid program expires.
Among other measures, the government is studying ways to validate their academic and professional credentials.
Dozens of dissidents were jailed in March 2003 amid Cuba’s harshest crackdown in decades on the political opposition.
The move to suppress internal dissent included prison sentences averaging 20 years for 75 peaceful dissidents and the execution of three men who hijacked a ferry in an attempt to reach the United States.
Amid an international outcry over the February 2010 death of one of those dissidents, Orlando Zapata, following a lengthy hunger strike, Cuban President Raul Castro launched a Spanish-backed dialogue with the island’s Catholic hierarchy that led to the release of more than 100 political prisoners, including all of the remaining Group of 75 members.
A total of 115 former political prisoners and 647 of their family members arrived in Spain from Cuba between July 2010 and April 2011 under an agreement stemming from those talks.
Since then, 32 of the dissidents have left the Iberian nation and currently live in the United States. EFE