Last week, Carlos Eire and I were interviewed by Victor Gaetan, a reporter for the National Catholic Register. He wanted to get our thoughts on the current controversy surrounding Cardinal Jaime Ortega and the prisoner expulsions that have been taking place in Cuba for an article he was putting together.
During the interview we discussed the open letter to the Cardinal, which Carlos wrote and we posted here back in September, and we discussed at length the concerns we have regarding what we consider to be Cardinal Ortega’s close working relationship with the Castro regime. Mr. Gaetan asked us pertinent and probing questions, and Carlos and I both believe he did an excellent job of putting forth our thoughts on the situation in his article.
Earlier this year, Cardinal Ortega acted as a mediator to gain release of 52 political prisoners, who were jailed since 2003 for pro-democracy activism. Most prisoners were members of the Christian Liberation Movement (CLM) led by Oswaldo Paya, who remains active in Cuba today.
The prisoners were offered the possibility of escaping miserable conditions in Cuban jails as long as they agreed to leave Cuba, together with their immediate families.
Most of the political prisoners wanted to stay on the island, and 13 have remained in jail rather than accept exile. To date, 39 of them have accepted this conditional release. In most cases, the political prisoners were sent to Spain. The government’s publicly announced deadline for the release of all political prisoners is Sunday, November 7.
According to Alberto de la Cruz, a blogger and founder of Cubans United for Liberty in Cuba, one political prisoner, Guido Sigler Amaya (incarcerated in the Aguica prison), refused to accept exile to Spain, Mexico or the U.S. — options offered to him, one after the other, as a condition for release. The day after he gave a definitive No to leaving the island, last month, he was threatened with death, humiliated with an invasive body search, moved into cells with common prisoners and beaten up.
An online open letter addressed to Cardinal Ortega, signed by more than 300 people, expressed concern that the prisoner-release arrangement amounted to forced exile, leaving the men in Spain with few resources, no jobs and untreated medical and psychological problems.
One of the open letter’s authors, Yale University religious studies professor Carlos Eire, explained, “I understand that it is a good thing to free people from jail, but these people were exiled into horrible conditions. I have been in touch with many of the men. Spain won’t give them refugee status, so they don’t receive much help to get established.
“There’s over 20% unemployment in Spain, and they can’t find work for themselves or their families, who were exiled with them. Many have medical and psychological problems — big ones — from the years in jail, and they aren’t getting any help.
“This release was a theatrical piece that the Castro regime put together to try to get the European Union to favor Cuba and to get the U.S. Congress to lift the embargo,” said Eire, who wrote the award-winning memoir Waiting for Snow in Havana.
I recommend you read the entire article HERE, and I encourage all of you to leave your thoughts in the article’s comment section.