MADRID — Two more freed Cuban dissidents arrived in Spain on Wednesday, a day after the first batch from a total of 52 political prisoners who are being released by Havana, the foreign ministry said.

Journalists Normando Hernandez, 40, and Omar Rodriguez, 44, arrived at Madrid's Barajas airport on an Iberia flight along with 13 family members, a ministry spokesman said.

Seven others arrived in Spain on Tuesday, following Cuba's surprise deal with the Roman Catholic Church on July 7 to gradually free 52 detainees after dissident hunger striker Guillermo Farinas nearly starved to death.

It is the largest release of political prisoners since 1998 when 300 dissidents were spared jail time by a presidential pardon following a visit by then-pope John Paul II.

Havana wants to avoid a repeat of the death in detention of political prisoner Orlando Zapata on February 23 as it seeks closer international ties to improve its grim economic situation.

The seven dissidents who arrived in Madrid on Tuesday said their release heralded a new era for the communist island nation.

"This signifies the start of a new stage for the future of Cuba and all Cubans," they said in a joint statement after they arrived.

But experts point out that the mass release in 1998 was not followed by any large-scale lifting of oppressive measures since then, as hoped at the time.

"For me, this is a dream, it seems like what I am living is not real," one of the seven dissidents who arrived in Spain on Tuesday, Lester Gonzalez Penton, told AFP at a motel in suburban Madrid where they are staying.

The 33-year-old was accompanied by his wife, his mother, his stepfather and two sisters but had to leave his eight-year-old daughter from another relationship behind in Cuba because her mother would not let the girl leave.

"I am happy to be with my family but also sad for having abandoned my country," added Penton, an opposition journalist who was serving a 20-year prison term.

Julio Cesar Galvez, another one of the seven dissidents who arrived on Tuesday, said going from living in a small cell "without air, with mice, rats, cockroaches and scorpions" to being free and in Spain had been a "sudden change".

The 65-year-old said he would like to work as a journalist again.

He was dismissed from Cuban public radio in 2001 for secretly working for US media outlets like the Voice of America and was serving a 15-year sentence.

Twenty of the 52 dissidents being freed by Cuba this time around have agreed to emigrate to Spain.

All 52 dissidents were sentenced in 2003 to prison terms of between six and 28 years.

Another two dissidents, Luis Milan, 40, and Mijail Barzaga, 43, will arrive in Madrid on Thursday, the Spanish foreign ministry spokesman said.

Spain, the former colonial power in Cuba and the largest foreign investor in the country, helped broker the deal between the Cuban government and the Church.

Speaking during an annual state of the nation debate in parliament, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said he was pleased with the "influence" which Madrid had demonstrated during the talks.

Spain has said it is willing to receive all of the prisoners after their release.

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners
| Share