The Archdiocese of La Habana announced yesterday the imminent release and exile of five political prisoners who belong to the “Group of 75” and the Cuban regime’s intention to release other 47 in the coming months. The prospect of these honorable and absolutely innocent Cubans leaving the horrid prisons in which they have lost their health, and a great deal of their lives, should make us all happy, happy for them, their families and loved ones. This is a victory of all of us who have advocated for them. It is also especially linked to the supreme sacrifice of Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

It was not Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s name, however, what the headlines highlighted yesterday, after the announcement of the release, but the “mediation of the Church,” and the visit of Spain’s Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, to the island. Without trying to diminish their roles in this process, it is necessary to remember that Spain’s policies toward Cuba have not changed at all during the past several years. Neither have changed the positions and attitudes of the Cuban top hierarchs of the Roman Catholic Church, nor, for that matter, those of the regime itself that keeps in place a draconian, illegitimate and arbitrary penal code that allows the imprisonment of Cubans for their opinions. The only truly new element with any political repercussion this year within the Cuban reality has been Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s death on February 23rd, with the intense wave of solidarity with our political prisoners and of strong condemnation of the Castro regime that it generated. It is impossible to forget and to allow that this fact be hidden from the world’s view.

Zapata’s sacrifice inspired Guillermo Fariñas’ hunger strike, gave new meaning to the marches of the Ladies in White, and moved the European Union and other democratic governments and parliaments to condemn the Cuban regime. It united, reactivated and renewed the internal opposition. It mobilized thousands of Cuban exiles who organized marches and protests for their country’s freedom around the world. It generated intense campaigns of local or global reach, like our own #OZT: I accuse the Cuban government, where dozens of thousands of people from more than a hundred countries and from all over the political and ideological spectrum, including distinguished personalities, have openly demanded the release of all Cuban political prisoners, and respect for human rights in Cuba.

The unity of the Cuban democrats around a common purpose and the firm and consistent support of the international community for the release of the political prisoners and the respect for human rights in Cuba have been the decisive factors leading to the releases announced yesterday. The actual reach and nature of these releases will also depend on our ability to preserve and reinforce that unity, and the solidarity from civil societies and democratic governments from around the world.

The forced exile of imprisoned opponents, just as it has been announced by the Spanish Foreign Minister, is a clear step backward in “the transition process toward a pluralist democracy and respect for human rights and basic liberties” established as a main objective on the European Union’s Common Position on Cuba. This massive banishment of opposition activists will deprive the transition of their main actors. Only a release without banishment, accomplished without fanfare, and with firm guarantees to exercise and defend human rights, would merit a reassessment of the Common Position or any other significant change on policy by any democratic government toward Cuba.

Our campaign strongly condemns and rejects the link established between the release of political prisoners and their forced exile, the bait and switch deal offered to the Cuban democratic movement, a ploy for which we will not fall. We also demand that the releases include all Cuban political prisoners, all those imprisoned in Cuba for their peaceful opposition to the Cuban regime or simply for exercising their inalienable rights: freedom of press, of expression, of gathering, of association and of movement, systematically violated and punished by the practices and laws of the Cuban dictatorship. As long as this is not accomplished, our campaign is going to continue.

The invitation to sign the Declaration of #OZT is still open to all. Our first delivery of the signatures will occur without delay on July 23rd, 2010.

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners
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