Cubans must demand their rights, former prisoners say

February 20th, 2008 - 8:05 pm ICT by admin  

Madrid, Feb 20 (IANS) Four Cuban dissidents, reacting to Tuesday’s announcement by Fidel Castro of retirement from presidency, have warned that unless the people demand and win their rights, dictatorship will stay in the island nation for “another 50 years”. Alejandro Gonzalez Raga, Jose Gabriel Ramon, Omar Pernet and Pedro Pablo Alvarez, who arrived here last week after being freed on Spanish mediation by Cuban authorities, made the statement Tuesday at a press conference here that followed Castro’s announcement of retirement, Spain’s EFE news agency reported Wednesday.

The dissidents said the retirement of Castro would only represent a “nominal change” unless there was political and economic freedom, acceptance of the opposition and recognition of other political parties alongside the ruling Communists.

All the four were part of the “Group of 75″ government opponents who were arrested and sentenced to vigorous prison terms in 2003 for allegedly conspiring with the US “to undermine the principles of the revolution”. Their release was mediated by the Spanish government.

“You’re excited about it, but Fidel will be there behind the scenes,” said Ramon while describing the situation arising from Castro’s announcement.

Responding to a question about Fidel’s brother Raul, who is set to lead the government, Raga said not Raul Castro but Raul Rivero - another former Cuban political prisoner living in Spain - could guarantee changes in the island.

The dissidents said that Cuba will only see changes when more than 225 political prisoners would be freed from jails.

“We defend the solidarity of people who love democracy,” Ramon said adding that he would wish to return to the island in a situation “of complete freedom.”

“And, if there is no political debate, there can be no transformation,” Ramon stressed and expressed his conviction that Cubans would carry out “their own change” the way Spain attained transition from Franco’s dictatorship to a democratic constitutional monarchy.

“A transition in which all Cubans participate, with different political organisations, and including the exiles in Spain, will provide the solution the island needs,” Ramon added.

The dissidents also denied Havana’s allegations that they have sought intervention from foreign governments or that they have ties with US intelligence agencies.

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