Spies, housewife, militants: Cuban prisoners hoping for release a mixed bag
By David Adams and Daniel Wallis
HAVANA (Reuters) – Ernesto Borges, a KGB-trained counter-intelligence
officer, has been in a Cuban prison for 16 years for attempting to hand
over secrets to a U.S. diplomat in Cuba.
Haydee Gallardo, 51, is a housewife who only got involved in politics
two years ago because she believed her sons were locked up unfairly for
common crimes. She joined the “Ladies in White” dissident group and she
and her husband were themselves jailed after shouting anti-government
slogans in May.
Armando Sosa was part of a small group of armed exiles who were captured
when they landed in Cuba apparently intent on starting an insurrection.
He has been in prison for 20 years.
The three have little in common but their cases are representative of
dozens now in the spotlight after the U.S. government said Cuba agreed
to free 53 people considered political prisoners by Washington.
The prisoner release is part of a deal last month to renew diplomatic
relations between the United States and Cuba that aims to end more than
five decades of hostility.
But many of the 53 are apparently still behind bars.
The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday that some had been released
but it didn’t say how many or who they were, and neither government has
said which prisoners are on the list or when they would be freed.
The families of those hoping to be set free are desperate for news.
“We know nothing about what’s going on. No one has told us anything,”
said Reinyer Figueredo, the 32-year-old son of Gallardo and her husband
Angel Figueredo, his voice breaking with emotion.
Gallardo’s son says she suffers from asthma and high blood pressure and
has lost weight since her arrest.
Cuba’s dissident groups say there are about 100 people behind bars for
political reasons – including Gallardo, Borges and Sosa – and that most
of them, like Gallardo, were jailed for taking part in peaceful protests.
Those are the ones they most want freed but there are more than 53 of
them, dissidents say, meaning some will not be covered by the U.S.-Cuban
Cuba’s government regularly harasses opposition activists, most recently
last week when it rounded up several prominent figures for a day or two
to prevent them taking part in planned demonstrations.
It insists there are no political prisoners in Cuba and describes
dissidents as mercenaries working for the United States.
While U.S. officials say 53 prisoners will be freed, Cuban President
Raul Castro has so far talked only of releasing a number of people the
United States “has shown interest in.”
The prisoners are now a litmus test of U.S.-Cuba relations.
Whoever is released – whether peaceful protesters or Cubans who spied
for Washington, or even Cuban-American radicals who landed on the island
with violent intent – it will send a signal about U.S. priorities, and
what Cuba is willing to give up, in a new era of rapprochement.
Borges, the spy, is one of several people in prison for allegedly
turning against the government.
Arrested in 1998, he was sentenced to 30 years for trying to deliver a
dossier to a U.S. diplomat identifying 26 Cuban agents being trained to
infiltrate the United States, according to his 74-year-old father, Raul
Also a former Cuban intelligence officer, he says his son was fluent in
English and Russian and spent four years training with the KGB,
witnessing first-hand the collapse of the Soviet Union.
He returned to Cuba disillusioned with communism and determined to
uncover Cuban spies in the United States.
“My son risked his life to protect the United States from 26 Cuban
spies. I ask President Obama to consider his case.”
He said if released his son is likely to travel to Toronto to spend time
with his 19-year-old daughter, whom he has not seen in nine years.
The United States could also seek the release of some Cuban exiles who,
like the would-be insurrectionist Sosa, are serving prison terms on
terrorism-related charges, accused of entering Cuba with weapons to
attack government installations.
Cuban dissidents have put eight exiles on a list of people jailed for
political reasons – and another four were arrested last year – although
they concede they might not qualify as political prisoners as they broke
internationally recognized laws.
Winning their release could, however, help the White House appease vocal
critics of its new Cuba policy in Miami’s politically influential
Cuban-American community. Some of the detainees may also be U.S. citizens.
Sosa was imprisoned in the years after the 1959 revolution led by Fidel
Castro and he later went to the United States in an amnesty deal but
traveled back to Cuba as part of a small armed group in 1994. He was
quickly captured and has been in prison ever since.
Two other exiles who took part in that same failed raid are also still
in prison, along with two other anti-Castro militants arrested in 1991,
three in 2001 and the four last year, all on similar charges.
(Reporting by David Adams, Daniel Wallis, Rosa Tania Valdes and Marc
Frank; Writing by David Adams; Editing by Kieran Murray and Ross Colvin)
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