US lawmakers meet with freed Cuban prisoners

WASHINGTON, CMC – Three Cuban dissidents, jailed in a 2003 crackdown and imprisoned until their exile last year to Spain, have brought their story to United States lawmakers here.

The three were sponsored by European Union politicians who hope to build a trans-Atlantic coalition to put as much international pressure on Cuba as possible.

“They’ve been in the belly of the beast, they know what it’s like to live there,” said Miami Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of the three: independent journalist Normando Hernández González, Regis Iglesias Ramírez of the Varela Project and former Nueva Prensa Cubana Director José Luís García Paneque.

“And they know what a difficult struggle it is to get international solidarity to the cause that we all are in agreement with, and that is the promotion of democracy, of freedom, of human rights, multi-party elections, freedom to express one’s ideas, and freedom to pray to a God of our choosing” Ros-Lehtinen added.

All three were arrested by Cuban authorities as part of Fidel Castro’s crackdown on dozens of dissidents and activists in what became known as the “Black Spring” of 2003.

They were released under an agreement negotiated by the Spanish government and Cuba’s highest-ranking Catholic Cardinal, Jaime Ortega.

One of the former political prisoners, Iglesias, said he met late last week in Dallas, Texas, with former US President George W. Bush and the former president of Spain, Jose Maria Aznar.

He said he aimed to bring forth the message of a “Free Cuba,” and not just in the economic sense some Cubans have seen recently.

“The fact is that more than the power to purchase cars or houses, Cubans need freedom, free elections, respect to individual freedoms,” he said.

Hernandez, who spent more than seven years in prison and now lives in Miami, said his aim was to “bring awareness about the experience we have lived through.”

Another Miami Republic Congressman, Mario Diaz-Balart, said it was a “huge privilege” to spend time with the three dissidents.

“People who are willing to risk their lives, their liberties, sacrifice friends and relationships on the island,” Rivera said, including leaving everything “for the cause of a free and democratic Cuba. They demonstrate to the world of what is going on, on the island.”