Salida Definitiva

The Miami Herald’s Fabiola Santiago has a good story on the expatriation to Spain of the Cuban dissident prisoners. It’s worth a read, particularly for those who think that the prisoners had a real choice of whether to stay in Cuba or go to Spain.

Here’s a telling section of the article:

Some of the released prisoners consider their expatriation “a deportation” and showed a Miami Herald reporter how their passports had been marked “salida definitiva” — final exit — while the passports of children and adolescents were labeled emigrantes, meaning that they could return to Cuba some day.

The entire article can be found below the fold.

By Fabila Santiago

MADRID — Packed into a hostel named Welcome that advertises lodging for about $18 a night — the same as a cab ride to this industrial hub 10 miles away from the city center — the 11 freed Cuban prisoners who arrived this week with their families face an uncertain future in a country reeling from economic woes.

The ex-prisoners are not euphoric, as one might expect newly freed men to be, and despite the crisp white shirt, dress slacks, leather shoes and striped tie with which the Cuban government put them on a plane to the Spanish capital, the men look weathered by their whirlwind transatlantic flight and seven years of incarceration in windowless cells alongside common prisoners.

“I can’t enjoy anything. I can’t feel free as long as there is a political prisoner in Cuba. How can I be happy with all I left behind?” asks Mijail Barzaga Lugo, 43, who served time in four different prisons for filing news reports about life in Cuba to CubaNet and Radio Martí.

Barzaga and the others are part of a group of 75 independent journalists and peaceful dissidents jailed in the massive crackdown of 2003 known as the Black Spring. These 11 freed prisoners are the first of 52 scheduled to be released and expatriated to Spain in the next four months under an agreement negotiated by the Spanish government and the island’s highest-ranking Catholic, Cardinal Jaime Ortega. Two others from the group of 75 — the poet and columnist Raul Rivero, released in 2005, and Alejandro Gonzalez Raga, released in 2008 — also were resettled here.

Besides Barzaga, those who arrived between Tuesday and Thursday were Ricardo Gonzalez Alfonso, Lester Gonzalez, Omar Ruiz, Antonio Villareal, Julio Cesar Galvez, Jose Luis Garcia Paneque, Pablo Pacheco, Omar Rodriguez Saludes, Normando Hernandez Gonzalez, and Luis Milan. All were accompanied by family members, some of them members of the support group Ladies in White, who marched every Sunday in Havana to demand the prisoners’ freedom.


In Madrid, the ex-prisoners’ arrival has shared the top headlines with the Spanish president and parliament, engaged in a heated public debate about the precarious state of the economy. Only the joy of winning the World Cup in soccer has lifted the spirits of Spaniards, who face high unemployment, failing businesses, rising costs of living, and increasing immigration from Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.

But the new refugees, grateful to be free if not ebullient, have captured the nation’s attention with their stories of life in Cuba’s prisons and the nature of the “crimes” for which they got 15- and 20-year terms: running a library out of their homes; writing or broadcasting press reports; organizing a peaceful religious dissident group, organizing a news agency.

Paneche was a plastic surgeon who specialized in treating burn victims. Milan was a member of the religious dissident movement Movimiento Cristiano Liberación. Rodriguez had set up an independent news agency. Ricardo Gonzalez was a correspondent for Reporters Without Borders. Galvez — who asked for “peace, liberty and democracy” for Cuba at a press conference as soon as he arrived — filed reports for Voice of America and El Nuevo Herald in Miami.

Pacheco, who has family in Miami and hopes to live there, wrote a blog from the provincial prison of Canaletas in Ciego de Avila with the help of outsiders by smuggling out the information.

He saw his blog, Voices Behind the Bars, for the first time after he arrived at the hostel on Tuesday and signed on to the Internet on one of two computers in the lobby.


“I cried,” Pacheco said, his eyes watering again. “I’m so grateful to the people on the outside who helped me achieve that.”

Some of the freed prisoners’ family members also served time in prison for defending human rights and openly opposing the Castro government.

“My body is here, but my heart and my mind are in Cuba,” said Belkis Barzaga Lugo, 46, who served a year in a Matanzas prison for holding a sign that said “Freedom for Cuba’s Political Prisoners” during a 2000 procession to a Havana church by devotees of Santa Bárbara, one of Cuba’s most revered saints. A security officer had visited her house and warned her against any public demonstrations at the religious event.

Two years after she was freed, her brother Mijail, named after a Russian chess champion by their old-guard communist father, was accused of being “a mercenary” and sentenced to 15 years in prison for reporting Cuba news to the outside world. Belkis became one of the marching Ladies in White, and now has followed her brother to Spain. But not without another fight with Cuban authorities who, at the last minute, told Mijail that his sister could not leave with her 7-year-old daughter because her father had not signed for her release. The family, in contact with the father, knew that not to be true.

Cardinal Ortega, who is personally making the calls to the prisoners to announce their freedom and offer passage to Spain, according to the prisoners, had promised Mijail that he would leave with all of his family members.

“I said I wouldn’t leave and the signature appeared,” Mijail Barzaga Lugo said. “It was a last trick to hurt us.”

In prison, all of the men developed illnesses, particularly digestive disorders. They used a hole in the ground in their cells to relieve themselves and slept on metal beds with thin foam mattresses.

“I lost a lot of eyesight from being locked up in a cell painted floor to ceiling in bright white,” Barzaga said. Some are seriously ill with an immune system disease caused by malnourishment.

“We co-existed with rats, cockroaches, scorpions — and I have to say it, with s—, señores, with excrement,” Galvez said at a televised press conference held Wednesday at the Asociación de Prensa de Madrid.


Some of the released prisoners consider their expatriation “a deportation” and showed a Miami Herald reporter how their passports had been marked “salida definitiva” — final exit — while the passports of children and adolescents were labeled emigrantes, meaning that they could return to Cuba some day.

Worse yet, the status in Spain of the freed prisoners and their families is far from certain. There are legal consequences depending on whether they choose political refugee or immigrant status, and they were confused as to whose legal advice they should trust on the issue. The hostel is only a way-station.

They get tickets for three meals a day and tokens to do laundry from the Red Cross. They have no air conditioning in their tiny rooms and temperatures during the day reach almost 100 degrees. The rooms have three twin beds each and they share bathrooms out in the hallway. There are two babies in the group, one a newborn who is breast-fed by her mother in the bustling lobby, the only space with air conditioning.

On Friday afternoon, Carlos P. Quintela, a director with the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami, visited the freed prisoners and brought them a message of gratitude and a donation from a Cuban-American in the United States to help them begin a new life.

“You are the mambises of the 21st Century and we are grateful for all you have done on behalf of the freedom of Cuba,” he told the prisoners, evoking the freedom-fighters of the 19th Century independence war against Spain.

There’s talk that the Spanish government wants to relocate the former prisoners to Málaga and Valencia, but members of the Cuban community in Madrid who have been visiting the prisoners oppose relocation because they’ll be far from their tight-knit support system.


On Saturday, Gonzalez Raga, the Madrid-based ex-prisoner who now runs the support group and has been at the hostel everyday, brought the children sweets and tried to cheer them up with a little party to celebrate their new life. “Just a little something to get their minds off the sad things,” he said.

“Everybody pays attention to them now because they’re news,” said Blanca Reyes, a Ladies in White founder and wife of Rivero, the poet and journalist, who visits the newly arrived ex-prisoners every day. “It’s their future when they’re away from the limelight and alone that’s uncertain.”



6 thoughts on “Salida Definitiva

  1. this also very sad

    and I also think that because Mexico once had a corrupt Marxist government, that destroyed the economy and there is a bloody narco marxist campaign at home desperate Mexicans are still dying in the desert.

    A moment of silence for all

  2. A free Cuba cannot must not be like Mexico today … those “bloody” communists have near destroyed happiness world wide,

  3. What I am trying to say and saying it badly is that Raul wants to get rid of 20% or so of the Cuban population. One can well image how he is going to do it but do we know how such can be stopped.

  4. “I said I wouldn’t leave and the signature appeared,” Mijail Barzaga Lugo said. “It was a last trick to hurt us.”

    Whoops???…kinda makes you wonder about all those petitions “signed by Cuban dissidents” and trumpeted stateside by the multifarious “Cuba Experts”, by Saladrigas and by all their Legislative cohorts….

  5. the world must know that every cuban has to pay to the communist goverment for a permission to entry to their own country, and the cuban goverment can act of refusing to allow the cuban outsiders to travel back to the island, that is one is the reason that some of the released prisoners considered their expatriation “a deportation”

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