Monday, August 13, 2007

Cuba frees rights critic; he hopes for care in U.S.

Cuba frees rights critic; he hopes for care in U.S.

Fewer political prisoners held, group reports
By ANITA SNOW | The Associated Press
August 13, 2007

HAVANA A prominent Cuban dissident who was released last week after 13
years behind bars said Sunday he hopes to go to the United States for
surgery, then return to Cuba to resume his human rights activism.

"My future is in the struggle" for improved rights on the island,
Francisco Chaviano, 54, said at the western Havana home he shares with
his wife.

Chaviano, a mathematician, said he first wants to see about his health.

He said a small tumor was recently discovered in one of his lungs, and
that he developed heart problems while behind bars. Although he could
have the tumor removed in Cuba, Chaviano said he would feel more
comfortable undergoing major surgery in a country where the government
doesn't consider him an enemy.

Chaviano would need an American visa and an exit permit from the Cuban
government to make the trip. He said he will not know until he meets
with a judge later in the week whether the conditions of his parole
would affect an attempt to leave the island.

"For good or bad, I'll come back" to Cuba, he said, even though all
three of the couple's children live in Orlando. "Why would I leave Cuba
for good now if I didn't leave before?" Chaviano said.

Chaviano said he refused a government offer to let him emigrate to the
United States after he was arrested in May 1994 on charges of revealing
state secrets while documenting the cases of rafters who disappeared or
died trying to leave Cuba.

Then the president of the Cuban National Council for Civil Rights,
Chaviano was ultimately tried behind closed by a military court and
sentenced to 15 years.

Chaviano denied revealing state secrets, and his supporters said no
defense evidence was presented during the trial.

The Cuban Commission on Human Rights and Reconciliation says that the
number of political prisoners dropped by more than 20 percent in the
first year since Raul Castro took power from his ailing elder brother
Fidel. According to the commission, 246 political prisoners were being
held as of June 30, compared with 283 at the beginning of 2007 and 316 a
year ago.

Chaviano said economic conditions on the island have improved since he
was jailed, and that he believes like many that Raul would be more
likely than his brother to allow some modest economic reforms.

"But Raul will try to follow Fidel's line, at least when it comes to
politics," he said.,0,5033897.story

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