"Ladies in White" say Cuba prisoner plight goes on
HAVANA (Reuters) - The Cuban government has not yet improved conditions for political prisoners or released any as had been hoped after recent talks between Catholic Church leaders and President Raul Castro, Cuba's "Ladies in White" dissident group said Sunday.
Speaking to reporters after the group's traditional Sunday march protesting the 2003 imprisonment of their loved ones, leader Laura Pollan said they had heard nothing from the government about its plans.
"Here, nothing is known. Everything is a state secret," said Pollan, whose husband, dissident Hector Maseda, is serving a 20-year prison sentence.
Catholic officials said Castro promised in a May 19 meeting with Cardinal Jaime Ortega to move prisoners soon to jails closer to home or, if they were sick, into hospitals.
According to some reports, he also signaled the possible release of an unknown number of prisoners.
The high-level talks preceded a mid-June visit to Cuba by Vatican Foreign Secretary Dominque Mamberti.
So far, Pollan said, the only thing certain is that no prisoners have been moved or released.
"Everything is speculative; there is not thing concrete," she said.
The Ladies in White have staged weekly protest marches since the March 2003 arrest of 75 dissidents, many of whom are their husbands or sons and most still behind bars.
After Sunday's march by 33 white-clad women, Pollan told them it was important for them and their imprisoned family members, particularly those who are ill, to remain calm while waiting for the promised changes.
"Anxiety can produce strong stress and we don't want them to get sicker," she told the women.
At least 26 of the prisoners are said to be in ill health. Former prisoner Guillermo Farinas has been on a hunger strike for more than three months demanding their release.
His hunger strike followed the February 23 death of hunger striking prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo, which prompted international condemnation of Cuban human rights.
In April, the Cuban government tried to stop the women from staging their Sunday marches and brought in pro-government counter protesters to harass them.
But Ortega intervened, and officials allowed the marches to go on, at least for now.
Human rights advocates say Cuba has about 190 political prisoners in all. The Cuban government views them as mercenaries working for the United States and other enemies.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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