November 14, 2010 / 4:12 PM / in 7 years

Cuban political prisoner who refused exile is freed

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba has freed one of 13 political prisoners who refused to go into exile and will let him stay on the island, in a signal that all may be released soon.

Arnaldo Ramos told Reuters on Sunday that he was in good shape after more than seven years in prison and planned to resume his opposition to the communist-led government.

“I am in perfectly good condition and very happy to be home,” said the 68-year-old economist, who was released and allowed to return to his Havana home on Saturday night. “I‘m going to return to the same activities I did before.”

He went on Sunday to the weekly protest march of the dissident group “Ladies in White”, where he posed for pictures beside leader Laura Pollan.

He told reporters Cuba must open its state-controlled economy to get out of its current “stagnation” and that planned reforms by President Raul Castro to cut government workers and expand the private sector were insufficient.

“Cuba will go from stagnation to chaos if there is no real opening, at least for the economy,” the slight, soft-spoken Ramos said.

He was one of 75 dissidents arrested in a 2003 crackdown on government opponents and one of the last remaining in jail, serving an 18-year prison sentence.

In a deal brokered by the Catholic Church, Cuban President Raul Castro agreed in July to free the 52 who were then still behind bars.

But the government also wanted the jailed dissidents to leave the country and tried to convince them to go to exile in Spain in exchange for their freedom.

Spain has agreed to take in the former prisoners. Of the 52 dissidents, 39 accepted the offer, but the remaining 13, including Ramos, refused to leave their country.

“I am Cuban,” Ramos said. “I want to stay to continue my activities as an opponent.”

U.S. SUPPORT

Ramos said his primary work was analyzing Cuba’s economy, but that he was also involved in political activities.

Havana views the dissidents as traitors working for its longtime ideological foe, the United States. Ramos and others jailed in 2003 were accused of getting U.S. money and support.

His release was a concession by the government and likely signals it has given up on getting the rest to go to Spain.

The church said on Saturday another of the 13 prisoners, Luis Enrique Ferrer, will be freed soon but will go to Spain.

Ferrer agreed to go into exile after reaching a deal with the communist government to give his home to family members remaining in Cuba, said Elizardo Sanchez of the independent Cuban Commission of Human Rights.

Another prisoner who has insisted on staying in Cuba, Diosdado Gonzalez, has been told he will be freed soon, dissidents said.

Castro pledged to release the prisoners in a move to quell international criticism after the February death of imprisoned dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo after 85 days on a hunger strike.

The government also has freed or agreed to free another 14 prisoners not included in the original 52, all of whom have accepted the offer to go to Spain. Cuba has told the church it wants to free all political prisoners.

Reporting by Jeff Franks; Editing by Anthony Boadle

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