Hunger strike in Cuba
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    Most Cuban dissidents freed last year have sought asylum in US

    Most Cuban dissidents freed last year have sought asylum in US
    At least 35 of 53 political prisoners freed want to leave country
    Others are back in jail and some have abandoned activism
    Associated Press in Havana
    Friday 8 January 2016 20.19 GMT Last modified on Friday 8 January 2016
    20.31 GMT

    One year ago, the Cuban government began releasing 53 political
    prisoners whom Barack Obama wanted freed as part of a historic deal to
    re-establish diplomatic relations between the former cold war foes.

    US government information and an Associated Press assessment of the
    dissidents’ lives 12 months after their release shows that at least 35
    have asked for refugee status allowing them to move permanently to the
    US, reducing the ranks of an already weak and divided opposition movement.

    Many applications have been delayed by vetting of the dissidents’
    criminal records, some of which have little to do with political
    activity. Seven have either left Cuba or are preparing to leave this month.

    Among those who remain, at least six men are back in Cuban prison on
    what their allies say are politically related charges. Others have
    abandoned activism altogether.

    About 20 of the freed dissidents have decided not to leave, some because
    they have abandoned political activism. But others say they want to stay
    and work to change the government.

    “Our commitment is here,” said José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the
    Patriotic Union of Cuba, a group based in the country’s east. “We do a
    lot to make our members aware of that, so that they don’t leave.”

    Many Cuban exiles view the country’s dissidents as brave freedom
    fighters against the single-party state founded by Fidel Castro and run
    by his brother, Raúl. Exiles support some political activists here with
    money and lobbying of politicians and the press in the US and other
    countries.

    The Cuban government historically has characterized internal dissidents
    as unpatriotic mercenaries acting on behalf of the US government and
    violent exile groups who want to retake control of Cuba.

    Whatever the reason, many ordinary Cubans today question the dissidents’
    credentials, saying they suspect the activists are motivated mostly by
    money from abroad and the chance of a visa to the US or Europe.

    Obama’s new policy moves away from a decades-long US focus on the
    dissidents and toward a broader diplomatic and economic engagement with
    the Cuban government. He argues that will bring better conditions for
    the Cuban people in the long run, and says he may travel to Cuba as
    early as this spring if he feels the rights situation here is improving
    and a presidential trip will help.

    In a statement on Thursday night, the State Department said: “We have
    publicly called for the release of political prisoners and others jailed
    for exercising their internationally recognized freedoms in Cuba, and
    will continue to do so.” It added that the US embassy has been in
    contact with many of those freed last year.

    International advocacy groups such as Amnesty International say that
    regardless of US policy, it’s up to Cuba to improve the island’s human
    rights situation.

    “The reforms that have to be made in terms of restrictions of liberty
    must come from the Cuban government, not from the government of the
    United States,” said Marselha Goncalves Margerin, Amnesty
    International’s advocacy director for the Americas.

    Cuban officials did not respond to requests for comment on how the freed
    dissidents are faring.

    Among those back behind bars is Wilberto Parada, who was arrested for
    public disorder in October when he protested in front of a prosecutor’s
    office in Havana. Vladimir Morera, from the central province of Villa
    Clara, has been jailed since May on charges of assault. Fellow
    dissidents said he staged a weeks-long hunger strike that ended last month.

    Another freed government opponent, Carlos Manuel Figueroa Álvarez, was
    charged with jumping the fence protecting the US embassy to claim
    refugee status after he said he was denied a refugee visa in September.
    Figueroa is now held on Cuban charges of violating a diplomatic site.

    Ángel Yunier Remón, a rapper from the eastern province of Granma, said
    he was also denied refugee status despite being named by the State
    Department several times as a victim of political repression before he
    was freed in January 2015.

    “I’d never opted for refugee status, but government aggression made me
    feel like an enemy in my own land,” Remón said by telephone.

    Remon said the US embassy gave him a document that recognized him as
    worthy of refugee status, but said he was “non-admissible” to the United
    States. He said an embassy employee told him that was because of a
    robbery conviction he had before becoming a political activist.

    US officials say that most of the 53 political prisoners who have
    applied for refugee status are likely to receive it and that those who
    complain about delays may be misinterpreting normal processing times as
    problems with their applications. They remain eligible for refugee
    status, the officials said.

    Several of the freed dissidents nonetheless complain they have waited
    for months to hear from US consular officials, saying they are at risk
    of harassment while still in Cuba.

    “I was very grateful for Obama’s effort to free me in January, but now
    I’m upset about the wait,” said Sandalio Mejías, who said he was
    recently notified of his second appointment, next month, to present
    documents supporting a request for refugee status filed nearly a year ago.

    Source: Most Cuban dissidents freed last year have sought asylum in US |
    World news | The Guardian –
    www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/08/cuba-dissident-us-asylum-refugee-status

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