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Lawmakers meet with freed Cuban prisoners

Posted on Thursday, 11.03.11

Lawmakers meet with freed Cuban prisoners

Miami lawmakers on Capitol Hill hosted several former Cuban prisoners
who had protested against the regime of .
By Erika Bolstad
ebolstad@mcclatchydc.com

WASHINGTON — Three Cuban dissidents jailed in a 2003 crackdown and
imprisoned until their exile last year to , brought their story to
Capitol Hill Thursday.

The three were sponsored by politicians who hope to build
a trans-Atlantic coalition to put as much international pressure on Cuba
as possible.

"They've been in the belly of the beast, they know what it'slike to live
there," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, said of the three:
independent Normando Hernández González, Regis Iglesias
Ramírez of the Project and former Nueva Prensa Cubana Director
José Luís García Paneque.

"And they know what a difficult struggle it is to get international
solidarity to the cause that we all are in agreement with," Ros-Lehtinen
said, "and that is the promotion of democracy, of , of human
rights, multi-party elections, freedom to express one's ideas, and
freedom to pray to a God of our choosing."

All three were arrested by Cuban authorities as part of Fidel Castro's
crackdown on dozens of dissidents and activists in what became known as
the Black Spring of 2003. They were released under an agreement
negotiated by the Spanish government and Cuba's highest-ranking
Catholic, Cardinal Jaime Ortega.

One of the former political prisoners, Iglesias, said he met Wednesday
in Dallas with former U.S. George W. Bush and the former
president of Spain, Jose Maria Aznar. He said he aimed to bring forth
the message of a "Free Cuba," and not just in the economic sense some
Cubans have seen recently.

"The fact is that more than the power to purchase cars or houses, Cubans
need freedom, free elections, respect to individual freedoms," he said.

Hernandez, who spent more than seven years in and now lives in
Miami, said his aim was to "bring awareness about the experience we have
lived through."

He warned that economic freedom "does not bring freedom nor democracy to
a people, and certainly not to a country under an iron tyranny for 52
years."

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, called it a "huge privilege" to spend
time with with the three. They represent the best of what is in Cuba,
said Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami.

"People who are willing to risk their lives, their liberties, sacrifice
friends and relationships on the island," Rivera said, including leaving
everything "for the cause of a free and democratic Cuba. They
demonstrate to the world of what is going on on the island."

Isabel Morales, a special correspondent for El Neuvo Herald, contributed
to this report.

http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/11/03/2486195/lawmakers-meet-with-freed-cuban.html#storylink=misearch

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