Paralyzed Cuban political prisoner wins permission to leave island, headed to US next week

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Paralyzed Cuban political prisoner headed to US

HAVANA — A recently freed Cuban political prisoner was preparing to board his Wednesday flight to the U.S from Havana’s airport.

Ariel Sigler, 44 and paralyzed from the waist down, was released to his home in Matanzas province in June as part of a deal between Cuba’s government and the island’s Roman Catholic Church.

He obtained a U.S. visa quickly, and subsequently was given permission to leave the island by Cuban authorities.

Sigler was expected to board a special charter flight to Miami soon, without any relatives accompanying him.

“I’m going, looking to regain my health,” he told reporters at the airport. “When I arrive in Miami … they are waiting for me and will take me to Jackson Memorial Hospital, where I hope to regain my strength.”

Sigler said he eventually planned to return to Cuba “because this government’s days are numbered.”

“This dictatorship has very little time left,” he said, “and I think this will be a temporary departure.”

Sigler was among 75 opposition activists rounded up in March 2003 and charged with taking money from Washington to destabilize Cuba’s government. Those imprisoned denied that, as did U.S. officials.

Sigler served more than seven years of a 25-year sentence for treason. He went to prison an athlete and boxer, but paralysis that occurred while behind bars requires him to use to a wheelchair.

Sigler’s release came shortly before Cuba agreed on July 7 to release 52 more political prisoners, a landmark deal that, if completed, would empty island jails of all 75 Cubans arrested during the crackdown seven years ago.

So far, 20 political prisoners have been released as part of the government’s second agreement with the church, and all have flown into exile in Spain with their families.

will not be displayed