Freed Cuban dissident begins exile in Chile as political refugee; gov’t providing housing, job

By Carla Candia, AP
Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Freed Cuban political prisoner arrives in Chile

SANTIAGO, Chile — A Cuban dissident released from prison by Raul Castro’s government arrived Wednesday in the Chilean capital, where he and his family have been given political refugee status, a house and jobs.

Holding flags of both nations, Jose Ubaldo Izquierdo thanked Chilean President Sebastian Pinera and other officials for receiving him in a country that “has set an example in human rights, freedom and democracy in the last 20 years.”

“I feel a rare mix of joy and sorrow,” Izquierdo told reporters at Santiago’s international airport, accompanied by his wife, two children, a nephew and his in-laws.

“Joy from being in such a great nation … and sorrow for the extraordinary family I left behind in Cuba,” he said, referring to nine other relatives still on the island.

Izquierdo is one of the so-called Group of 75 political prisoners arrested and imprisoned in 2003 during a crackdown on dissidents. Twenty-three had been freed previously, and under a deal brokered last month by local Roman Catholic Church leaders, the government agreed to release the rest. So far 20 have been sent with their families to Spain, with subsequent releases expected to take months.

In Cuba, Izquierdo was an “independent journalist,” one of a small group of opposition activists who report on the island for media overseas in defiance of the government’s monopoly over the domestic press. He had been sentenced to 16 years in prison for violating an article of the penal code that calls for 10- to 20-year sentences for those “who, in the interest of a foreign state, commit an act with the objective of damaging the independence or territorial integrity of the Cuban state.”

Cuban authorities tolerate no organized opposition and routinely dismiss all dissidents as paid “mercenaries” of the United States.

Upon release, Izquierdo traveled first to Madrid before moving on to what will be a more permanent residence in a five-bedroom house in Santiago — a far cry from the windowless, cockroach- and rat-infested cell where he said he spent the last years.

He will receive a $700 monthly stipend from the Chilean government for several months and be given an unspecified job at a neighborhood city hall.

Izquierdo accused Cuba’s communist government of being a repressive, “Stalinist dictatorship that survives thanks to the support of populist Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.”

Pinera — a conservative who took office this year, ending 20 years of leftist governments following Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship — has been critical of the government in Havana and said he is willing to give refuge to multiple Cuban dissidents.

Chilean Sen. Patricio Walker said officials have been talking to other ex-prisoners who want to come to Chile, but nothing has been decided yet.

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