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Jailed dissidents in Cuba still await promised changes

The Ladies in White opposition group, mostly relatives of imprisoned dissidents, marched during the weekend in Havana. In May, the government lifted a ban on the group’s protests. The Ladies in White opposition group, mostly relatives of imprisoned dissidents, marched during the weekend in Havana. In May, the government lifted a ban on the group’s protests. (Franklin Reyes/ Associated Press)
Associated Press / June 1, 2010

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HAVANA — Dissidents and relatives of Cuban political prisoners said yesterday that they have seen no progress on conditions for inmates despite an apparent government agreement to improve life behind bars for the island’s 200 political prisoners.

The Roman Catholic Church said the government agreed to move many of those considered “prisoners of conscience’’ by international human rights groups to prisons closer to their homes, and some ailing inmates were supposed to be sent to hospitals for long-demanded treatment.

But interviews with six dissidents, relatives, and human rights leaders show disappointment at the early results of the reported breakthrough — which was to have started last week.

“There has been no movement whatsoever,’’ said Elizardo Sanchez, head of the independent Havana-based Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, which monitors treatment of dissidents and would be among the first to hear of prison transfers.

Anxious family members said they still held out hope the government would keep its word, but some were clearly beginning to lose patience.

“I spoke to [my husband] on Wednesday,’’ said Lidia Lima, the wife of one of Cuba’s oldest political prisoners, 68-year-old Arnaldo Ramos. “He was so hopeful, but now we’re not so sure.’’

What seemed to be a landmark accord on the political prisoners occurred amid growing signs that Cuba was ready to soften its stance on the opposition and that the church would play a leading role.

In May, authorities reversed a ban on weekly protest marches by the Ladies in White — mostly relatives of imprisoned dissidents — after Cardinal Jaime Ortega intervened.

The church had no comment yesterday on the reason for the lack of movement, but a church official said the government had promised only to start the paperwork last week and gave no specific date on when prison transfers might begin. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the agreement.

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