Cuba’s communist dictatorship has extended seven dissidents a one-time offer of a round trip abroad, as an apparent concession in light of President Barack Obama’s upcoming trip to the island. The dissidents, many in their seventies, say they doubt the good intentions of the government, accusing the Castro regime of trying to divide the dissident community by offering arbitrary benefits.
Seven dissidents, all arrested during the Black Spring crackdown of 2003, have received offers that allow them to leave the country once. They are part of a group of 75 dissidents arrested during that wave of oppression, of which 11 remain in Cuba. All were sentenced to decades in prison, allegedly for working in tandem with American organizations to help raise democratic awareness and overthrow the Castro regime. They were later given “regulated freedom” following years of pleas from the Catholic church and government of Spain, a legal status that allows for their arbitrary detention at any time without explanation.
The government has not explained why the offer was not extended to the other four of the group of 11. “Some of us were told that we got the offer because of good conduct, not a very sustainable claim,” Jorge Olivera, one of the group, told Argentine news outlet Infobae. “In reality, it is completely arbitrary.”
Seventy-three-year-old Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique told the Spain-based Diario de Cuba that he received a similar line from the government. “They told me that, due to my behavior, they have decided, in an exceptional way, that I could leave the country. When I asked for clarification, they told me that I am still under extra-penal license [“regulated freedom”] and that the offer is for only one trip abroad. That is all.”
Lauzurique’s health, he says, will prevent him from taking up the offer. He is not alone. “I will always live in Cuba,” Félix Navarro Rodríguez, another of the seven offered the deal, told Spanish newswire service EFE. Héctor Maceda Gutiérrez, also in the group, tells Diario de Cuba he will not leave the country, in solidarity with the four of his group who were not extended the offer: Ángel Moya, Librado Linares, Iván Hernández Carrillo, and José Daniel Ferrer. “Due to my principles, and in solidarity with my comrades in the cause, I am not going, either.”
Marta Beatríz Roque, an economist and among the nation’s most prominent dissidents, says she is going to take up the offer because she has no family left in Cuba. She asserts that the move is “not a liberation” nor any great charity: “nowhere in the law does it say that we are not allowed to travel more than once.” Nonetheless, she is “taking the opportunity,” noting she is now a septuagenarian and will not likely be able to see her family again without the chance.
Roque stated this week that she strongly opposes President Obama’s visit to the island. “These sorts of visits bring a lot of collateral damage,” she told the Diario de Cuba. Even with her limited freedom status, she notes, “I had to move from my house because I could not keep living in the same building as my aggressors, who broke my arm through punches. … It didn’t stop them that I am a 70-year-old woman.”
Roque has reason to fear, if Pope Francis’ September 2015 visit to the island is any indication. Roque says she was personally invited to attend a meeting with the papal ambassador to Havana, but upon attempting to make the visit, she was arrested and detained until the Pope left Cuba. She was among more than 250 dissidents arrested while Pope Francis was in Cuba, including Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) member Zaqueo Báez, who was arrested in front of Pope Francis for saying the word “freedom” too loudly near the Pontiff. Pope Francis later denied having any information regarding the arrest that video shows happened directly in front of him.
The UNPACU, one of the most targeted dissident groups on the island, has warned the international community to view the offers for travel abroad with skepticism. One of the four denied the offer, José Daniel Ferrer, is the head of the organization and is routinely arrested for organizing peaceful rallies against communism. Ferrer says in a statement published on UNPACU’s website that he believes the intent of the travel deal is to divide the dissident community, making those unable to leave envious of those given preferential treatment. “They are seeking to spark intrigue, annoyance, rumors, divisions, and they won’t get it,” he writes. “State agents and tattletales are already saying that some people are granted special rights for behaving better and others because they don’t behave as well, etc.”
Ferrer tepidly welcomes President Obama’s visit, only to condemn others in comparison. “Visits that we don’t need,” he writes, “are those of leaders like French President Francois Hollande or Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill. Even Pope Francis’s visit needs thorough analysis, not like that of Pope John Paul II, the best visit by a religious leader we have ever had.”