Cuba readies prisoner release; one said out of jail

HAVANA (Reuters) – Preparations to free 52 Cuban political prisoners and send them to Spain in a deal brokered by the Catholic Church picked up pace yesterday as the mother of one prisoner said he was already on his way to Havana.

The release was not yet confirmed by the church, but it issued a statement on Saturday saying 12 more prisoners would be freed “soon,” raising the total to 17 from the five it originally said would be the first to get out.

Moralinda Paneque, the mother of prisoner Jose Luis Garcia Paneque told Reuters she had received word her son had left a prison near the city of Las Tunas and was being driven to Havana, 410 miles (660 km) east, by state security agents.

She said the government’s plan was to gather the family in the Cuban capital, where they would take a flight together to Madrid, although she did not think they would leave today.

“We are waiting for a government car to pick us up at any minute to take us to Havana,” Paneque said.

The family of another prisoner, Antonio Villarreal, was being transported by state security from the city of Santa Clara to Havana, 168 miles (270 km) east, a family member in that city told Reuters.

Irene Viera, wife of prisoner Julio Cesar Galvez, said she and her son, who live in Havana, had been called in for medical examinations today ahead of the trip to Spain.

“I’m already saying goodbye to friends,” she said.

Families of other prisoners said state security agents advised them to be ready for departure at any time.

It appeared likely, they said, that their imprisoned loved ones would not get to come home before leaving, but all said they were happy to go to Spain.

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