HAVANA – Two well-known Cuban dissidents were released from prison Saturday, despite the fact both men said they wanted to remain in jail until other opposition leaders were freed and other demands were met.
The release of Hector Maseda and Angel Moya means that just seven of the original 75 opposition figures arrested in a 2003 crackdown remain in Cuban jails — but neither was happy about it.
The decision to release Moya was announced more than a week ago, but he had refused to leave jail — saying he wanted ailing dissidents to go free first. On Friday, the Roman Catholic Church announced that the government wanted to release Maseda, but he too turned them down, saying he wanted authorities to exonerate or pardon him, not simply grant him parole.
In the end, jail officials simply tossed the men out, saying they could no longer stay behind bars, even if they wanted to.
"I have left prison against my will," Maseda told journalists after arriving at his home in the capital, Havana. "I never would have accepted leaving jail on parole."
Moya arrived at his home a few hours later, also saying he was thrown out of jail against his well. A small group of pro-government demonstrators screamed at him from the street, shouting slogans like "Fidel! Fidel! Down with the worms!" The government claims such "acts of repudiation" are spontaneous, but little is done to hide the hand of officials in organizing them.
Maseda, 67, is the husband of Laura Pollan, and Moya is married to Bertha Soler, two leaders of the "Ladies in White" opposition group. The group, which is comprised of the wives and mothers of jailed opposition figures, has marched peacefully through the capital each Sunday since 2003.
The government pledged in July to release all remaining activists, social commentators and opposition leaders jailed since the crackdown, a number that had dwindled to 52 over the years. Forty-one of the prisoners were freed in the weeks after the decision, and all but one flew into exile in Spain, along with their families.
But the process bogged down because those who remained refused to leave Cuban soil, and some pledged to continue calling for democratic change the moment they got out of jail.
The first breakthrough in the standoff came last week, when the church announced the release of Moya and Guido Sigler, despite the fact that Moya refused to leave the island. Maseda has also pledged to stay in Cuba and return to the same opposition activities he did before.
The Cuban government had no immediate comment. Authorities rarely acknowledge the dissidents, except to say that they are all common criminals and stooges paid by Washington to destabilize the island.
Associated Press writer Paul Haven contributed to this report.