HAVANA – Cuba has agreed to free another prominent political prisoner and send eight other inmates into exile in Spain, the Roman Catholic Church announced Saturday.
The release of Diosdado Gonzalez means just five of 75 peaceful activists, social commentators and opposition figures jailed in a 2003 crackdown remain behind bars.
Cuba has told Catholic leaders it plans to free them all, and it is also ridding its jails of many other prisoners whose crimes — some of them violent — had some political motivation.
Church spokesman Orlando Marquez announced the releases in a statement Saturday.
Gonzalez, a 48-year-old electrician and farmer, is the husband of Alejandrina Garcia, a leader of the Ladies in White opposition group, who briefly launched a hunger strike last month to demand his release.
Reached by the Associated Press at her home in a small village in central Matanzas province, Garcia said she has been walking on air since receiving word she would soon have her husband home again.
"Can you imagine!" she said. "I am as nervous as a young girl waiting for her boyfriend to arrive."
Cuban President Raul Castro agreed in July to free all 52 prisoners remaining from the 2003 sweep following a meeting with Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega. At the time, the clergyman said the deal called for the men to be out within four months, or by November.
Authorities quickly released 41 prisoners, sending all but one into exile in Spain along with their families. But the process stalled as those who remained behind bars refused to leave, and many vowed to continue to press for democratic political change once free.
But pressure has been building on the government to make good on the agreement, and in recent months it has begun to release the rest of the men and let them stay in the country. Gonzalez has indicated he has no intention of leaving the island, a stance reiterated Saturday by his wife.
Garcia said she had spoken to her husband in prison and "he affirmed that he wants to stay in Cuba to continue his fight."
"I respect all of his decisions because they are just, he has his motives and he thinks he must be here to keep up the peaceful struggle," she said.
The Cuban government had no immediate comment on the releases. Authorities rarely acknowledge the dissidents, except to say they are all common criminals and stooges paid by Washington to destabilize the island.
In addition to Gonzalez, the church announced the release of eight prisoners jailed for a variety of offenses, including hijacking and trying to leave the country illegally. All will be allowed to go to Spain along with their families.
Associated Press writer Anne-Marie Garcia contributed to this report.