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Last Updated: Monday, 29 November, 2004, 23:25 GMT
Cuba frees political dissidents
Oscar Espinosa Chepe
Oscar Espinosa Chepe was released on his 64th birthday
Cuba has unexpectedly released at least three political dissidents.

They were among 75 people arrested in a crackdown last year and given lengthy prison terms.

They include the opposition figurehead, Oscar Espinosa Chepe, an economics writer sentenced to 20 years after a brief trial last April.

Opposition activists said they hoped to see further releases, after about 18 dissidents were taken to hospitals in Havana at the weekend.

The others freed on Monday were Marcelo Lopez and Margarito Broche.


Earlier reports that other activists had been released could not be confirmed. Some dissidents said it seemed some prisoners had simply been moved to other jails.

Opponents to Fidel Castro's regime noted that the gesture came just days after a meeting between Cuba's foreign minister and the Spanish ambassador.

Spain has been trying to improve relations between Havana and the EU since the latter imposed sanctions last year.

"The Cuban government is showing it is interested in resuming the dialogue... with this gesture of goodwill," said dissident Manuel Vazquez Portal, who was imprisoned himself until five months ago.

'We are peaceful'

Mr Chepe allowed the press into his home as he celebrated his release on his 64th birthday.

"I'm feeling happy now," he said. "I had been really pessimistic. I didn't think I was going to be let out."

He called on the Cuban government to release other political prisoners.

"There are people in prison who are very sick, and the situation cannot go on. International pressure is also strong, the media played a very important role, and we hope they will all be freed," he said.

"The government really committed a very big error with us. We are completely peaceful and we want only the reconciliation of Cuban society."

The dissidents were jailed after brief trials

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