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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 November, 2004, 23:14 GMT
Cuba releases leading dissident
Raul Rivero
Rivero was only allowed to write love poems in jail
Cuba has freed two more dissidents, including one of its most prominent critics, the acclaimed poet and journalist Raul Rivero.

Mr Rivero and Osvaldo Alfonso Valdes were among 75 people given long jail terms in 2003 during a big government crackdown on opposition voices.

Their release came a day after three other political prisoners were freed.

These moves form part of attempts by the government to improve its human rights image abroad, dissidents say.

The news was welcomed by US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, but he cautioned that Mr Rivero should not have been imprisoned in the first place.

All Cubans should be able "to express themselves and to participate in the political process without fear of this kind of imprisonment", Mr Boucher added.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, which campaigned for Mr Rivero's release, also welcomed the news but said Cuba's human rights record remained worse than it was before his arrest.

'Without rage'

President Fidel Castro's government has not commented on the releases, but they come just days after Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque announced his country had resumed formal contacts with Spain.

Spain has recently been trying to improve relations between Havana and the European Union, which imposed sanctions against Cuba in response to the crackdown.

Mr Rivero was serving a 20-year sentence, accused of being in the pay of the US.

I believe there is hope... I will observe the situation, and the scope for manoeuvre and the work I can do
Raul Rivero

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, the Cuban authorities contacted his wife, Blanca Reyes, to tell her she could visit him.

"I had the feeling I was going to be released when they told me I was being moved to Havana," Mr Rivero told reporters from his home in the Cuban capital. "But I was told nothing until today."

He said he was a free man "without rage, with a position that is constructive rather than belligerent".

Mr Rivero said he hoped he would be able to write and work as a journalist.

"I believe there is hope," he said. "I will observe the situation, and the scope for manoeuvre and the work I can do."

On Monday, dissidents Oscar Espinosa Chepe, Marcelo Lopez and Margarito Broche were set free.

The EU and human rights groups have welcomed the releases but are calling for the remaining political prisoners to be set free.

Cuba frees political dissidents
29 Nov 04 |  Americas
EU ponders softer stance on Cuba
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Spain and Cuba in expulsion row
17 Oct 04 |  Americas
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23 Jul 04 |  Americas
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Cuba taunts EU over sanctions
12 Jun 03 |  Americas

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