By Jeff Franks Jeff Franks – Sun May 30, 6:20 pm ET
HAVANA (Reuters) – The Cuban government has not yet improved conditions
for political prisoners or released any as had been hoped after recent
talks between Catholic Church leaders and President Raul Castro, Cuba's
"Ladies in White" dissident group said Sunday.
Speaking to reporters after the group's traditional Sunday march
protesting the 2003 imprisonment of their loved ones, leader Laura
Pollan said they had heard nothing from the government about its plans.
"Here, nothing is known. Everything is a state secret," said Pollan,
whose husband, dissident Hector Maseda, is serving a 20-year prison
Catholic officials said Castro promised in a May 19 meeting with
Cardinal Jaime Ortega to move prisoners soon to jails closer to home or,
if they were sick, into hospitals.
According to some reports, he also signaled the possible release of an
unknown number of prisoners.
The high-level talks preceded a mid-June visit to Cuba by Vatican
Foreign Secretary Dominque Mamberti.
So far, Pollan said, the only thing certain is that no prisoners have
been moved or released.
"Everything is speculative; there is not thing concrete," she said.
The Ladies in White have staged weekly protest marches since the March
2003 arrest of 75 dissidents, many of whom are their husbands or sons
and most still behind bars.
After Sunday's march by 33 white-clad women, Pollan told them it was
important for them and their imprisoned family members, particularly
those who are ill, to remain calm while waiting for the promised changes.
"Anxiety can produce strong stress and we don't want them to get
sicker," she told the women.
At least 26 of the prisoners are said to be in ill health. Former
prisoner Guillermo Farinas has been on a hunger strike for more than
three months demanding their release.
His hunger strike followed the February 23 death of hunger striking
prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo, which prompted international
condemnation of Cuban human rights.
In April, the Cuban government tried to stop the women from staging
their Sunday marches and brought in pro-government counter protesters to
But Ortega intervened, and officials allowed the marches to go on, at
least for now.
Human rights advocates say Cuba has about 190 political prisoners in
all. The Cuban government views them as mercenaries working for the
United States and other enemies.