Thursday, July 29, 2010

Ailing Cuban prisoner recovering in Miami

Posted on Wednesday, 07.28.10
Ailing Cuban prisoner recovering in Miami
Associated Press

A recently freed Cuban political prisoner arrived in Miami on Wednesday,
where he greeted 100 well-wishers who cheered as the paralyzed former
boxer called for the overthrow of the Castro government.

Ariel Sigler, 44, addressed the crowd at Miami International Airport
after arriving on a charter flight from Cuba. He had been released from
a Cuban prison last month as part of a deal between the communist
government and the island's Roman Catholic Church after serving seven
years of a 25-year sentence for treason. He obtained a U.S. visa
quickly, and subsequently was given permission to leave the island by
Cuban authorities.

Gaunt and sitting in a wheelchair, Sigler wore boxing gloves adorned
with the Cuban flag as he addressed the crowd, which often interrupted
with chants of ``down with dictatorship.'' He is paralyzed below the waist.

``I feel a mix of happiness and hurt,'' Sigler said in Spanish.
``Happiness because this is a free country. A country where in reality
human rights are respected. Happiness because this beautiful country has
taken me in to try to re-establish my health. And hurt because in
reality I am a patriot.''

``Down with the dictatorship. Down with the Castro tyranny. Down with
the assassins Castro,'' he yelled as the crowd echoed him.

Many in the crowd held Cuban flags and signs that read ``Welcome to
Miami'' and ``Human rights for the Cuban community.''

After his speech, he was given a check for an undisclosed amount by
leaders of a local Cuban-American group and taken to Jackson Memorial
Hospital for treatment. He did not answer questions and it is not clear
how he became paralyzed.

Jackson officials reported Wednesday that Sigler was examined in the
emergency room and admitted to the hospital in stable condition for
further evaluation.

Mercedes Cubas, president of the Cuba Corps, which supports the Cuban
opposition said she was cheered by Sigler's release.

``At least he will have a chance to regain his strength and his health
and continue to fight for freedom,'' Cubas said. ``Because if you see
his image, it looks like a man who had just been released from a Nazi
concentration camp.''

Sigler was among 75 opposition activists rounded up in March 2003 and
charged with taking money from Washington to destabilize the Castro
government. Those imprisoned denied that, as did U.S. officials.

Before leaving Havana, Sigler told reporters Wednesday that he planned
to return to Cuba ``because this government's days are numbered.''

``This dictatorship has very little time left,'' he said, ``and I think
this will be a temporary departure.''

Sigler's release came shortly before Cuba agreed on July 7 to release 52
more political prisoners, a landmark deal that, if completed, would
empty island jails of all 75 Cubans arrested during the crackdown seven
years ago.

So far, 20 political prisoners have been released as part of the
government's second agreement with the church, and all have flown into
exile in Spain with their families.

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