Five days after arriving in Spain with his wife, his 11-year-old adoptive daughter and his 85-year-old mother, Cuban poet and dissident journalist Raúl Rivero talked today with Fernando Castello of the Spanish section of Reporters Without Borders about the circumstances of his exile and the fate of the 21 Cuban journalists who have been in prison in Cuba since March 2003.
The press freedom organization says it welcomes Rivero’s return to Spain but points out that he never wanted to leave his country for a long period and that it will not forget the diplomatic context that facilitated his visit.
"Raúl Rivero’s departure from Cuba must not turn into a forced exile," Reporters Without Borders said. "It does not relieve the Cuban regime of its responsibilities as regards human rights and press freedom. Rivero’s freedom or the freedom of any other dissident journalist should not be a matter for negotiation."
Imprisoned during the March 2003 crackdown and sentenced to 20 years in prison for "conspiracy" against the state, Rivero was released from prison for health reasons and put under house arrest on 30 November 2004. "When I left prison under an ’extra-penal permit,’ the authorities told me I could continue to write but only as a poet," Rivero said.
Before his departure for Spain, the Cuban authorities wanted to give Rivero a "definitive" exit permit, which would mean he would never be allowed to go back. "Finally they changed it to an exit permit for two years, after which I would not be able to return."
As regards his release, Rivero also said that, "Fidel Castro is giving concrete pledges of good conduct before the coming Ibero-American summit in Salamanca, and he is demonstrating that he is an admirer of King Juan Carlos (who he wants to receive in Cuba)."
Rivero has no illusions about the situation in Cuba. "The Cuban government is Leninist, male chauvinist, and adapted to war, not to peace," he said, advising Reporters Without Borders to "maintain an energetic and demanding stance because there are political prisoners in a very serious humanitarian situation." He estimated that as many as 200 dissidents are in prison.
Regarding the imprisoned journalists, Rivero said he believed that "prison conditions had improved for some of them." He mentioned José Luis García Paneque, whose state of health is a subject of great concern, and who was recently transferred to a military hospital in Havana. He also mentioned Reporters Without Borders correspondent Ricardo González Hernandez and Omar Rodriguez Saludes, "who remain imprisoned but in better conditions that could be a prelude to their release."
An optimist, Rivero predicted that eight dissidents would soon be released and that there would be "more and more journalists leaving prison and Cuba" although the authorities are normally very reluctant to grant exit permits.
Apparently determined to enjoy the freedom of speech, Rivero agreed to talk to Reporters Without Borders again on 11 April.