December 2, 2004, New York, NY—PEN American Center welcomes the release of Raúl Rivero Castañeda and Oscar Espinosa Chepe, reportedly on health grounds. However, PEN remains concerned that Rivero (59) and Espinosa (64) have only been released on parole and that they could both still be returned to prison.

Oscar Espinosa, economist and journalist for the CubaNet website, was released on November 29, 2004 – his 64th birthday – along with two other members of the so-called “75” who were imprisoned in April 2003 for a range of alleged activities against the state. Espinosa had been sentenced under Articles 7 & 11 of Law 88 (“activities against the integrity and sovereignty of the State”) and Article 91 of the Cuban penal code. During his time in prison he was reported to have suffered a plethora of ailments including various cists, a chronic kidney condition, a thoracic hernia, hypertension, weight loss and a possible liver disorder. As a result he spent much of his time in prison hospitals. He is an Honorary Member of the Netherlands, Swedish and English PEN centers.

Raúl Rivero, a renowned poet and the director of CubaPress, was freed on November 30, 2004 after having been transferred from prison to a military hospital in the capital, Havana, for medical tests. He had served 20 months of a 20-year sentence for allegedly “acting against Cuban independence and attempting to divide Cuban territorial unity” and for writing “against the government”, amongst other charges. He won the PEN USA West Freedom To Write Award in 2003, and is an Honorary Member of the Finnish, Canadian, American, English and USA West PEN centers. His release brought to seven the number of journalists and librarians freed from amongst those sentenced in the April 2003 clampdown.

Two other journalists, Pedro Argüelles Morán and Pablo Pacheco Ávila, were also reported to have been freed on November 29 after having been moved to a hospital in Havana, but it was later discovered that they had merely been transferred again, to the Combinado del Este prison, Havana, and the Morón prison, Ciego de Ávila, respectively.

In total, sixteen of the “75” were reported to have been transferred to military hospitals in Havana at the end of November. These included Rivero, journalists Jorge Olivera Castillo, Omar Moisés Ruiz Hernández and Jose Ubaldo Izquierdo; and librarian José Miguel Martínez Hernández.

The two releases are believed to be linked with the resumption of formal diplomatic ties between Cuba and Spain, and the possibility that relations with the European Union could be normalized if Cuba softened its stance on internal opposition and human rights activism.

PEN welcomes the freedom granted to Raúl Rivero and Oscar Espinosa but calls upon the Cuban authorities to make their release unconditional. PEN also urges the authorities to free the 30 journalists and librarians who remain behind bars in Cuba, 28 of them since the mass arrests of March 2003. To read more about the March crackdown, click here.

Recommended Actions
PEN members may send further appeals welcoming the release from prison of Raúl Rivero Castañeda and Oscar Espinosa Chepe, calling for the releases to be made unconditional and appealing for the immediate and unconditional release of the remaining 30 journalists who remain in prison, 28 of whom were arrested in March 2003 and sentenced the next month to prison terms of up to 27 years.

Appeals to:
His Excellency Fidel Castro Ruz
President of Cuba
c/o Cuban Mission to the United Nations
315 Lexington Ave.
New York, NY 10016
USA
e-mail: cuba@un.int
Fax: +1 212 779 1697

 

Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660, ext. 105