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7 freed political prisoners from Cuba start new lives in Spain

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Cuban dissidents arrive in Spain
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • They are the first group among 52 jailed dissidents to be released
  • The former prisoners said they hope the remaining 45 will soon follow
  • All had been jailed since a government crackdown in March 2003
  • The seven dissidents were accompanied by 26 family members
RELATED TOPICS
  • Cuba
  • Spain

Madrid, Spain (CNN) -- Seven Cuban former political prisoners started new lives Tuesday in Spain, saying they see their release as the next step toward bringing democracy to their island nation.

The seven are among 52 political prisoners the Cuban government agreed last week to set free.

The dissidents said in a joint statement read by former captive Julio Cesar Galvez that they hope their 45 "brothers" who are yet to be released will soon gain their freedom.

The former prisoners arrived at Madrid's Barajas airport on two flights: six on the first and one on the second.

In addition to Galvez, the other former prisoners on the first flight were identified as Lester Gonzalez, Pablo Pacheco Avila, Omar Ruiz Hernandez, Jose Luis Garcia Paneque and Antonio Villarreal Acosta.

The dissident on the second plane was identified as Ricardo Gonzalez Alfonso.

Twenty-six family members accompanied the dissidents, a Spanish government official told CNN.

After their arrival, the men held a brief news conference before being whisked away. Six of them wore white shirts and ties. The seventh wore an open-necked short-sleeve striped shirt.

They posed for photographs, their arms around each other's shoulders flashing victory signs with their outstretched hands.

In Washington, the State Department issued a statement saying the United States welcomes the release of the seven prisoners.

"While the United States continues to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners, this is a positive development that we hope will represent a step towards increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba," the State Department said. "All those released from prison should be free to decide for themselves whether to remain in Cuba or travel to another country."

The 52 political prisoners Cuba is releasing are the remainder of a larger group of 75 dissidents jailed during a government crackdown on political opposition in March 2003.

They represent roughly one-third of all known political prisoners left on the island, according to Cuba's unofficial Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman contributed to this report.