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Some freed Cuban dissidents can apply for immigration, U.S. says

By David Ariosto, CNN
Cuban dissidents Ricardo Gonzalez Alfonso, left, Julio Cesar Galvez Rodriguez and Normando Hernandez Gonzalez give a news conference in Vallecas, Spain, on Monday.
Cuban dissidents Ricardo Gonzalez Alfonso, left, Julio Cesar Galvez Rodriguez and Normando Hernandez Gonzalez give a news conference in Vallecas, Spain, on Monday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 52 political prisoners are set to be freed by November, the Catholic Church says
  • 11 freed dissidents were flown to Spain last week
  • 5 prisoners don't want to leave the island, a dissident says
  • All the dissidents were jailed in a March 2003 government crackdown
RELATED TOPICS
  • Cuba
  • Spain

Havana, Cuba (CNN) -- Freed Cuban political prisoners and their families are invited to "explore their options" for possible immigration to the United States, a U.S. official told CNN on Tuesday.

On July 7, Cuba committed to releasing 52 jailed political activists, according to the country's Roman Catholic Church. But the question remains whether they will be allowed to stay in Cuba.

The U.S. Interests Section in Havana, which functions like an embassy, initially reached out to the group as a whole, but then changed its approach to focus on specific cases, said spokeswoman Gloria Berbena.

"Starting [Tuesday,] we will start looking at individuals," she said, acknowledging that none of the recently freed prisoners or their family members have pursued U.S. immigration.

Eleven prisoners and their families flew to Spain last week as part of an agreement to win their freedom. Another 11 jailed dissidents are scheduled to be released this week and flown to Spain, the Spanish foreign ministry said.

Berbena has called on the Cuban government to allow prisoners the freedom to decide where they go upon release.

Five prisoners have indicated they will not leave the country, said Berta Soler, one of the leaders of the Ladies in White, an opposition group made up of relatives and friends of jailed dissidents.

All 52 prisoners are expected to be freed by mid-November in what would be the largest release of incarcerated Cuban dissidents in more than a decade.

They represent roughly one-third of all known political prisoners and are the remainder of 75 activists jailed in a March 2003 government crackdown on political opposition.