Spain has welcomed hundreds of former Cuban detainees and their families. But economic woes and bureaucratic problems have made the transition difficult for exiled Cubans. Many say Spain will be but a temporary stop. By Borja Bergareche
Spain is host to more than 100 Cuban political prisoners—and hundreds more of their relatives—who were freed as a result of a July 2010 agreement between the Castro regime and the Catholic Church, a deal supported by the Spanish government. Eighteen journalists were among those who agreed to exchange their prison cells for enforced exile in Spain, although four have since moved to other countries. For those journalists still in
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“Until now, we´ve received enough help for
housing, public transportation, clothes, and health care,” said Víctor Rolando
Arroyo Carmona, an independent journalist who, after being freed in September
2010, lives in
In interviews with CPJ, most journalists said their basic needs have been addressed through a patchwork of government and private assistance. With health care provided by a national public system, the many journalists who had serious illnesses in prison have had access to basic treatment. School-age children are enrolled in local public schools. An assistance program funded by the Spanish government and channeled through the Red Cross and other nongovernmental agencies, provides a monthly housing benefit of 540 to 740 euros (US$770 to US$1,050) and a separate monthly living allocation of up to 850 euros, depending on the number of dependents. Nongovernmental organizations have also provided up to 300 euros in clothing aid. Aid is granted for one year, renewable every six months afterward.
“The government is determined to facilitate the integration of released Cubans and their families in Spanish society until they can afford self-sustained lives,” said Juan Carlos Sánchez, general director for Latin America at the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
But establishing self-sustained lives has been
elusive for many exiled Cubans, who have found great difficulty joining a Spanish
labor market battered by three years of economic woes.
Spanish officials have resettled the former
detainees in a dozen cities and towns across the country, locating most outside
Before the wave of exiles over the past year, Spain was already home to Cuban writer and journalist Raúl Rivero, who was freed from prison in 2004, and the independent Cuban journalists Alejandro González Raga and José Gabriel Ramón Castillo, who were released in 2008 along with two other Black Spring detainees. Overall, Spain has welcomed at least 120 Cuban dissidents, with several hundred of their relatives. But the country’s open-arms approach has been tempered by the economic crisis, which is forcing the central, regional and local governments to cut spending on all manner of services—including assistance to the exiled Cubans. Several Cubans told CPJ that housing aid had recently been cut.
Last year, the conservative regional government
of Madrid, with close ties to Cuban dissidents, took on the responsibility from
the central government for those living in the capital and supported them with
housing aid, clothes, and school supply subsidies. But forced to adopt
austerity measures in response to the economic crisis, even
“For the first time, I have not been able to
pay my telephone and house bills,” said González
Raga, an independent Cuban journalist who has lived in Madrid with his
wife and two children since his release in February 2008. He said only his
daughter-in-law was able to find work, and that was a short-term stint in
a restaurant. González Raga and his wife, Bertha, an accountant, have been
looking for jobs for more than two years. He and a group of other dissidents tried
to establish an organization to monitor human rights in Cuba, but initial offers
of public funding evaporated. “I am worried for many of those who arrived since
The Spanish government has granted asylum to 53 Cubans, including dissidents and their relatives, and is considering six other applications, according to figures provided to parliament in June by Juan Antonio Yáñez-Barnuevo, deputy foreign affairs minister for Latin America. Nearly 400 other Cubans have been granted “subsidiary protection,” according to his figures, a legal status that offers permanent residency and work permits but presents fewer obstacles if the exiled Cubans decided to return to their homeland.
Three of the journalists freed in the deal between Cuba and the Catholic Church—Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez, Iván Hernández Carrillo, and Pedro Argüelles Morán—refused to leave the island. Released on a form of parole that leaves them vulnerable to re-arrest, the three face the prospect of ongoing harassment at home. But those who chose exile face their own uncertain future.
Among the journalists exiled to Spain, José Ubaldo Izquierdo has since moved to Chile while Omar Ruiz Hernández, Juan Adolfo Fernández Sáinz, and Normando Hernández González have gone on to the United States. Many more have expressed a desire to move to the United States, where authorities have opened a special visa program for Cubans released in the July 2010 agreement that would allow them to become U.S. residents.
For those still in
Borja Bergareche, a Spanish journalist, is CPJ’s European consultant.