Released Cuban dissidents must adapt to life in a Spain with its own woeful unemployment

By Jorge Sainz, AP
Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cuban dissidents adapt to life in Spain

MADRID — As Spain prepares to receive more political prisoners from Cuba, the seven who have already arrived here with their families are welcoming their newfound freedom but face an uncertain future.

To the freed Cuban prisoners, Spain is like a gift compared to the prisons where they were held in communist Cuba. But finding work in a nation with high unemployment could be a struggle, experts said.

Another four dissidents are flying into Spain with their families on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said, adding that all of Cuba’s political prisoners would eventually be released by the Castro government.

“All those who are political prisoners will be released from jail,” Moratinos told journalists at Parliament in Madrid. A total of 20 have agreed to move to Spain.

But the first of more than 50 dissidents to be released by Cuba have flown to a country suffering deep economic problems and high unemployment.

Though they beamed smiles and flashed victory signs as they arrived in Madrid aboard two gleaming jetliners, they were given an early taste of potentially tough conditions that lie ahead when driven to their new temporary accommodation.

After a brief news conference, the Cubans and their families including wives, young children and even some parents, were driven by bus from the airport to a modest hotel in an industrial estate in a working-class area of southeast Madrid.

The hotel, a one-star establishment, is not surrounded by the glittering luxury typical of Europe’s wealthy neighborhoods. Instead its windows look out onto factories and warehouses.

Single rooms costing euro25 ($31) a night have metal lockers instead of wardrobes. Each floor has shared men’s and women’s bathrooms.

“To begin with I felt a bit uncomfortable, they’ve explained that we are going to be here three days,” said Gonzalez, adding that he had no money and didn’t have fresh clothes to change into.

The accommodation has been arranged by the Spanish government in collaboration with the Red Cross and aid agencies said Elena Larrinaga, president of the Cuban-Spanish Association, something a government spokesman confirmed to the AP on condition of anonymity in keeping with rules.

“I’m a bit surprised, one bathroom for everyone, it’s not easy,” said Ruiz, commenting that it was still better than Santa Clara jail.

Maria Jesus Arzuaga, of Spain’s Committee for Help to Refugees, said that while the Cubans’ residency documents and work permits were being issued, aid groups would look after their living costs, including food and accommodation.

Borja Bergareche of the Committee to Protect Journalists told The AP that finding jobs in Spain was going to be hard for the latest generation of Cuban dissidents to arrive in Europe.

Bergareche said that when in Feb. 2008 Spain took in journalists Pedro Pablo Alvarez Ramos, Omar Pernet Hernandez, Jose Gabriel Ramon Castillo and Alejandro Gonzalez Raga, accompanied by 13 relatives and friends, he had high hopes they would settle down well and find work quickly.

“The truth is they found life here very hard and would like either to return to Cuba as free men, which isn’t going to happen, or travel to the United States,” Bergareche said.

Spanish welfare provides free medical treatment as well as free education for school age children, but finding gainful employment is going to be a real challenge for the former prisoners trying to make a new life in a country that already has 20 percent of its population unemployed.

Still, Ricardo Gonzalez is not disheartened. “I can’t complain and I’ll shoot anyone that does,” he said.

He said he was not sure what he and his wife Adila Viso — who has a Spanish passport — will do, but he insisted he had high hopes.

“I aspire to find work,” he said. “One has to aspire to work.”

Associated Press writer Harold Heckle in Madrid contributed to this report.

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