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7/27/04 - CUBAN DISSIDENT RELEASED - 2004-07-28

Cuba has released prominent political prisoner Marta Beatriz Roque for health reasons. Ms. Roque is one of seventy-five pro-democracy advocates sentenced to long prison terms following a brutal crackdown on dissent.

Ms. Roque was serving a twenty-year term on trumped-up charges. She suffers from heart problems and diabetes, and lost twenty pounds in prison. Conditions there, she says, are inhumane and highly unsanitary. "There's no toilet - just a hole in the floor," she said. "There are lots of insects, and very big rats." Ms. Roque should never have been imprisoned in the first place. Here is U.S. State Department spokesman Steven Pike:

"Like many other prisoners of conscience held in Castro's Gulag, she suffered from inadequate medical care in prison. Typically, the Castro government has once again released an activist only when her deteriorating health became and inconvenience."

At the same time, Cuban authorities have stepped up their harsh treatment of other political prisoners, including physician Oscar Elias Biscet. Sentenced to twenty-five years, Dr. Biscet is reportedly being starved in solitary confinement. The withholding of food reportedly started after Dr. Biscet joined other prisoners in an act of civil disobedience, shouting,"Down with the Castro-Communist dictatorship."

The U.S. has joined the Organization of American States, the European Union, and many other international groups in calling on the Cuban government to release Dr. Biscet and all political prisoners immediately and to allow humanitarian organizations to monitor prison conditions.

The struggle for freedom in Cuba is being waged by courageous women and men like Marta Beatriz Roque and Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet. The U.S. is determined to give them hope in their struggle against Castro's totalitarian system.

For her part, Marta Beatriz Roque says she has no intention of leaving Cuba. "From Cuba, it's not me who must go," she said. "It's those who do harm to the country who should leave. I think that this fight is for my people. I will keep fighting until my death."