Luis García Paneque is one of five Cuban dissidents who
will be released and sent to Spain, international news reports said today.
A disillusioned plastic surgeon-turned-headstrong editor of an independent news
agency, García Paneque, at left, has been jailed since March 2003. At 45, he leaves
prison with a dismal array of illnesses.
A young doctor with a promising career at the Ernesto Guevara Hospital
in Las Tunas province, García Paneque flirted with the Cuban dissident movement
in the 1990s, his wife, Yamilé Llánez, has told me over the years of his
imprisonment. In 1997, he joined a group of young Cubans fighting for
democracy. Months later, having been fired for to his anti-revolutionary
politics, he turned to the booming Cuban independent press movement. By 2003,
he was director of the local independent news agency Libertad.
For his reporting and editing, García Paneque was accused of
acting “against the independence and territorial integrity of the state,” and
sentenced to 24 years in prison. He spent the last seven being shuffled from
prison to prison, collecting illnesses, and being witness and victim to the
inhumane conditions under which Cuban political prisoners live. A healthy man
in his late 30s at the time of his arrest, García Paneque now suffers from chronic
malnutrition, pneumonia, and internal bleeding, and has been diagnosed with a
kidney tumor, his wife said.
The journalist has not seen his four children since 2007,
when continuous government harassment forced his wife to flee with them to the United States.
Here, the family has struggled to survive, and is able to talk to García
Paneque for five minutes once a month. “The last time I saw my husband,” Llánez
told me over the phone shortly after her arrival in Texas, “he told me that I was responsible
for my children, and that I had to do whatever was necessary to make sure they
were OK. So we left him.”
As the news of García Paneque’s release circled the globe
today, I was the first one to tell Llánez that her husband was reportedly among
the five prisoners who would leave Cuba
Her reaction was silence, shock, and disbelief. She has been told time and
again that his release was imminent. Meanwhile in Cuba, Llánez told me later today,
García Paneque’s elderly mother scrambled to get to the prison where her son is
being held. News of his release for her was bittersweet. To be freed, he has to
and this means that she might never see him again.