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Last updated 12:01 29/07/2010
A crippled Cuban dissident freed as part of an agreement between
President Raul Castro and the Roman Catholic Church has flown to the
United States, where he received a hero's welcome from Cuban exiles.
Ariel Sigler, released on June 12 after seven years in prison on the
communist-ruled Caribbean island, was greeted by a crowd of supporters
when he arrived on a charter flight from Havana at Miami's international
airport. He will receive medical treatment in the United States.
The 48-year-old former physical education teacher and boxer, now
emaciated and in a wheelchair, was the first prisoner freed following a
May meeting between Castro and Cardinal Jaime Ortega, which led to an
agreement on the release of 52 other prisoners.
On his arrival in Miami, supporters slipped boxing gloves stamped with
the Cuban flag on his fists, which Sigler raised in the air, shouting
"Down with communism."
"I'm going to keep on fighting against the Castro dictatorship ... . The
Castro brothers tried to beat me, but couldn't," he said, amid cheers
from dozens of exile supporters who greeted him, waving Cuban flags.
Sigler and the other prisoners being released were among 75 dissidents
arrested in a 2003 crackdown on government opponents. Cuban authorities
describe them as US-backed mercenaries working to subvert socialist rule.
So far, 20 of the 52 have been released and gone to Spain. Sigler is the
only one to go to the United States, where authorities gave him a
Before he flew out of Havana, Sigler told reporters it pained him to
leave Cuba, but he hoped to return. "When you go from the country where
you were born, really you feel a mix of happiness and pain."
"I leave a country in the hands of a dictatorship that for 50 years has
oppressed and repressed the Cuban people," he said.
The dissidents being freed represent about a third of all Cuba's
political prisoners. The United States and human rights groups have
called for the release of all of those still in jail.