The Cuban government on Thursday released political prisoner
Martha Beatriz Roque from a hospital where she was serving a 20-year sentence. She is the seventh and best-known person let
out of jail in three months.
Roque, speaking from her sister's home in Havana, said officials
told her the release was due to health reasons. She suffers from diabetes.
Roque, an economist, was the lone woman among 75 Cuban dissidents
arrested and sentenced to long prison terms in a crackdown last year after being accused of working with U.S. diplomats to
undermine Cuba's communist government.
Half a dozen of the other dissidents have also been released
for health reasons.
Roque, 59, said that too few of the 75 dissidents have been
freed for her to say the Cuban government is softening its stance on political prisoners.
"Until all of us are back on the street, there's no gesture
here," she said.
Roque's early release was unexpected. She said she was told
to pack her bags just a few moments before she was escorted to her sister's home.
Her family had no idea she had been freed until they saw her
pulling up to the house with her bags.
"We were very surprised," said her 75-year-old sister, Bertha
Cabello Roque. "We were outside, and one of the kids said, 'There's Martha!' We are very happy."
Roque, who lost 22 pounds during her incarceration, complained
of conditions in the jail cell where she stayed before being moved to a secure military hospital.
"There's no toilet - just a hole in the floor," she said. "There
are lots of insects, and very big rats."
She said she had to use fingernail clippers to cut her grey
Roque, a longtime opponent of Fidel Castro's government, said
she plans to continue working with other dissidents in the hope of paving the way to a democratic system in Cuba.
She said she has no intention of leaving the island.
"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."
Before her confinement, Roque directed the Institute of Independent
Economists. She also served several years in prison in the late 1990s alongside leading dissident Vladimiro Roca.
"This was my second trial, perhaps I'll have another," she