Cuban exiles unhappy in Spain

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Freedom has a bitter aftertaste for 40 Cuban dissidents exiled to Spain. They were granted political asylum a year ago but the Spanish authorities haven't offered them any work and many feel their future is bleak. In retrospect, many say, they should have stayed in their Cuban prison cells.

The dissidents were part of the Group of 75: writers, journalists and activists who were arrested in March 2003 by the Cuban government. They all received lengthy prison sentences. The international community pressured Raul Castro's government into releasing them.

For some of the dissidents, part of their release agreements included going into exile. One of them is Miguel Galbán, a 46-year-old journalist who is now living in a Red Cross shelter with his niece and a neighbour.

"I've been here for a year now but my papers still haven't been sorted out. This means I cannot rent a house or get a job." His food is bought for him and he gets €50 spending money a month.

"Prison was horrible, but life here in Spain is much more difficult. I really regret going into exile."

He was sentenced to 26 years in jail for his work as an independent journalist. He was released in September 2010 and was one of the last Cuban dissidents to accept exile to Spain. Spain was hard-hit by the global economic crisis and when he arrived in Spain around 20% of the workforce was unemployed.

Ricardo González is another Cuban exile. However, the 61-year-old writer and journalist is glad he left. He spent more than seven years in prison. The Catholic Church mediated his release and the government agreed, on condition that he accept exile as the price for his freedom. He now lives with his wife and daughter in a tiny two-room apartment in a Madrid suburb.

He receives a €1,200 per month stipend and after paying the rent and monthly bills there is nothing left over for luxuries. The television set is ancient and there is no air-conditioning but he's not complaining.

"The Spanish people pay for all of this from their tax money. There are so many Spaniards who can only dream about having an apartment like this."

Estrella Galán of Spain's Refugee Aid Committee (CEAR) acknowledges that there have been problems but says the Cubans don't have cause for complaint.

"Normally it takes two or three years to be granted refugee status, but this group got it in less than half that time. These Cubans have received every sort of support imaginable. The government has made every effort, both financially and in dealing with the bureaucracy, to ensure their integration into Spanish society. However, the economic crisis doesn't care where you come from, it has hit everybody."

Meanwhile, many dissidents have run out of patience and look towards the United States, home to hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles, with longing in their eyes. So far, 12 of the 40 have left for the USA. Pablo Pacheco, another journalist who also served more than seven years in a Cuban jail, has his bags packed and is ready to go.

"My wife is a doctor but she still hasn't managed to get a licence to practice here. I found something here in Spain that I never had in Cuba: peace and freedom. But we can't live off that."

On Wednesday he leaves to join his brother in Florida to "finally, after all our miseries and troubles, start building a new life."