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Cuba Releases Government Opponent

May 12, 2000

HAVANA (AP) _ Cuba has freed one of four well-known government opponents whose prison sentences drew international protests last year, and he said Friday that he believed the other three will be released soon as well.

``This is very emotional,″ engineer Rene Bonne said at his home, just a few hours after he was released, three years into a four-year prison term. ``Everything indicates the same could come to pass″ soon for the others, he said.

Bonne said he had no idea why Fidel Castro’s government had chosen to free him, nor why it had chosen this particular time.

Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation, visited Bonne at his home Friday and said he also expected the other three to be freed soon.

The other three opponents are: economist Marta Beatriz Roque, sentenced to 3 1/2 years; lawyer Rene Gomez Manzano, 4 years, and Vladimiro Roca, a former military fighter pilot and son of a revered Communist Party leader, 5 years.

The four were arrested in July 1997 for criticizing a Communist Party document that they said did not present solutions to Cuba’s severe economic problems, and for holding several rare news conferences with the foreign media to publicize their complaints.

The government accused the four dissidents of promoting aggressive U.S. policies toward the communist nation and trying to harm the economy by discouraging foreign investment.

The charges also included encouraging Cubans not to vote, urging foreign businessmen not to invest in Cuba and asking Cuban exiles to encourage relatives on the island to undertake acts of civil disobedience.

The Vatican, the European Community, Canada, the United States and others protested the sentences as excessive and called for the opponents’ release.

Cuban officials have repeatedly referred to the opponents as ``counterrevolutionaries″ and has rejected the characterization of the four as prisoners of conscience.

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