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First in Series of Released Cubans Arrives in U.S.

January 6, 1988

MIAMI (AP) _ Nine former political prisoners and 30 members of their families arrived from Cuba on Wednesday, the first in a wave of exiles expected from the communist island nation this year.

They were among 348 people whose freedom was negotiated by the U.S. Catholic Conference in June in a pact unrelated to the U.S.-Cuba immigration agreement announced in November.

″I am amazed by all this,″ said Uvaldo Cabrera Ramirez, 54, whose sister, Norma DeLatorre, 51, hugged him for the first time in 27 years as reporters and television camera crews swarmed around him at Miami International Airport. ″It’s like being in an amusement park.″

The exhausted prisoners and their relatives spoke eagerly of their gratitude to the U.S. government for beaming information to the Cuban citizens over Radio Marti.

But they expressed concern as well as enthusiasm over an Radio Marti report they heard Tuesday on tentative plans for a television version of the government-run broadcasts.

Congress has authorized $100,000 for a study to determine whether television broadcasts are technically possible and the political impact of such an operation.

″There are a lot of worries that Tele-Mart might ruin the chances of prisoners still awaiting their freedom,″ said former prisoner Victor Hidalgo Garcell, 69, who arrived with his wife and her parents.

A U.S.-Cuban immigration agreement which had allowed the entry of thousands of former political prisoners and their families was canceled in 1986 by Cuban President Fidel Castro after Radio Marti began broadcasting news and entertainment to Cuba.

Since then, private individuals and groups, like the Catholic conference, have negotiated the release of smaller groups of ex-prisoners to the United States.

The November agreement to renew the 1984 immigration accord triggered rioting by Cuban inmates in federal prisons in Oakdale, La., and Atlanta.

Hidalgo, once a captain in Castro’s army, said he languished in prison for 21 years before he was released in 1981. He then spent more years waiting for the chance to leave his homeland.

″As for myself, I feel so grateful for being here,″ he said.

Jose Leon Lagarto, 46, was jailed for 10 years before his release in 1970. His wife, Aleida, said the Cuban government took Leon’s last bartending job seven years ago.

″There is a lot of excitement and anticipation in Cuba now because of Tele-Marti,″ Leon said.

Radio Marti has helped ″expose the truth about living conditions in Cuba″ and the Cuban people were very grateful for the ″cultural, sports and news information,″ he said.

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