Pressing For Change In Cuba, From Exile In Spain : Parallels Back in 2003, Cuba jailed 75 journalists and activists for having contact with the United States. They've been freed into exile in Spain, where they're still pushing for democracy in Cuba, from afar.
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Pressing For Change In Cuba, From Exile In Spain

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Pressing For Change In Cuba, From Exile In Spain

Pressing For Change In Cuba, From Exile In Spain

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Hours before President Obama landed in Cuba, the Cuban police arrested dozens of protesters affiliated with a group called Ladies in White. That's a group of family members of political prisoners, including those arrested 13 years ago by the Castro regime.

In 2003, 75 Cuban activists were detained and accused of having ties to the U.S., part of a massive crackdown that is known as Cuba's Black Spring. From 2008 to 2010, the Cuban government freed the detainees, allowing them to be exiled to Spain. NPR's Lauren Frayer caught up with one of them and tells his story.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: In his tiny, ground-floor office in Madrid, I ask Alejandro Gonzalez Raga to recount that day 13 years ago. A knock at the door - Cuban state security.


FRAYER: "They said you're detained in the name of people," he says. "I'd never heard that before - in the name of people. Then they took me to jail." Cuba says Gonzalez got illegal support from the U.S. government. He admits to receiving 650 bucks from someone in Florida, which he used to fund an opposition group in his home town of Camaguey.

GONZALEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "One of my friends drowned trying to reach the U.S.," he says. "Cubans were trying to get out in any way possible. This is the blood of our country, and I thought the only way is to form an opposition and try to change the situation peacefully, but decisively." I ask him how it was all those years in prison.

GONZALEZ: (Laughter, speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "I hated it. What can I say?" He laughs at my question. After five years, he was among the first Black Spring detainees to be freed into exile with his wife and kids to Spain. I asked to see photos of his life back home, but he doesn't have any. They left with only the clothes on their backs.

And within a year, Gonzalez founded the Cuban Observatory of Human Rights, which monitors the situation in Cuba and brings groups of Cubans to Madrid to give them training in the tools of democracy. Such groups first have to get permission from Havana to travel here.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: On this day, about half a dozen Cubans are here learning how to write a business plan or start an NGO, tools that could come in handy back home if there's a political transition.

After class, I walk with the visiting Cubans - including 33-year-old Rafael Leon - to a Madrid park where, by coincidence, a street busker is playing a Cuban song.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing in Spanish).

FRAYER: Leon taught himself English despite never having left his home country, Cuba. He and his compatriots say they're amazed by Europe - the cold winter, the traffic, the fancy cars.

RAFAEL LEON: Holy crap (laughter). Well, for someone like me who never traveled outside before, it was astonishing.

FRAYER: Leon makes a little more than $25 a month back home in Havana fixing neighbors' computers.

LEON: We don't have Internet. We have to go to a Wi-Fi spot. Mostly, it doesn't work. It's like 0.5-G (laughter).

FRAYER: He wants to be part of a tech revolution as Cuba opens up.

Are you excited about it?

LEON: I'm very excited about it (laughter). We've been in the same thing, same place, same everything for the last - over 50 years. It's about time.

FRAYER: These Cubans believe their government allowed them to come to Madrid for two weeks and visit an exiled dissident here because it would look bad to deny them while President Barack Obama is visiting Cuba, and they believe the Cuban government trusts them to come home.

But what keeps you from refusing to go home?

LEON: It's just - it's home. It's home, it's what I - all my memories are there. And it's my place. I want to fight for my place.

FRAYER: That's what we're all doing, he says. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid.

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