Updated: Sunday, 14 Nov 2010, 4:42 PM EST
Published : Sunday, 14 Nov 2010, 4:42 PM EST
HAVANA (AP) — A Cuban dissident vowed Sunday to keep up his political activism and predicted a chaotic future if the country does not further embrace free-market reform.
Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique, a 68-year-old economist, was freed on parole Saturday night — the first of a group of prisoners who had refused to go into exile if released.
By Sunday, he was the star attraction at a weekly march of the Damas de Blanco, or Ladies in White, a dissident group made up of the wives and mothers of 75 activists, social commentators and opposition leaders including Ramos who were jailed following a 2003 crackdown on peaceful dissent.
After a meeting with President Raul Castro on July 7, Havana Roman Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega announced that 52 dissidents still in prison would be let go over the course of four months. Thirty-nine of the men were freed and sent into exile in Spain, but progress stalled as most of the last 13 refused to leave the island.
A Nov. 7 deadline passed without news on the men's fate, but the government indicated it still planned to make good on its word.
Another one of the 13, Luis Enrique Ferrer Garcia, was also freed after accepting a deal to go into exile if the title to his house could be transferred to family members and if he was allowed to return to the island to visit a brother still in jail. When Cubans leave the island permanently, they normally must forfeit ownership of any property.
Ramos was serving an 18-year sentence for treason and other crimes. He said he refused to accept exile because he had done nothing wrong.
"I am a Cuban, and I want to continue with the same activities I was doing before I was sent to prison," he told journalists at the march. "What I was doing was not a crime, but rather an act of opposition."
He said he was not impressed by the reforms Castro has announced in recent months, which include firing a half-million state workers while offering citizens increased opportunities to work for themselves, set up businesses and even hire employees.
The new businesses will be limited to 178 approved activities, however, and entrepreneurs must pay significant taxes. Taxes and required social security payments could approach a combined 75 percent of earnings in some cases, though many costs will be deductible.
"Up until now I don't see anything serious in the changes," Ramos said. "If they don't make it a true and honest economic opening, the island will fall into stagnation, and with that comes chaos."
Ramos described his time in jail as having "its highs and its lows," complaining that the food was terrible and it was hard to stay in touch with the other political prisoners.
He said authorities gave him the impression that the remaining political prisoners who have refused to go into exile would be released shortly.
"They made that understood to me without explicitly saying it," he said.
Laura Pollan, a Ladies in White leader whose husband is one of the dissidents still in jail, said she was very excited about Ramos's release. After the women finished their short march down Havana's leafy Fifth Avenue thoroughfare, she and the other 40 Damas each handed Ramos a white gladiola.
Associated Press writer Paul Haven contributed to this report.
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