Seven of the eleven Cuban political prisoners freed and flown to Madrid this week described conditions in Cuban jails, where they lived among rats and the threat of tuberculosis. They also requested Madrid does not categorize them as immigrants.
The Cuban government, which locked up dozens of dissidents for demanding civil liberties and democracy in a crackdown in 2003, recently agreed to release 52 political prisoners and allow them to move to Spain with their families.
The men, some of whom had been handed the death penalty, were let out as part of a deal between the Cuban government and the Catholic Church, helped by Spanish diplomatic efforts.
My body wouldn't support the TB drugs I was taking -- not surprising considering the conditions we were living in, always surrounded by rats and excrement Normando Hernández González, once a journalist with Agence CPIC, told a conference in Madrid.
The seven Cubans, speaking for the 11 men released and sent to Madrid this week, said they would continue to fight for the freedom of all Cuban political prisoners.
Our release is a first step, but it's no revolution. We haven't yet achieved anything in terms of bringing democracy to Cuba said Ricardo González Alfonso, a former correspondent for the group Reporters Without Borders.
Though angry about their treatment by the Cuban authorities, the seven were still fiercely proud of their country and said they would like to return but feared re-imprisonment.
Alfonso said he would like to see Cuba, ruled by the Castro brothers since 1959, have the same political freedoms as Europe.
I want to be able to watch a televised political debate between the country's leaders and opposition, but in my own country and in front of my own TV, he said, referring to Spain's annual state of the nation debate, televised this week.
The seven said they hoped their release would start a dialogue between the Europe Union and Cuba.
While eager to express their gratitude towards the Spanish government, people and press, the men said their living conditions in Madrid were not ideal. They are staying with their families in a crowded hostel in Vallecas and sharing facilities with other immigrants.
The men expressed disappointment that their legal status in Spain was uncertain and said they did not want to be categorised as immigrants -- a status which would prevent them from travelling and working freely across the European Union.
We are not really free. We are now just political prisoners in Spain as well as in Cuba, said Julio Cesar Galvez Rodriguez.