Church Helps in Release of Cuban Political Prisoner

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A paralyzed man who was once a political prisoner in Cuba is now back home with his family thanks to the Catholic Church.

Ariel Sigler, 44, became a paraplegic in a Cuban prison while serving a 25 year sentence for treason.

The government released him June 12 in a rare humanitarian gesture negotiated by the Catholic Church.

Sigler was arrested in 2003 along with 74 other Cuban activists and journalists during a crackdown on political dissidents.

"It was when the entire world, some people who had a blindfold on their eyes, were able to remove it and see that here in Cuba there are violations of human rights," Sigler said. "There have been violations of human rights and there will continue to be violations of human rights as long as the Castros remain in power."

His release came after Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega asked Cuban President Raul Castro to liberate some of the island's 180 political prisoners.

The government agreed to release Sigler and transferred 12 others to prisons closer to their homes so families could better provide for their needs.

Berta Soler's husband was one of the relocated political prisoners. She's a leader of the "Ladies in White" protest movement.

"I thought that he would be the last one to be transferred," she said. "Well, God placed His all-powerful hand and now they are transferring him."

There's still a long way to go with Cuba's zero tolerance for political dissent -- something Sigler knows well.

"I will continue to fight for the freedom of my brothers who are in prison so they can rejoin their families, which is where they should be," Sigler said.

The Cuban Catholic Church will help in the fight as well, hoping to play a vital role in humanitarian negotiations that will reunite more families.

Former U.S. State Department official Roger Noriega told CBN News Cuba's Catholic community is vital to tackling human rights issues there.

"You will really need that sort of moral foundation in the transition period so you can leach out the toxins of distrust and self-loathing and hate that Communist regime uses to hold on to power," he said. "So I think that the Catholic Church has an indispensable role to play in this country."

Noriega added that the Catholic Church should be more vocal in condemning the Cuban government.

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Stan Jeter

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CBN News Senior Producer Stan Jeter specializes in Christian news and Latin American coverage.  He has lived and worked for many years in South and Central America, most recently developing the Spanish Christian news program, Mundo Cristiano.  Follow Stan on Twitter @StanJeterNews and "like" him at Facebook.com/StanJeterCBN.