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Leading Cuban dissident says he doesn’t seek asylum in Spain

(Cuban playwright and activist Yunior Garcia Aguilera gives a press conference in Madrid, Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021. Garcia is one of the Cuban organizers of a banned opposition march. AP Photo: Bernat Armangue)

By ALBERTO ARCE and ARITZ PARRA, MADRID (AP):- A leading Cuban pro-democracy activist has vowed to return to his home country only hours after he and his wife landed in Spain following pressure by authorities in Cuba and their supporters that, he said, had become unbearable for the couple.

Yunior García, a playwright born in 1982, said that he understood that his departure had dealt “a big blow” to fellow activists. But during a press conference in Madrid on Thursday, he offered an explanation for why he decided to leave Cuba without consulting members of Archipiélago Cuba, an online discussion forum with over 25,000 followers on Facebook.

“I beg your pardon for being a human, for thinking of my wife and of my life, for considering escaping what would have become death in life. Because that’s what was awaiting me in Cuba: death in life,” García told reporters in Madrid on Thursday.

“I will try to pardon myself for not being courageous enough to become a bronze statue,” he said.

The Archipiélago platform was a driving force behind plans to hold anti-government protests across Cuba on Monday. Cuban authorities banned the marches, and government supporters surrounded the houses of many of the organizers to prevent them from going ahead with the protests. Activists said Cuban police had warned them they would be arrested if they took to the streets.

The group had posted messages declaring García and his wife, Dayana Prieto, as missing after fellow activists were unable to contact them for several days. The couple re-emerged Wednesday afternoon in Madrid.

During an online interview hours after his arrival, García explained that the internet and phone service at the couple’s home had been cut off and Cuban flags hung from above covered the apartment windows. In a video recorded at the gate of the couple’s home and shared by García, several people who identify themselves as neighbors can be seen threatening the couple.

“They were going to leave me locked up in my house, they were going to cut me off, as all communications were already there, who knows for how long”, he said. “The only way I had to avoid being silenced was to escape from there.”

García landed at Madrid’s international airport after he received an urgent tourist visa from the Spanish Embassy in Havana, a diplomatic source told The Associated Press.

The official, who wasn’t authorized to be identified by name in media reports, declined to discuss García’s future in Spain.

But the activist said that he doesn’t plan to establish himself in Europe in the long run.

“I have not asked for asylum because my idea is to return to Cuba,” García, whose tourism Spanish visa allows him to remain in Europe for a maximum of 90 days, told an auditorium packed with cameras and reporters.

García said that remaining in Cuba would have eroded his yearning for dialogue and pluralism, filling his character “with rage.” He said he would focus first on “healing” from his recent experience and that he would also like to explore artistic opportunities in Spain while drawing attention to the plight of other activists back in Cuba.

“Under no circumstances am I going to give up on building a better country,” he said, calling on the international community to “stop looking in another direction” and considering the situation there with the romanticism that the Cuban Revolution evoked among many around the world.

“We have to take on what that revolution has become,” García said. “It has become an abusive husband that beats his wife. It has become the Saturn that has already devoured his children and, right now, is swallowing his grandchild.”

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, who accuses the United States of instigating pro-democracy activists, said García and Prieto’s departure was a personal decision and not the result of a deal between the Cuban and Spanish governments.

“I suppose that (García) is exercising the right that any Cuban has to travel and move freely,” Rodríguez told The Associated Press during an interview on Wednesday.

Arce reported from Valbuena, Spain.

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