updated 1/11/2007 10:14:29 AM ET 2007-01-11T15:14:29

Cuban dissident Miguel Valdes Tamayo, one of 75 activists jailed in a massive crackdown in 2003 and released a year later for health reasons, died Wednesday night, according to one of the island’s leading activists. He was 50.

Valdes Tamayo died of a heart attack, Martha Beatriz Roque, also among the original group of detained activists, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. He had been released from prison June 9, 2004, because of his health problems.

Valdes Tamayo was among 75 dissidents rounded up in the spring of 2003 and sentenced to prison terms ranging from six to 28 years. Sixteen of those prisoners, including Valdes Tamayo and Roque, had since been released for health reasons.

He had been in intensive care at a Havana hospital since Dec. 31.

The Cuban government accused the 75 dissidents of receiving funding from U.S. officials to undermine the island’s communist system — a charge denied by Washington and the activists. Their 2003 imprisonment caused an uproar in the international community, affecting Cuba’s relations with several European countries.

Valdes Tamayo had been sentenced to 15 years and served his first year in prisons in the central province of Camaguey and Havana before being released.

Roque said the dissident had been waiting for government permission to leave the island. Cuban authorities have allowed two of the 16 activists — poet Raul Rivero and independent journalist Manuel Vazquez Portal — to leave.

“He hoped to be able to go,” said Roque, adding that Valdes Tamayo “was a very loved man” among Cuban dissidents.

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