Image: Rene Gomez Manzano
Adalberto Roque  /  AFP - Getty Images
Rene Gomez Manzano shows the form stating he was freed on Thursday in Havana.
updated 2/8/2007 9:22:44 PM ET 2007-02-09T02:22:44

Veteran dissident attorney Rene Gomez Manzano, who helped organize an unprecedented gathering of opponents of the Cuban government two years ago, was unexpectedly released from prison after being held for 19 months without being charged.

Gomez Manzano said Thursday he had little information about what had occurred in his country since he was jailed in July 2005, but didn't think Fidel Castro's illness, or the ceding of power to his brother Raul, influenced the release.

"I'm inclined to think that it doesn't have anything to do with it," the white-haired 63-year-old said, looking pallid as a breeze wafted through the whitewashed living room through a wood-slat window.

Despite his jailing, Gomez Manzano, an opponent of Castro's rule since the 1980s, said he would continue his activism and said officials imposed no conditions on his release.

"They did not put any and I would not have accepted them," he said. "I am not going to change or abandon my ideas."

He also remained upbeat about the future of the communist-led island: "I am sure that change will come sooner than later."

Second time in jail
It was the second imprisonment for Gomez Manzano, who said he gradually entered the dissident movement while working as a defense lawyer for political prisoners starting in the early 1980s.

He was one of four noted dissidents arrested in 1997 after circulating a document, "The Homeland is for All," that accused the Communist Party of failing to offer pragmatic solutions to the nation's economic ills. He was freed in May 2000.

Gomez Manzano said he had undertaken two hunger strikes during his latest time behind bars to protest his jailing — one for three days, and another for eight days. In both cases, he said, jail authorities administered intravenous fluids to keep him alive.

Gomez Manzano was taken from prison Thursday morning in the central city of Sancti Spiritus and was brought to at his home in Havana before noon.

Gomez Manzano was jailed for allegedly violating a law that prohibits Cubans from working with a foreign power to undermine the island's communist system. He said he was arrested at his home on July 22, 2005, as officials broke up a planned protest outside the French Embassy.

Unproven charges
But he said no charges were ever filed: "Even today I have not received a charge, a prosecutor accusing me of a concrete act, a specific crime."

"He was jailed for charges that they could not prove, not even to the slightest degree," said fellow activist Martha Beatriz Roque, who with Gomez Manzano organized the Assembly to Promote Civil Society — the dissident gathering in May 2005.

She also was also briefly arrested, but then freed after the planned embassy protest.

The government often sweepingly describes opponents as tools of the United States, which has budgeted money for dissidents and social movements in Cuba as part of a broader effort to replace Cuba's communist system.

"Before going to prison, I never received the help of any foreign government," Gomez Manzano said.

But he no longer can work as a lawyer because he was thrown out of the official lawyers' association. "My aid came from compatriots in exile," he said.

Gomez Manzero said he wasn't opposed to foreign governments giving aid in Cuba "if the aid is given without conditions" because dissidents here often lose their jobs and have no means of support.

While some dissidents have chosen to emigrate after leaving prison, Gomez Manzano said he planned to stay. He said he believed "we should make our effort here within the country."

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