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Is Cuba tired of its ETA guests?

Letter sent to Basque media by terrorists living on the island voices complaint that Havana won't provide false ID documents and that the island "is a prison"

After decades of supporting ETA, the Cuban regime now seems to be distancing itself from the Basque terrorist group. Recent reports suggest that ETA activists deported from Spain in the 1980s, and who made their own way to the island, have been denied false passports and other identity documents required for travel abroad.

The only alternative for the 20 or so former ETA activists - none of those on the island face charges in Spain any longer - is to apply for a passport at the Spanish consulate in Havana, an option none have taken up as yet.

Havana's reported change in policy has led two ETA members, Elena Bárcena Argüelles, aka "Tigresa," and Francisco Pérez Lekue, known as "Luke," to publicly turn against their hosts after their repeated efforts to leave the island have failed.

In a statement datelined Havana, February 8, and sent to Basque Country media associated to the pro-independence struggle, Bárcena and Pérez Lekue accuse the Castro regime of being "jailers" and say that the authorities there are not sticking to a 1984 accord in which the Castro regime promised not to do anything to prevent ETA exiles from leaving the island.

The pair say that the government in Cuba initially allowed ETA members to leave the island by providing them with false documentation, but that the authorities have been making it increasingly difficult. The pair now claim that this has led to "an openly admitted prohibition" on movement abroad.

"We wish to make public our rejection of the stand taken by authorities in this country, which have condemned us, de facto, to a life sentence and with no legal guarantees whatsoever," the statement continues.

So far, the Basque media has declined to publish the statement. Sources say that it could trigger a worsening of relations, and possibly be "prejudicial" to the ETA community of exiles living in Cuba.

Up until now Cuba's official position regarding ETA members living on the island has been not to cooperate with the Spanish authorities in cases involving ETA activists. This is in line with its doctrine that as members of "national liberation movements" they would not receive a fair trial in their country of origin.

Over the years, Spain has sought the extradition from Cuba of several senior ETA members, so far without success.

Bárcena and Pérez Lekue have also written to the Cuban Communist Party repeating their request to be issued false documentation, going so far as to say: "Cuba is a prison where we do not wish to remain for another day." They also refuse "on principle" to apply for a Spanish passport, and have threatened to go on hunger strike. Bárcena and her husband were deported from Spain to the former Portuguese colony of Cape Verde in 1986, but both managed to make their way to Cuba a year later. Pérez Lekue ended up in Cuba after spending time in Nicaragua. The Spanish police say that he has been living on the island with false documents.

There are another 20 or so other ETA members in Cuba, who, unlike Bárcena and Pérez Lukue, were officially granted asylum by the authorities as part of a deal with Spain's Socialist Party government of Felipe González in the early 1980s. The Spanish authorities say that several senior ETA terrorists made their way to Cuba in the early 1990s when the left-wing Sandinista government of Daniel Ortega lost power to Violeta Chamorra. Among them are Miguel Ángel Apalategi, alia "Apala," and other leaders from the early days of the organization who were given new identities and offered protection to prevent them being discovered by the Spanish security services.

The decision by Bárcena and Pérez Lukue to criticize the Castro regime will likely have upset other former ETA activists on the island such as José Miguel Arrugaeta and Txutxo Abrisketa Korta, who have lived in Cuba for decades, operating businesses that trade with the Basque Country. In the past they have avoided making any public complaints about the Cuban authorities because it could be interpreted as disloyalty.

Classified documents published by WikiLeaks earlier this year shed some light on Havana's support for terrorist groups such as ETA, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and other groups. One of the State Department cables noted that the specific activities in Cuba of the three groups "are largely unknown but ETA members that assisted the FARC had spent time in Cuba."

"Reporting also indicates that the government of Cuba is able to influence the FARC. The Cuban Communist Party International Department (PCC/ID) has close relationships with the Clandestine Communist Party of Colombia, which serves as the political wing of the FARC," the report added.

The Cuban government allows the FARC and ETA "to enjoy rest and recreation in Cuba and receive medical care and other services," it added. But "there is little chance of any operational activity given the need for safe haven."