He was one of the 75 peaceful dissidents arrested in March 2003 and convicted the next month after one-day trials behind closed doors. Charged with “activities against the integrity and sovereignty of the State” and sentenced to 20 years, he was declared a “prisoner of conscience” by the London-based Amnesty International.
The dissident was sent to a remote prison in easternmost Cuba, and Leiva became one of the founding members of the Ladies in White — women relatives of the 75 who demanded their freedom — and an independent journalist.
Leiva alleged that his imprisonment “aggravated” his chronic liver disease, and he was freed on his 64th birthday in 2004 under a “medical parole” — meaning he could be returned to a cell any time the government deemed his health had improved.
Mesa-Lago and about 20 other economists later signed letters urging the Cuban government to allow Espinosa Chepe to travel to Spain for treatment but received no reply. The George W. Bush administration also endorsed the request.
In 2010, an immigration official finally told him that he could leave, but not return. Leiva quoted her husband as responding, “If they let me return, yes. If not, no.”
The same immigration official changed his reply this spring after Espinosa Chepe’s health deteriorated and Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega intervened on his behalf, Leiva told el Nuevo Herald recently by phone from Madrid.
The couple left Havana on March 11 and he was admitted the next day to the Puerta de Hierro de Majadahonda Hospital in Madrid, where the Spanish government paid for his treatment. Doctors found several complications that had not been detected in Cuba, Leiva said, and on Aug. 22 he was transferred to the Fuenfría hospice.
“His firm goal was to return to Cuba as soon as his precarious health improved,” Leiva wrote on her Facebook page last month. “However, the specialized attention in the modern Hospital Puerta del Hierro has not been able to reverse the course of the ailment.
“His body is shutting down with grave discomfort, while his ideas and thoughts continue dedicated to Cuba and its people,” she said.