Former Cuban Political Prisoner Ariel Sigler Improving, Expects to Walk Again

Cuban dissident Ariel Sigler Amaya is recovering slowly but successfully from his seven-and-a-half-year stint in a Castro prison.

Sigler, 46, began physical therapy last week at Jackson Memorial Hospital. He remains rail-thin and wheelchair-bound but is already visibly healthier than when he first arrived in Miami on July 28.

Now Sigler says JMH doctors have told him he will walk again.

"My doctors here are very intelligent, very experienced dealing with problems like mine," he says. "They tell me that... with all the physical therapy and medication, I'll be able to walk very soon."

Sigler says Cuban doctors misdiagnosed him as paraplegic when, in reality, he suffers from several serious but largely treatable neurological disorders (aggressive neuropathy and myeloneuropathy). "They tell me that I will be able to walk with a recovery of 95 percent," he says.

Sigler was arrested in March of 2003 during a round-up of journalists and political activists that would later be called "the Black Spring." At the time, he weighed nearly 210 pounds, roughly twice as much as when he was checked into Jackson Memorial.

He blames both his weight loss and paralysis on the horrible conditions he suffered while in Cuban jails.

"The conditions were inhuman," he says. "I lived in a cell designed for five people, but crammed with 10. There were insects, rats, cockroaches."

"Instead of medications, they gave me dirty water," he adds. "You can't 'live' in Cuban prison, you can only survive it."

Ariel sees frequent visitors, among them brothers Juan Francisco and Miguel, the latter also a former political prisoner on the island. Another brother, Guido, remains in Cuban prison after refusing exile in Spain.

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