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Cuban prisoners don't want to be traded for spies

HAVANA – A leading rights activist says most of Cuba's 200 or more political prisoners would rather serve out long terms on the island than be part of an exchange for five communist agents imprisoned in the U.S., as Cuban President Raul Castro has suggested.

President Barack Obama has said Cuba should make the next move as both leaders try to thaw relations — and that releasing political prisoners would be a significant step.

Castro responded in part by suggesting a prisoner swap — sending all of Cuba's political prisoners, and their families, to the United States in exchange for the five convicted Cuban spies.

The prisoners themselves? They want nothing of such a deal, Havana's leading dissident said Monday.

"It's nearly unanimous among the prisoners that they not be exchanged for military men arrested red-handed in espionage activities in the United States," said Elizardo Sanchez of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and Reconciliation. "They would rather stay in prison."

Most prefer to stay in their homeland with their families and culture and fight for changes to the political system of their own country. They consider themselves patriots, and having risked everything to speak out — their jobs, homes and family prospects — they are committed to working from within to improve life in Cuba.

Sanchez, the most veteran of the island's rights activists, talks to numerous political prisoners and their relatives by phone each day, and updates detailed lists of inmates that he releases every six months. His reports are a key source of information for international groups monitoring Cuba's human rights situation.

Castro's government has unilaterally released "prisoners of conscience" before without suffering any political consequences inside Cuba. In February, four political prisoners were set free and immediately exiled to Spain, following human rights talks in Madrid. It was at least the fifth known release of a group of political prisoners by Cuba since the mid-1980s that followed an international appeal or negotiations.

The U.S. has swapped prisoners before with other countries — notably in the case of KGB spy Rudolph Ivanovich Abel, traded to the Soviets in 1962 for imprisoned U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers.

But Obama could suffer serious political fallout if he agreed to swap the so-called Cuban Five — communist agents who were convicted of espionage in Miami in 2001. The ringleader was implicated in the death of four exiles killed when Cuban military fighters shot their planes down off the island's coast in 1996.

Senior State Department officials in Washington said Monday they knew about Castro's statement but were unaware if Havana had made an official prisoner swap proposal.

There are several similar lists of Cuban political prisoners compiled by different rights groups, and Obama has not specified which inmates he is talking about.

Sanchez's list numbers 205 and includes three men sentenced to death for violent acts, including two Salvadorans convicted in Havana hotel bombings that killed an Italian tourist.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director for Human Rights Watch, said his group uses some of the Cuban commission's information, and also lists more than 200 political prisoners, but doesn't include anyone convicted of violent crimes.

Amnesty International says it has adopted 58 Cuban "prisoners of conscience," but it's unclear why its list is significantly shorter than the others or if it uses different criteria.

Castro clearly referred to the list Sanchez compiles during a passionate speech in Venezuela last week, offering to free political prisoners who include "confessed terrorists" when saying he would discuss "everything" with Obama.

Sanchez has suggested that the Salvadorans serve the rest of their terms in their own country.

"I would be happy if they released some or all, but our position is that we want the liberation of all, without conditions," he said.

Vivanco called Castro's proposal "an absurd proposition," equating five government agents with "more than 200 political prisoners serving time simply because they tried to exercise fundamental freedoms — free speech, the right to association."

Vivanco accompanied France Libertes, a French human rights group led by former first lady Danielle Mitterand, on a 1995 trip to Cuba that resulted in the release of six political prisoners, including two prominent dissidents.

As a congressman, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson secured the release of three Cuban political prisoners during talks with Raul Castro's older brother Fidel in Cuba in 1996, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson facilitated the liberation of 48 prisoners of conscience during a 1984 trip to Havana.

The Cuban government released 299 prisoners on humanitarian grounds, including dissidents but mostly common criminals, as a gesture to Pope John Paul II after his papal visit in January 1998.

Vivanco acknowledged these previous releases, but said the communist government has not changed its criminal code, which includes vague charges that presume guilt before the fact, such as "social dangerousness," or inhibit free speech as "enemy propaganda."

"Most of these are people who simply have a disagreement with the government, who then make their disagreement public," he said. "Any discussion of engagement with Cuba needs to take into account that Cuba is the last country in the hemisphere that represses nearly every form of political dissent."

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Scientist Stephen Hawking 'comfortable' in hospital

LONDON (AFP) – Stephen Hawking, the acclaimed wheelchair-bound British scientist, is reported "comfortable" in hospital the day after being rushed there, a Cambridge University spokesman said on Tuesday.

Hawking, 67, whose book "A Brief History Of Time" became an international best-seller, spent the night in Addenbrooke's hospital in Cambridge, eastern England, being treated for a respiratory infection.

Cambridge University, where Hawking has been Lucasian professor of mathematics since 1979, said: "Professor Hawking is being kept in for observation at Addenbrooke's hospital this morning.

"He is comfortable and his family is looking forward to him making a full recovery."

He fell ill after flying back from a visit to the United States over the weekend, the spokesman said.

Hawking has achieved worldwide fame for his research, writing and television documentaries despite suffering since the age of 21 from motor neurone disease that has left him disabled and dependent on a voice synthesizer to communicate

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Tattle: Susan Boyle has $1M offer for porno flick

FROM NEVER-been-kissed to porn star?

Susan Boyle, the virginal wallflower whose blooming performance on "Britain's Got Talent" was e-mailed 'round the world last week, has been offered $1 million to make a porno.

"We want to get this movie shot and out while Susan has the world's attention," Mark Kulkis, of Los Angeles-based Kick Ass Films, said on

"Besides, after 47 years of virginity, I'm sure Susan is also anxious to get something cracking as soon as possible."

After 47 years of virginity, she's probably feeling a lot more than anxious.

Should she decide to give it a go, Boyle would apparently have to lose her virginity on camera. What, no undress rehearsals? And Kick Ass would fly her to L.A. on - wait for it - Virgin Airlines.

Boyle's luminous April 11 performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" from "Les Miserables" has been viewed online more than 90 million times, by some calculations.

And the best offer she's gotten so far is to take her clothes off? Please, can somebody give this woman a record deal? Or a daytime talk show?

Not that she shouldn't consider the Kick Ass deal, so to speak, while she can.

Fame's fickle finger is already pointing toward a new "Britain's Got Talent" superstar, Shaheen Jafargholi. Like Boyle, he's lived most of his life with his mum and a cat. And he's probably as, uh, socially inexperienced as she is.

Difference being, he's only 12.

But he's got pipes, wowing the judges with his performance of the Jackson Five's "Who's Loving You."

In the doghouse

It's all porn, all the time in Tattleland today. But, please, this one's for a good cause. Penthouse Pet Mia Presley and about 70 magazine centerfolds and porn stars such as Ron Jeremy are doffing their duds to raise money for dog rescue efforts.

It being too late for them to cash in on their virginity, they'll host parties and sell autographed photos of themselves with their pets. Go to to see some adorable photos of pups looking for good homes.

Oh, yeah, there are other pix there, too.

"Models love animals and most of us have warm hearts," Presley told's Pop Tarts. "Everyone thinks we're divas but we're just nude models. We're high class, hard-working and giving sexy a smart voice."

And a remarkably melodious one, should Susan Boyle join the party.

Top down

Continuing today's theme (vacationing Howard Gensler, the things we do for you!) we turn once again to for word that Lindsay Lohan, having burned through her serious-actress options and a lotta dough, is considering a star turn in a Las Vegas topless show.

That would be Spice Girl Mel B. and Kelly Monaco's "Peepshow." Lindsay attended the grand opening of the striptease extravaganza Saturday and apparently met with director Jerry Mitchell. Also in the premier audience were Charlie Sheen and wife Brooke Mueller, Chris Noth, Matthew Morrison, Perez Hilton and Donald Trump.

The show's designed to have rotating leads, and while Mel B. wants to stay on, Monaco doesn't.

"People forget that she [Lohan] is a 'triple threat,' " a source told

Well, we know she's had liaisons with boys and girls . . .

"She can act and sing and dance," said the source. "She feels that this would really revitalize her career and give her some serious theater cred."

Serious theater cred?

Maybe she should try "Britain's Got Talent."

Just folk

Daily News music writer Jonathan Takiff reports that while the area's other big folk fest (Appel Farm) is taking a year off, the Philadelphia Folk Festival is gearing up for another full weekend Aug. 14-16.

"We're focusing on newer faces with a folk sensibility, like the Low Anthem and an all-star L.A. collective called the Works Progress Administration [an eight-piece including members of Nickel Creek, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Toad the Wet Sprocket and Elvis Costello's Imposters]," talent booker Jesse Lundy announced yesterday. "And we're spending more on headliners than we ever have before."

Among the latter: Rebirth Jazz Band, the Del McCoury Band, Tony Trischka, Tom Rush, Sonny Landreth and two biggies "we can't announce until June 7th, after they've played other dates in the area." Hmmm, muses Jonathan, aren't the Decemberists in town on June 6? *

Daily News wire services contributed to this report.

Tattle's Howard Gensler has the day off.

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Thousands fled as the army breached the rebel zone. U.N. fears for others still held.

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - The army breached one of the last Tamil Tiger rebel fortifications yesterday and freed thousands of trapped civilians, some fleeing through the neck-high water of a lagoon while bleeding or carrying wounded relatives.
The government warned the rebels they had 24 hours to surrender or face a final assault to end a crumbling 25-year insurgency that sought to create a separate homeland for ethnic Tamils on this South Asian island.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa went on television to say that soldiers helped more than 35,000 civilians leave the battle zone in what he called the "largest-ever hostage rescue mission in history."

The Red Cross said its workers had tended to 4,000 people who crossed the front lines yesterday. Spokeswoman Sarasi Wijeratne said the organization was not in a position to "confirm or deny" the large number being quoted.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the civilians' escape but remained deeply concerned about thousands still trapped and "the potential for large-scale casualties," U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe said in New York.

State Department spokesman Robert Wood called the humanitarian situation "dire" and asked both sides to "cease this violent activity."

The United Nations estimated 100,000 civilians were trapped in the zone where the rebels have been pinned down, an area that measures less than 8 square miles. U.N. officials say 4,500 noncombatants have been killed in the last three months amid fierce fighting during a government offensive that has driven the rebels from their strongholds.

The United Nations and others have called for a negotiated truce to allow civilians to leave.

But the government has rejected that, saying it is on the verge of crushing the rebels after an insurgency that caused 70,000 deaths since it began in 1983, fed by Tamil anger over decades of marginalization by the island's ethnic Sinhalese majority.

The military said the vast majority of those who fled yesterday - more than 25,000 - headed to an army-controlled area where they were being screened.

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McBaby: Ellen Pompeo Expecting!

The "Grey's Anatomy" cast has a future doctor in the making! Ellen Pompeo (aka Dr. Meredith Grey) is expecting her first child with music producer hubby Chris Ivery. No word yet on the due date, but Luxaholics found the perfect onesie for the little doctor-to-be! Makes you wonder: does this mean Meredith and McDreamy will be expecting as well?!

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