Socialist paradise Cuba agrees to release 52 political prisoners

July 8, 2010 04:00

Human Rights Commission spokesman Elizardo Sanchez said he was surprised that the government was releasing so many detainees but he added that the move did “not mean a significant improvement in the terrible situation of human rights that exists in Cuba”. He argued that “forced exile in Spain” was not the same as unconditional freedom.

BBC News

Cuba has agreed to free 52 political detainees in the largest prisoner release by the communist authorities for decades.

The move follows talks in Havana with officials from Spain and the Roman Catholic Church.

Five prisoners are expected to leave jail soon, while the rest will be freed in the next few months.

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, in Havana, said the move “opens a new era in Cuba”.

Mr Moratinos, who took part in the talks, also expressed hopes that it could help to put “aside differences once and for all on matters of prisoners”.

The minister said that Spain was willing to take in all 52 prisoners, who were arrested in a major government crackdown in 2003.

The Cuban government has been under pressure to free dissidents since a prisoner on hunger strike, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, died in February.

His death prompted another dissident, Guillermo Farinas, to launch a hunger strike that has lasted more than 130 days.

Cuba has always denied that it has political prisoners, calling them mercenaries paid by the United States to undermine Havana’s rule, says the BBC’s Michael Voss in the capital.

But President Raul Castro has been stung by the strength of international criticism following the death of Mr Tamayo in February, our correspondent adds.

‘Forced exile’

Agreement to release the prisoners came after talks between Mr Castro and Havana’s Roman Catholic Archbishop, Cardinal Jaime Ortega.

The accord was announced by Church officials in Havana.

Mr Moratinos and his Cuban counterpart, Bruno Rodriguez, were also present at the meeting in Havana.

Cardinal Ortega said five detainees – whose names were not released – would be freed soon and allowed to depart for Spain, accompanied by their relatives.


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