EspañolCuba has begun releasing some of the 53 “political prisoners” designated by the United States as part of a plan to rekindle diplomatic relations between the two nations, the US State Department said on Tuesday, January 6.
The White House has faced criticism in recent weeks for its restoration of ties to the island, and has yet to provide the names or other details of the prisoners planned for release.
“They have already released some of the prisoners. We would like to see this completed in the near future,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters that details are being intentionally withheld because “we don’t want to put an even bigger target on their back as political dissidents.”
Although the release of the prisoners is not an official precondition for the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, Raúl Castro publicly included the offer during his speech announcing the changes on December 17.
In a telephone interview from Havana, Elizardo Sanchez, leader of the the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation — an organization which monitors political detentions — said he was unaware of anyone being released. “We don’t have any information up to now. No names … we’ll wait and see.”
Francisco “Pepe” Hernández, director of the Miami-based foundation Human Rights in Cuba, says that he and his staff have made several calls to the relatives of many political prisoners since first hearing the news of the release. “Everybody says no, they haven’t heard anything,” he said.
Hernández said the only dissidents he is aware of that have been released are Sonia Garro Alfonso, a member of the Ladies in White dissident group; her husband Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González, and their neighbor Eugenio Hernández, who were jailed on March 8, 2012. In a brief conversation prior to the announcement, the White House told Hernández’s organization that the three detainees were counted among the 53 released.
On Thursday, January 8, the local opposition group Patriotic Union for Cuba (UNPACU), said at least 5 political prisoners belonging to their organization were released, most of them having served more than half of their jail sentences. The group also noted that on the say day of the release the government sentenced a local activist from the Holguín province to forced labor for his political activity.
UNPACU could not confirm if the released prisoners were among those included in the White House list.
Senator Marco Rubio (FL-R), a Cuban-American who has been a leading voice in challenging Obama’s policy shift with Cuba, urged the president to cancel talks with Havana until all the prisoners have been released.
“This is a commitment that [the Cubans] made not just to the United States but to the Vatican as well,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki concluded in Tuesday’s press briefing.