Cuba’s president Raul Castro has reportedly agreed to release 52 political prisoners who have been imprisoned since a 2003 crackdown on dissent.
The announcement was made by the Roman Catholic Church on Wednesday following a meeting between Cardinal Jaime Ortega, Castro and visiting Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos. It is the largest release of political prisoners since Pope John Paul II visited the Communist-ruled Caribbean island in 1998.
Five of the prisoners will be released immediately and the remainder will be freed over the next few months. The five prisoners were expected to leave for Spain accompanied by their families, while the others will apparently be given the option to leave the country if they wish.
They are among 75 dissidents— including journalists, librarians, teachers, trade unionists and human rights and democracy activists– arrested in the March 2003 crackdown.
One of the 75, Orlando Zapata, died of a hunger strike this year.
The releases will be welcome, but it’s clear that the Cuban regime’s aim is to get rid of some troublesome people while winning accolades for its supposedly humanitarian gesture.
The questions now are (or should be): Will the released prisoners really have the option to stay in Cuba? And if they do, will they be free to resume non-violent political activities without fear of rearrest?
Without positive answers to both questions, this is nothing more than a gesture and reflects no change on the part of the regime.
Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez makes the point:
Moratinos would have to have a very large plane to fit all those who obstruct the island’s authoritarians. Not even a jumbo jet could transport all those potentially at risk of going to prison for their ideas or their civil actions. A veritable airline with weekly flights would be necessary to remove all those who don’t agree with the administration of Raul Castro. But, as it turns out, many of us do not want to go. Because the decision to live here or there is something as personal as choosing a partner, or naming a child; it is not permissible that so many Cubans find themselves caught between the walls of prison and the sword of exile. It is immoral to force emigration on those who might be released in the coming days.