Where in the World are the 53 Cuban Dissidents the Regime Promised to Release?

Next time I buy a car, I’m going to ask President Obama to sell it to me. If he negotiates with me the way he apparently negotiated with Cuba, I will probably end up getting the car for free.

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Incredibly, nearly 3 weeks after it was announced that the Castro regime would release 53 political prisoners as part of a deal for the return of 3 of their spies, no one knows for sure if any have been released, or who they are. Meanwhile, the three spies released from an American prison have returned home to a hero’s welcome.

Yesterday, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki couldn’t state publicly how many, or if any, Cuban dissidents had been released. Today, Psaki said that “some” had been released but refused to supply a number or reveal their identities.

This lack of transparency (what new?) from the administration has Cuban human rights leaders worried:

“We are very concerned,” Francisco Hernandez, co-founder and president of the Cuban American National Foundation, told FoxNews.com. “The problem with the agreement [between Cuba and the U.S.] is that there is no agreement. There are no guarantees. This has been a tremendous victory for the Cuban government.”

Hernandez’s Miami-based organization has contacted the White House and pressed officials to publicly identify the dissidents scheduled for release. He hasn’t had much luck and says the push for transparency has been widely ignored and in turn is fueling suspicion over Cuba’s intentions. He and others question whether the Cubans supposedly set for release are even political prisoners.

“We wonder why there has not been any indication – especially on the part of the White House – who is on the list,” Hernandez said. “We want to confirm that those on the list are political prisoners and not common criminals, but we have not been able to.”

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Good point. Mary O’Grady, writing in the Wall Street Journal, gave the White House explanation:

I asked the State Department this last week. State referred me to the White House. White House officials declined to provide the list of names citing “concern that publicizing it would make it more difficult to ensure that Cuba follows through, and continues with further steps in the future.”

Bottom line: The U.S. government cannot confirm that they have been released and is not certain they’re going to be released, even though the three Cuban spies have already been returned.

A government official told me that keeping the names of the 53 quiet will give Cuba the opportunity to release them as a sovereign measure, rather than at the behest of the U.S., and that this could allow for additional releases.

In other words, the Castros are sensitive boys who throw despotic tantrums when their absolute power is questioned. Asking them to keep their word is apparently a trigger.

Again, incredible. And bizarre, inexcusable, and extraordinarily naive. Why in the name of all that is good and holy would the Cuban government go beyond the release of 53 dissidents when they haven’t honored their original promise?

O’Grady points to 3 different concessions we made to Cuba:

The U.S. president hasn’t gone to Havana, not yet anyway. But he did use the prisoner swap to announce that he plans to unconditionally open diplomatic relations with the military dictatorship, something that the Castros have long demanded. Count that as concession one.

He said he would ease restrictions on American travel to the island and make it legal to use U.S. credit cards and debit cards in Cuba, thereby boosting revenues for the military-owned tourism industry. That’s concession two.

His promise to review Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terror sounded like he had already made up his mind. “At a time when we are focused on threats from al Qaeda to ISIL, a nation that meets our conditions and renounces the use of terrorism should not face this sanction,” Mr. Obama said.

That would complete the concession trifecta. Cuba still supports the FARC, the Colombian terrorist group, it got caught in 2013 trying to smuggle weapons through the Panama Canal to North Korea, and credible intelligence analysts say Cuba has provided Venezuela the technology it needs to falsify identities for Middle East terrorists.

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While it’s true that US AID worker Alan Gross was released at the same time the spies were let go, the fact is, Gross should have been considered a hostage, not a prisoner. He was an innocent American, arrested in 2009 at the Havana airport and a year later, charged with “Acts against the Independence and Territorial Integrity of the State — trumped up charges, to be sure. In truth, Cuba held him as a bargaining chip to get their spies back. He should have been released long ago, with no strings.

I am beginning to suspect that the White House did not give the Castro government a list of names of Cuban dissidents to be released, which is why they’re stonewalling now. The unilateral concessions we gave Cuba might have convinced Castro that he could put one over on us by releasing prisoners in jail for petty crimes. That’s the fear in the dissident community and it seems well placed to me.

Senator Marco Rubio wants the US to cancel a planned high level meeting scheduled for later this month unless the Cuban government tells us which dissidents have been released:

Rubio said Roberta Jacobson, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, should cancel a trip to Havana later this month to discuss normalizing relations at least until the 53 are released.

“Almost three weeks after your Cuba announcement, there is absolutely no reason why any of these individuals should be in prison or the targets of repression – or for their identities, conditions and whereabouts to remain such closely held secrets,” Rubio said in a letter to Obama dated Jan. 6.

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As poorly as this deal was negotiated, can you imagine what a final agreement on Iran’s nuclear program might look like?

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