After three weeks of delay, the Cuban government has released 38 dissidents from prison as part of a deal reached with the US to restore relations.
An activist group in Havana confirmed the release of 29 of their members to Reuters. But the question remains how many of the released prisoners of conscience were on a list given to the Cuban government by the Obama administration.
And the release may be only temporary. The Cuban government told the former prisoners that they must report on a regular basis to authorities and warned them that they would be subject to re-arrest if they protested against the government.
“Our freed prisoners are committed to continue fighting for the democratic Cuba which we all want,” UNPACU’s leader Jose Daniel Ferrer said in a statement.
“The UNPACU activists have left prison with more energy, force and motivation than they had when they were jailed.”
Cuba’s commitment to free 53 prisoners was a key part of the historic deal announced on Dec. 17 under which the Cuban and U.S. governments agreed to renew diplomatic relations after more than 50 years of hostilities.
Almost all of those freed so far appear on an informal list of more than 100 political prisoners drawn up several months ago by dissidents, but it is not known if they were all on the list of 53 that the United States negotiated with Cuba.
Details about who will be freed have been withheld by both governments, providing ammunition for U.S. opponents of the detente, who have complained that President Barack Obama has not pushed Cuba hard enough on human rights and that the government in Havana was not living up to its side of the bargain.
The White House hailed the “substantial and ongoing” releases. “So good to see people reunited with their families,” senior White House official Ben Rhodes said on Twitter.
Elizardo Sanchez, founder of the dissident Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, which monitors detentions, said the releases to date were “very good news,” but that activists remained concerned about those still behind bars.
“We don’t know what the future holds for those former Cuban government officials and senior ex-military people, as well the Cuban-Americans who are still in prison,” Sanchez told Reuters.
Several Cuban exiles from Miami are also in Cuban prisons serving sentences of up to 30 years on terrorism-related charges after they attempted to infiltrate the island with weapons.
It is not clear if Washington argued for their release, or for the freedom of Cubans jailed for passing secrets to the United States.
If any Cuban-Americans are released, they will probably be kicked out of the country. But it’s clear the releases so far have been of non-violent passive resisters with few prominent names among them.
Senator Marco Rubio is not impressed:
Opposition groups say most of those released over the last couple of days were set free on the condition that they report regularly to the authorities.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a leading critic of Obama’s new Cuba policy, said those terms did not amount to freedom.
“The administration must answer if these conditional, potentially short-lived releases are, in fact, what it agreed to with the regime and why it took so long for them to be released,” Rubio said in a statement.
It seems possible that by the time the Castro regime gets around to releasing all 53 prisoners they agreed to, at least some of them will be re-arrested and thrown in jail. Again, the administration negotiating strategy in this matter should be criticized for its shortsightedness. Previous US policy in holding normalization talks with Cuba hinged on the regime releasing all political prisoners and promising to allow free and fair elections.
These events make the strong point that abandoning that policy was foolhardy.
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