Cuba vows to re­lease 52 po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION -

HA­VANA — Cuba has agreed to free 52 po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers and al­low them to leave the coun­try in what would be the is­land’s largest mass lib­er­a­tion of dis­si­dents since Pope John Paul II vis­ited in 1998, the Ro­man Catholic Church said Wed­nes­day.

Five would be re­leased in a mat­ter of hours and planned to head into ex­ile in Spain, while the re­main­ing 47 would be lib­er­ated in “a process that will take three or four months start­ing now,” ac­cord­ing to the state­ment by the of­fice of Ha­vana’s Ro­man Catholic Arch­bishop, Car­di­nal Jaime Ortega.

The deal was an­nounced af­ter a meet­ing be­tween Cuban Pres­i­dent Raúl Cas­tro and Ortega. Also par­tic­i­pat­ing was vis­it­ing Span­ish For­eign Min­is­ter Miguel Án­gel Mo­rati­nos and his Cuban coun­ter­part, Bruno Ro­driguez.

“We feel enor­mous sat­is­fac­tion,” Mo­rati­nos said in a state­ment. “This opens a new era in Cuba with hope of putting aside dif­fer­ences once and for all on mat­ters of pris­on­ers.”

The scope of the agree­ment “is a sur­prise,” said Elizardo Sanchez, head of the in­de­pen­dent Cuban Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Rights and Na­tional Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. “We were hop­ing for a sig­nif­i­cant re­lease of pris­on­ers, but not this.”

Ortega’s of­fice said that those to be re­leased were all mem­bers of a group of 75 lead­ing po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion ac­tivists, com­mu­nity or­ga­niz­ers and jour­nal­ists who re­port on Cuba in de­fi­ance of state con­trols on me­dia. They were rounded up in a crack­down on dis­sent in March 2003.

“I’m so ex­cited,” said Laura Pol­lan, whose hus­band, Hector Maceda, was one of the 75 and had been serv­ing 20 years in prison for trea­son. But she ques­tioned whether Cuba would free so many pris­on­ers.

“It won’t be the first time that they lie,” she said in her liv­ing room in cen­tral Ha­vana.

Some of the 75 orig­i­nal pris­on­ers had pre­vi­ously been freed for health rea­sons or af­ter com­plet­ing their terms, or were al­lowed into ex­ile in Spain.

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