Cuba vows to release 52 political prisoners
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.