Cuba has released the 53 prisoners that it had promised to free in talks with the US according to an announcement on Monday by the US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power. According to these reports, the liberations of those prisoners who had been missing was completed this weekend, and the White House will send to Congress the complete list to then make it public.
Dissident groups such as the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) and the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) have insisted that they have until now only confirmed 39 releases since last Wednesday. “We will see what happens in the coming days,” Elizardo Sanchez, spokesman for the CCDHRN, has said.
Also, some Cuban dissidents consider these releases as a mere "probation" because many of the activists are at risk of re-arrest and must report to the authorities to account for their activities. The Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), for example, which is an Association of Cuban dissidents, denounced today the existence of more political prisoners in Cuban jails and mentioned that there are still eleven activists in prison.
Power has admitted that there were differences in Congress about the way to act, but has assured that there is a common will to advance the rights of the Cuban people. The Havana agreement was reached in July, according to Reuters, which also says that it is a question of “days and weeks” for Obama to begin exercising his executive powers to reduce the restrictions on trade and travel. The first changes could be announced, say officials, January 21st or 22nd when Roberta Jacobson, Latin American Deputy Secretary for the State Department, will arrive in Havana to begin the negotiations between Cuba and the United States.
Power has stressed that there are changes underway in Cuba, as also confirmed by the re-opening of the Embassy and the “democratic program” that the US will promote in its talks. Also, she explains that the future of the Guantanamo naval base has not been a topic on the table.The release of these political prisoners was an essential step to continue with Obama’s new policy towards Cuba. This step should foster an increase of economic interactions and human mobility between the two countries, and restart the diplomatic relations that have been broken for more than half a century.
“We welcome this very positive development and are pleased that the Cuban government followed through on this commitment,” said US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf. “Clearly, we think this is a good thing,” she added. Harf also said that the US government will not publish the list of releases, but that they will not stop members of Congress from leaking it. The spokeswoman also stressed that Washington remains concerned about short-term detentions serving as coercion for activists and political dissidents on the island.
Last week, the Cuban-American Republican Senator Marco Rubio criticized the lack of progress on the release of political prisoners and said that if they do not get released, the normalization of relations between the US and Cuba should be suspended. Today, the American organization in favor of an approach to the Caribbean island, CubaNow, said in a statement that "Cuba is still far from where it needs to be (on matters of political prisoners), but today’s announcement reinforces the fact that our new policy will be more effective for the Cuban people”. CubaNow asked the Congress, now dominated by Republicans, to explore policies that can act as incentives for reforms in Cuba in terms of political freedoms and human rights.
The releases are confirmed two weeks before the secretary of state for Latin America, Roberta Jacobson, travels to Havana to negotiate the immigration regulations and the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Jacobson will become the highest-ranking official to visit Cuba since the freezing of the US-Cuban relations due to the arrival of the Castro brothers to power.