US: Cuba completes release of 53 political prisoners
CUBA HAS completed the release of 53 political prisoners that was part of last month's historic deal between the United States and Cuba, the Obama administration said Monday. The move would clear a major hurdle for the normalisation of ties between the two countries after more than five decades of estrangement.
Cuba's leading human rights group said it had not been informed of any prisoner release since Thursday, when the total count stood at 41. The Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation has been keeping close track of the liberation of prisoners since they began last week, reporting releases within hours after hearing from family members or prisoners themselves. Most of the released dissidents belong to the Patriotic Union of Cuba, a vehemently anti-government group based in far eastern Cuba.
Jose Daniel Ferrer, head of the group, said his count was the same as the rights commission's and he knew of no release since Thursday.
The releases have been shrouded in confusion due to US and Cuban reluctance to release the names of those on the list. In addition, it's possible that not all of the 53 were in prison. President Raul Castro said on December 17 that Cuba had agreed to grant "penal benefits including release" to those on the list. That raises the possibility that some on the list were already free but under restrictions including travel bans that may have been lifted as part of the US deal.
The prisoners had been on a list of opposition figures whose release was sought as part of the US agreement last month with the Cuban government. They had been cited by various human rights organisations as being imprisoned by the Cuban government for exercising internationally protected freedoms or for their promotion of political and social reforms in Cuba.
Speaking in Louisville, Kentucky, President Barack Obama's UN ambassador said the prisoners were released in recent days.
"Welcome as that step is, and heartening as it is for their families, (it) does not resolve the larger human rights problems on the island," Samantha Power said, according to prepared remarks.