posted on Saturday, July 17, 2010
The State Department confirmed reports that Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega was in the U.S. just days before he announced a deal with Raúl Castro to release political prisoners.
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega visited the United States in June, just days before he announced that the Raúl Castro government had agreed to free 52 political prisoners, the U.S. State Department confirmed Friday.
"Cardinal Ortega visited the United States in June,'' said Virginia Staab, a Western Hemisphere Affairs spokesperson. But she declined comment on reports that Ortega met with two senior U.S. officials in Washington during the visit and informed them -- with Cuba's approval -- of his talks with Castro on the prisoner release.
"What we find important here is not who knew what when but that several individuals who were imprisoned simply due to their personal beliefs have been released and that many more (more than 100) have not yet been identified for release,'' she said.
"We continue to urge the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners, not just those arrested during the Black Spring crackdown in 2003.''
The Wall Street Journal reported on June 28 that Ortega had met with Arturo Valenzuela, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, and Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee. Neither have confirmed the report.
Berman has endorsed a bill before Congress that would lift all U.S. restrictions on travel to Cuba -and unleash a gusher of U.S. tourism dollars for the economically strapped island.
Officials in Washington told El Nuevo Herald that Ortega was in Washington on June 22 as part of a low-profile U.S. visit. He also spent time in New York City, apparently meeting with U.S. Catholic church officials.
Ortega's director of communications, Orlando Marquez, confirmed to the website Progreso Weekly on June 30 that the cardinal had visited Washington for meetings arranged by the U.S. Conference of Bishops.
MONTHS OF TALKS
Ortega's talks with Castro began in March, after pro-government mobs harassed the Ladies in White during their marches, following a mass in a Havana church to demand the release of relatives jailed since the 2003 crackdown.
It was only last week that Castro agreed that over the next three to four months he would free the last 52 dissidents still in jail from the 2003 roundup, which sentenced 75 opposition figures to lengthy prison terms.
Two dozen others were previously released.