posted on Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Reports Juan O. Tamayo on the Lexington [Kentucky] Herald Leader:
By JUAN O. TAMAYO - McClatchy Newspapers
MIAMI -- Statements by two top Cuban and Spanish officials Wednesday that Havana will free all its political prisoners - not just the 52 already promised their freedom - have raised the question of just how many political prisoners the island has.
Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos told the lower chamber of the Spanish parliament that the Raul Castro government has taken "the decision to free all, all political prisoners.
The AFP news agency quoted the president of Cuba's National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon, as saying in an interview that "the desire of the Cuban government is to free all ... who do not bear responsibility for the deaths of other persons."
The additional releases have not been confirmed by the Cuban Catholic Church, which announced July 7 that Havana had promised to free 52 prisoners as a result of talks with Castro and Moratinos. Orlando Marquez, spokesman for the Havana archbishop's office, could not immediately be reached for comment on the Moratinos and Alarcon statements.
Havana's leading human rights activist, Elizardo Sanchez, said the "stature of these two politicians is so high that one could believe that it's true."
But he cautioned: "This presumes that the Cuban government has a minimum of political will to do this."
Just as uncertain is how many prisoners would benefit from the broader release, because exactly who is a political prisoner in Cuba varies greatly depending on who's counting.
London-based Amnesty International, which has strict guidelines for designating "prisoners of conscience," reported earlier this year that Cuba held 53, accused of crimes such as "enemy propaganda" or collaborating with foreign governments and groups.
But Human Rights Watch, based in New York City, says many dissidents are jailed on charges that are not technically political. Dissident Darsi Ferrer, for example, was arrested last year for possession of two sacks of cement allegedly bought on the black market.
Sanchez's Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission counted 167 political prisoners just days before the church announced the planned release of the 52 - the last still jailed among 75 dissidents rounded up in 2003 and sentenced to long prison terms.
Of those on Sanchez's list, 10 are free because of ill health, but he still counts them because they could be sent back to prison any time. Another four were released in recent weeks after completing their sentences, leaving a total of 101.
Ninety-nine of those were not accused of violent crimes, Sanchez said in a telephone interview from Havana, and therefore should be released under Alarcon's criterion.
More at the link.
To read our campaign's response to Alarcón's statements, click here.