Cuba frees eight more political prisoners, dissidents say
BY DANIEL WALLIS AND ROSA TANIA VALDÉS
HAVANA Thu Jan 8, 2015 4:25pm EST
(Reuters) – Cuba has freed eight more detainees, dissidents said on
Thursday, as Havana begins to release 53 people the United States
considers political prisoners as part of an agreement aimed at ending
decades of hostility between the two nations.
Including three detainees released on Wednesday, 11 prisoners have been
liberated over the past 24 hours, political opposition groups on the
communist-led island said. All but three of them are members of the
dissident Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU).
Havana’s commitment to free the 53 prisoners was a major part of a
historic deal announced last month under which the two governments
agreed to renew diplomatic relations after more than 50 years.
Like the detainees released on Wednesday, those freed on Thursday had
been accused of relatively minor offenses.
The UNPACU detainees freed on Thursday were Ernesto Riveri Gascon,
Lazaro Romero Hurtado, Emilio Plana Robert, Yohannes Arce Sarmientos and
Yordenis Mendoza Cobas, UNPACU said.
Romero was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to four years behind bars on
charges including making a public disturbance and threats, apparently
during a confrontation with police. Riveri was given two years on the
Plana was detained in 2012 and given a three-and-a-half-year term for
his activities with the opposition, dissidents said. Arce had been
awaiting sentencing after being arrested last year on similar
allegations while Mendoza was detained last year and given a three-year
prison term, dissidents said.
Another detainee freed on Thursday was named by dissidents as Jose
Manuel Rodriguez Navarro. They said he was detained in 2013 and
sentenced to four years in prison, allegedly for writing letters
denouncing Cuba’s government.
“CAN’T BELIEVE IT”
The latest to be released were Haydee Gallardo and her husband, Angel
Figueredo. Gallardo, a member of the “Ladies in White” dissident group,
was detained along with her spouse last year after shouting
anti-government slogans at a rally.
“I still can’t believe it. I didn’t expect it,” Gallardo told Reuters by
telephone. “I don’t have words to say how happy I feel to be back with
my family, my kids, and my husband.”
Dissident groups said most of those freed over the last 24 hours were
released on condition that they report regularly to the authorities.
Cuba’s government does not comment on police actions involving
detentions, and it has said nothing about this week’s releases. It
typically describes dissidents as being in the pay of the United States.
Elizardo Sanchez, president of the dissident Cuban Commission for Human
Rights and National Reconciliation, which monitors such detentions, said
more releases were expected on Thursday and over the coming days.
“That could indicate the start of the process … under which around 50
Cuban political prisoners would be released from custody,” Sanchez said
in a statement.
Jose Daniel Ferrer, executive secretary of UNPACU, said 35 members of
his organization remained in custody.
All 11 of those freed so far appear on an informal list drawn up by
dissidents, but it is not known if they were on the official list of 53.
Details about the political prisoners who will be freed have been
withheld by both governments, providing ammunition for Republican
congressional opponents and other hardline critics of the U.S. policy shift.
One U.S. congressional aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, told
Reuters on Wednesday Cuba was resisting the release of some prisoners on
the list. A White House official denied that, saying the U.S. government
fully expected all 53 to be freed.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, the top U.S.
diplomat for Latin America, will visit Havana for Jan. 21-22 talks with
Cuban officials on migration and the normalization of diplomatic ties.
(Reporting by Daniel Wallis and Rosa Tania Valdes; Additional reporting
by Nelson Acosta; Editing by Bernadette Baum, James Dalgleish and Leslie
Source: Cuba frees eight more political prisoners, dissidents say |