Cuba has released more than two dozen political prisoners in the past two days, following a pledge to free detainees as part of last month’s agreement to normalize relations with the United States, according to human rights groups and activists.
The Miami-based Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba listed 28 prisoners it said were released, most of them on Thursday. Yoani Sanchez, a blogger who writes frequently from Havana about human rights issues, said 26 had been released.
It was unclear how many, if any, of those said to have been released were part of a list of 53 prisoners, compiled by the Obama administration, that Cuba agreed to free during negotiations with the White House over normalization.
Neither the United States nor Cuba has revealed the names on the list or made any comment about specific releases since President Barack Obama announced the normalization deal last month.
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The State Department said this week that “some” prisoners had been released but declined to identify them.
Many of those said to have been released were members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, an anti-government dissident group known by its Spanish initials, UNPACU, and the Ladies in White, a protest group made of wives and relatives of political prisoners, according to activist groups.
According to the list of released detainees provided by the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, most had been imprisoned for a relatively short time, ranging from three years to less than a year.
According to Elizardo Sanchez, head of Cuba’s Human Rights and Reconciliation Commission, those released included 19-year-old twins Diango and Bianko Vagas Martin, Enrique Figuerola Miranda, Ernesto Riveri Gascon and Lazaro Romero, the Associated Press reported from Havana.
The administration has said that the release of political prisoners is a unilateral policy decision by the Cuban government, and the U.S. decision to ease trade, financial and travel restrictions on Cuba is similarly unilateral. The actual normalization deal, administration officials said, included only a swap of intelligence assets held by each country and Cuba’s release of the U.S. aid worker Allen Gross.
Critics of the deal in this country have said that Cuba did not intend to release prisoners, and that the administration had traded the prize of normalization, 53 years after breaking diplomatic relations with Havana, for little in return.
Obama has described normalization as a “process” without a specific timeline. The State Department said Thursday that Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson will travel to Havana on Jan. 21 to begin talks with the Cuban government over re-establishing diplomatic relations and reopening embassies in both capitals.