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  1. #1
    Senior Member JohnDoe2's Avatar
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    Cuba frees eight more political prisoners, dissidents say

    Cuba frees eight more political prisoners, dissidents say

    HAVANA Thu Jan 8, 2015 4:25pm EST

    A man walks near a sign with an image of Cuban President Raul Castro in Havana December 19, 2014.


    (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 same charges.

    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.


    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.


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  2. #2
    Senior Member JohnDoe2's Avatar
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    9 January 2015
    Last updated at 16:02 ET
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    Cuba releases dozens of opposition activists

    Activist Angel Figueredo (right) holds his son's hand after being released in Havana

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    The Cuban authorities have released at least 36 opposition activists since Wednesday, according to dissident organisations.

    They are believed to be from a list of 53 activists the United States requested to be freed as part of efforts to mend links.

    White House spokesman Eric Schultz said the US was pleased with the move.

    Cuba and the US announced last month they had agreed to restore diplomatic relations, severed since 1961.

    The American government is confident that the Cuban authorities will keep their word and release more political prisoners, said Mr Schultz.

    The 53 names put forward by the US have not been disclosed.

    'Force and motivation'Twenty-nine of the activists released since Wednesday are from the dissident Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU).

    "Our freed prisoners are committed to continue fighting for the democratic Cuba which we all want," the group's leader, Jose Daniel Ferrer, said in a statement.

    "The UNPACU activists have left prison with more energy, force and motivation than they had when they were jailed."

    Mr Figueredo's wife, opposition campaigner Haydee Gallardo, was also freed on Thursday

    Cubans are celebrating the 56th anniversary of Fidel Castro's triumphant entry into Havana this week

    On Thursday, the US announced that Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson would lead a delegation travelling to the capital, Havana, later this month.

    These will be the first high level talks since Cuba and the US announced that they were restoring relations.

    The US Department of State said the talks - to take place on 21 and 22 January - will focus on migration.

    But they will also discuss the practicalities of reopening embassies in Washington DC and Havana, said the Department of State.

    The rapprochement process was announced by US President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro on 17 December.

    President Obama's proposal to restore relations still needs to be approved by Congress, where it faces opposition from many Republicans and anti-Castro lawmakers.

    The US says it will continue to push Mr Castro's government to respect human rights and the freedom of speech.

    Senator Marco Rubio, a leading critic of the president on the Cuba question, and other Cuban-Americans in Congress have argued that Mr Obama's change of policy could provide legitimacy and money for the Cuban government while it continues to violate human rights.

    Last week, the Cuban authorities detained several high-profile dissidents who were planning to stage an open microphone protest in Havana's Revolution Square.

    The US Department of State issued a statement saying it was "deeply concerned" by the reports. The activists were eventually released.

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