Church brokers prisoner release in Cuba
Up to 47 political prisoners in Cuba are to be released following an intervention by the leader of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino of Havana, with the Cuban President Raul Castro.
President Castro announced after the meeting that the government would begin releasing political prisoners immediately in response to requests from the Church according to the Cuban bishops’ conference.
The development is being seen as another indication of the growing influence of the Catholic hierarchy in Cuba.
The exact number of prisoners to be released is unclear. Different news reports have suggested that the figure may be 47, but may also be as high as 70.
Five prisoners have already been earmarked for release on Thursday and are expected to fly to Spain.
The archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Ortega, said on Wednesday that the balance of prisoners would be released over the next few months.
Cardinal Ortega met with President Raul Castro and Spain’s Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, along with other officials to negotiate the prisoners’ release.
It is understood the prisoners have been in jail for seven years, following their arrest in March 2003 during a government crackdown on dissent in which 75 activists were arrested.
On Monday, the independent Cuban Commission on Human Rights said the number of political prisoners in Cuba had fallen to 167 from 201 at the start of the year.