Cuban President Fidel Castro, reacting to human rights pleas from U.S. Roman Catholic bishops, is offering to release 75 political prisoners, church and U.S. government officials said today.
The general secretary of the bishops’ national organization said he was “happy and hopeful” concerning the offer, and State Department spokesman Joseph Reap said, “We are always pleased to see political prisoners released by the Cuban government.”
However, Reap said, “Any real normalization in migration matters will depend on Cuba’s ending its suspension of the migration agreement concluded last December and taking back the Mariel excludables.”
The agreement called for Castro to allow up to 2,000 former political prisoners and 20,000 other refugees a year to apply for U.S. visas. It also provided for the return to Cuba of about 2,700 unwanted refugees, most of whom had been convicted of crimes in the United States since arriving in the huge 1980 boat lift from the port of Mariel.
That program was halted by Cuba in May in reaction to the start of broadcasting to Cuba by U.S.-supported Radio Marti.
Still, release of the new batch of political prisoners was likely to be seen as a new gesture toward easing tension between Castro’s island nation and its much larger neighbor. The mere fact that Castro received the U.S. bishops for a private, five-hour meeting earlier this year had been viewed in that same light.
Hoye said in a statement that the U.S. bishops had told Castro their organization stood ready to resettle “any and all political prisoners whom the Cuban government was willing to release, out of our convictions about human rights.”
He said the U.S. bishops had given Castro a list of 150 prisoners whose releases they were seeking on humanitarian grounds. The list, compiled from “pastoral sources in the United States,” included many prisoners with serious medical problems, he said. About a dozen of the 75 prisoners to be released were on the original request list.