Castro Pledges to Release 225 More Prisoners
The Cuban government has pledged to free the remaining 225 prisoners it has recognized as political, including 44 it previously described as too dangerous to release, according to a senior Cuban official and Western diplomats.
The promise was conveyed in recent weeks from President Fidel Castro to the U.S. Catholic Conference, which has been pressing since 1985 for the prisoners’ release, the diplomats said.
Of more than 470 prisoners on the government’s roster of those who have faced political charges, about 225 remain in jail. About 250 were released during 1988.
The political prisoners that the government has acknowledged include those named in a list of about 450 presented to Cuba in May, 1988, by Cardinal John O’Connor of New York City. During the summer, Castro said everyone on that list would be freed except 44, whom he described as too dangerous.
The government has not admitted that anyone else among its approximately 30,000 prisoners is being held on political charges.
Require U.S. Visas
Now, Castro has said he also will free the 44 prisoners he originally rejected, on the condition that they be granted visas to travel immediately to the United States, a high-ranking Communist Party official confirmed.
Diplomats and human rights activists in Havana welcomed the pledge as part of a limited but significant improvement in the human rights picture in Cuba that has taken place over the last year.
In a new sign of that progress, members of the small Cuban Party for Human Rights announced they will attempt to start a newsletter.
However, it remains unclear whether all the prisoners would be eligible for admission into the United States. At least 24 released last year were denied visas because of criminal histories, according to a list drawn up by Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.
Sanchez said that hundreds of Cubans will remain behind bars for essentially political causes after all of the 470 are freed.