Cuba frees some ‘political prisoners,’ US says

CUBA has begun releasing some of the 53 individuals the United States deems political prisoners, the State Department said, as part of the two nations’ agreement last month to normalize diplomatic relations.

The government released 19-year-old twin brothers Diango Vargas Martin and Bianco Vargas Martin on Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 7, Reuters reported. Both were arrested in 2012 and received a 30-month prison sentence for threatening a state official and disorderly conduct, according to the news agency.

Another man, Enrique Figuerola Miranda, was also freed, Reuters reported. The Martins and Miranda were all members of the opposition Patriotic Union of Cuba.

“They have already released some prisoners – we would like to see this completed in the near future,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

She also said the release of the 53 individuals is not a pre-condition for talks on migration and the normalization of relations between both countries are scheduled later this month.

Elizardo Sanchez, leader of the dissident Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, which oversees these detentions, said the commission was unaware of any such releases.

“We don’t have any information up to now,” Sanchez said in a telephone interview in Havana, according to Reuters. “No names… We’ll wait and see.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters prisoners were not being identified in part because “we don’t want to put an even bigger target on their back as political dissidents.”

In December 2014, Cuba and the United States took steps to re-establish ties by opening up travel for specific purposes, among other measures. President Barack Obama also instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to begin removing Cuba from the list of states that sponsor terrorism.

Obama received opposition from both Democrats and Republicans for his move.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who was not satisfied with the deal reached last month, wrote to the president on Tuesday, Jan. 6, urging him to cancel upcoming talks with Havana at least until all the prisoners have been released, Reuters reported.

Rubio and other Cuban-American Congresspeople have said that Obama’s new policy may give Cuba legitimacy and money while it continues violating human rights.

Earnest said Tuesday that talks regarding human rights issues will likely occur more regularly with Cuba.

“Now that that policy change has been enacted, we anticipate that there will be greater focus on encouraging the Cuban government to change their policy toward their own people and start respecting basic human rights and releasing political prisoners and doing the kinds of things that reflect the will and ambition of the Cuban people,” he said.

(With reports from Al Jazeera, BBC, Reuters, The Guardian and UPI)

(LA Weekend January 10-13, 2015 Sec. A pg.6)

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