Cuba to pardon close to 3,000 prisoners
Cuba's President Raul Castro has announced his country will release some
3,000 prisoners on "humanitarian grounds," and "gradually" reform its
strict foreign travel laws.
Cuban President Raul Castro announced on Friday, December 24, the
release of 2,900 prisoners, while hinting that his government may be
ready to lift strict travel restrictions on the country's citizens.
The amnesty, which is to include 86 foreign nationals and is due to take
place in the coming days, was a "humanitarian" gesture, Castro said in a
closing address to the National Assembly.
Castro said factors that played into the pardon decision included
requests from the Catholic Church and various Protestant churches, and
the anticipation of the visit by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.
The pardon is the largest ever under the communist regime, much larger
that the 299 prisoners released ahead of the visit of the late pope John
Paul II in January 1998.
Cubans were intensely and emotionally keen to hear about migration
reform, which Castro - the ex-defense chief who took over from his
brother, revolutionary icon Fidel Castro, in July 2006 - has promised
but not yet delivered.
"I reaffirm my unswerving will to gradually introduce the changes
required in this complicated area," Raul Castro said, though neither the
communist government nor the state-run media have given details of the
reforms being considered.
Many people "consider a new migratory policy an urgent issue, forgetting
the exceptional circumstances that Cuba is going through," he added.
Local experts believe Castro intends to end the requirement of exit
visas (for Cubans on the island), entrance visas (for Cubans living
overseas who return home) and the legal status of "permanent emigrant."
Cubans usually can only leave the country when they have received a
letter of invitation from overseas. Then they have to file a request for
an exit visa, just at the start of a maze-like bureaucratic process that
costs about 500 euros ($650).
That fee is nearly unaffordable in Cuba, where doctors and street
cleaners alike make about 20 dollars a month.
Author: Gabriel Borrud (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Toma Tasovac