Monday, December 29, 2014

Dissidents in Cuba ‘kept in dark’ over US deal

Dissidents in Cuba 'kept in dark' over US deal
Published on the 29 December 2014

Cuba's most prominent dissidents say they have been kept in the dark by
United States officials over a list of 53 political prisoners who will
be released from jail as part of a deal to end decades of hostility
between the US and their country.

For years, dissident leaders have told the US which opponents of Cuba's
communist government were being jailed or harassed, but they said they
were not consulted when the list of prisoners to be freed was drawn up
and have not been told who is on it.

The lack of information has prompted concern and frustration among the
dissidents, who worry that the secret list is flawed and that genuine
political prisoners who should be on it will be left in jail.

"We're concerned because we don't agree with the silence, because we
have a right to know who they are. Who are they?" said Berta Soler,
leader of the Ladies in White dissident group, which marches in Havana
on Sundays to demand the release of prisoners.

"There are not just 53 political prisoners. There are more, and we are
concerned that the US list might have common criminals on it," she added.

American officials have so far been tight-lipped about how the list of
53 was assembled and who was consulted inside Cuba. It also is not clear
if some prisoners were kept off the list because the Cuban government
refused to release them.

A US official said Washington had asked Cuba to release a specific group
of people jailed on charges related to their ­political activities, but
declined to answer further questions.

Neither the US nor the Cuban governments have said when the prisoners
would be released. Cuba declined to comment on why more details have not
been publicly released.

The dissident Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National
Reconciliation, which keeps track of activists in different opposition
groups, counted 114 political prisoners in June. This includes 12 who
are on parole after being released from jail, plus several others who
have since been released.

The group's leader, Elizondo Sanchez, said at least 80 peaceful
dissidents are on that list, including some whose only crime was to
demonstrate or write anti-government graffiti.

Others include soldiers who deserted with their weapons, former
government officials, people who tried to hijack an airplane to the US
and eight militants jailed for entering Cuba from the US and trying to
start insurrections.

US president Barack Obama announced a new era in US-Cuba relations on 17
December, saying the countries would ­restore diplomatic ties broken
more than five decades ago and he would begin to unravel economic
sanctions that were aimed at forcing the communists from power.

US officials said Cuba agreed to release 53 people Washington considered
to be political prisoners.

Dissidents said so far none of the 53 have been named and 
no-one has
been freed.

Five of the most influential dissident leaders in Cuba said US officials
have been in contact with them but have given no information about the

José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU)
dissident group, said he has been in contact with concerned relatives
and that some inmates have called from prison to see if they are likely
to be released. The wife of one prisoner phoned him late on Friday.

"She asked me if I thought her husband would be among those to be freed,
and I told her the same thing I told other families: We don't have any
certainty and no clues to reach a conclusion about who they are," Mr
Ferrer said.

UNPACU describes 42 of its activists as political prisoners.

Cuba says it has no political prisoners but, announcing the deal with
the United States, president Raul Castro said his government would be
releasing some inmates who were of ­interest to the US.

Source: Dissidents in Cuba 'kept in dark' over US deal - The Scotsman -

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