Spain says it will take 52 Cuban political prisoners
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Spain said late Wednesday that it is willing to take 52 Cuban political prisoners who are to be freed by Raul Castro’s government. It is one of the largest prisoner releases by the communist authorities in years and follows talks in Havana involving Spanish officials and the Roman Catholic Church.
“The Spanish government has accepted the proposal that all those who are released travel to Spain, if they so wish,” said Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, who added that it “opens a new era in Cuba”.
“Family members may accompany them,” he said, explaining that Castro had assured him that relatives and the freed prisoners would be able to return to Cuba to visit – a move which would mark a change in the country’s immigration policy.
Neither will Cuba confiscate the property of those who had left, as it has done with exiles for the past 50 years, the minister says.
Castro met with Moratinos and Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega to discuss the fate of the 52 prisoners, who were part of a group of 75 dissidents who were rounded up in 2003 and given prison sentences of between six and 28 years.
Five of the dissidents will leave Cuba shortly while the remaining 47 would be released within the next three to four months.
Cuba has faced increasing pressure to free dissidents since the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo in February following an 85-day hunger strike.
In 1998 Cuba released 101 political prisoners after a visit by Pope John Paul II.
The US State Department issued a cautious statement saying it “would view prisoner releases as a positive development”.