The European Union has welcomed Cuba’s apparent agreement to free 52 political prisoners, calling on Havana to release them rapidly.
After talks between President Raul Castro and the Spanish foreign minister involving the Catholic Church, it is expected that five dissidents will be freed imminently with the rest following in the next few months.
Spain’s top diplomat Miguel Angel Moratinos said the move opened a “new era” in Cuba, calling on the EU to soften its stance. Until now the 27 member states have maintained a common position, refusing to normalise relations with the communist state until its human rights record improves.
One leading dissident told euronews he was sceptical about the latest moves.
“The common position says that human rights must be respected in Cuba,” said Oswaldo Payá. “If not, relations between Europe and Cuba will never be transparent and full. Today Cubans still haven’t the right to do and to say what they want. Europe should not forget all these injustices.”
He said that prisoner releases should also be accompanied by freedom of speech and movement.
The Catholic Church has called on dissident Guillermo Fariñas to stop his five-month hunger strike. He’s been demanding the release of the most seriously ill prisoners, and concern is growing about the state of his own health.
Human rights groups say Cuba has 167 political prisoners. The 52 due to be released were arrested as part of a government crackdown in 2003, in what campaigners dubbed the “black spring”.
There has been cautious optimism from the Ladies in White, the wives and mothers of political prisoners who have been demanding their freedom. Their leader said she hoped the releases would be the first steps towards democracy.