Dissidents Free but Questions Hang Over US-Cuba Deal
HAVANA — Jan 8, 2015, 6:48 PM ET
By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ and MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN Associated Press
At least 25 dissidents were free Thursday in what a leading human rights
advocate said was part of Cuba’s deal with Washington to release 53
members of the island’s political opposition.
Neither the Obama administration nor the Cuban government spoke publicly
about the releases, adding to the unanswered questions swirling around
the deal and the broader detente that the two countries announced Dec. 17.
President Barack Obama ended five decades of official U.S. hostility
toward communist-governed Cuba by announcing that, along with an
exchange of men held on espionage charges, he would move toward full
diplomatic ties, drop regime change as a U.S. goal and use his executive
authority to punch holes in the longstanding trade embargo.
U.S. officials told reporters on Dec. 17 that Cuba had agreed to free 53
detainees considered by Washington to be high-priority political
prisoners. Castro said they would be released in “a unilateral way.” But
since then, neither Cuba nor the United States has publicly identified
anyone on the list or announced they have gone free.
Facing criticism at home, U.S. officials said they never expected Cuba
to move immediately to release the prisoners. They said the U.S. was
avoiding public complaints that could provoke a backlash from Cuban
For many Cuban-Americans and U.S. conservatives, the apparent lack of
movement supported complaints that Obama’s secretly negotiated deal was
too opaque and had failed to win sufficient concessions from Cuba.
“It’s unfair for us Cubans and Cuban-Americans not to be able to
influence this situation that has such a tremendous relevance for the
future of Cuba,” said Francisco “Pepe” Hernandez, president of the Cuban
American National Foundation.
On Wednesday, the head of Cuba’s Human Rights and Reconciliation
Commission, Elizardo Sanchez, told The Associated Press that 19-year-old
twins Diango Vargas Martin and Bianko Vargas Martin had been released
without any of the judicial procedures that normally precede the end of
political cases. A few hours later, he said a third dissident, Enrique
Figuerola Miranda, was let go under similar circumstances.
On Thursday morning, he said prisoners Ernesto Riveri Gascon y Lazaro
Romero Hurtado had also been released, then his group announced more
releases throughout the day. Many were in far eastern Cuba, the base of
the Patriotic Union of Cuba, a small dissident group considered to be
the country’s most vehemently anti-government.
The apparent liberation of many of the prisoners on the U.S. list
appeared likely to rob momentum from the criticism of the deal with Cuba.
But clarity about the fate of the prisoners would answer only one of the
questions still hanging over the U.S.-Cuba deal worked out by small
teams of negotiators behind closed doors over the 18 months leading up
to the announcement.
Relatives of Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, a U.S. spy released under last
month’s agreement, say they are puzzled about why they have yet to hear
from him. And Cubans are wondering why former President Fidel Castro has
said nothing in public more than three weeks after the announcement.
According to Amnesty International, the twins released Wednesday had
been arrested in December 2012 as they tried to return to their home in
Santiago, where they lived with their mother, a member of the dissident
group Ladies in White. They had been held on charges of using violence
or intimidation against a state official.
“They’re prisoners of conscience and they’ve been freed immediately and
with no conditions,” Sanchez said. Riveri and Romero were arrested in
the same incident.
The twins’ mother, Miraida Martin, said her sons had been told they were
being transferred to another facility but once outside the prison in far
eastern Cuba they were suddenly set free without explanation.
“We think they’re on the list, but nothing’s been said about it,” she said.
Hernandez, of the Cuban American National Foundation, said he had been
informed by the White House that Lady in White member Sonia Garro, her
husband and a neighbor had been let go as part of the deal prior to both
governments’ announcement of warming relations.
Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ARodriguezAP?lang=en
Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mweissenstein
Source: Dissidents Free but Questions Hang Over US-Cuba Deal – ABC News