The Associated Press
Cuban officials were preparing to release at least four political prisoners who will be sent to Spain, a veteran human rights activist and Spanish officials said Friday.
Elizardo Sanchez of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation said family members of the four and other prisoners he spoke to by telephone identified those being released as Pedro Pablo Alvarez Ramos, Omar Pernet Hernandez, Jose Gabriel Ramon Castillo and Alejandro Gonzalez Raga.
They were among 75 dissidents arrested in a government crackdown on the opposition in 2003.
Ramon and Raga were identified as independent journalists, who in Cuba send reports to Web pages, newspapers and broadcasters abroad from a country where all news media is state-owned and operated.
“We welcome the news that Cuba is planning to release at least two imprisoned journalists,” said Carlos Lauria of the New York-based advocacy group Committee to Protect Journalists. But he said the group remained concerned about and demanded the release of 22 other independent journalists it says Cuba still holds.
Sanchez said the releases appeared to be the result of human rights talks held in Madrid earlier this week by the Spanish and Cuban governments. “They will leave today or tomorrow,” Sanchez said of their flight to Spain.
Spain’s Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos also reported the action.
“This has been a unilateral decision by the Cuban authorities which we appreciate and for which we express our satisfaction,” Moratinos said in Spain. “We are going to continue working with them in the future always respecting their decisions and encouraging them to move forward in this sensitive sector.”
There was no immediate word on the release from Cuban officials.
Spain has a policy of engagement with the communist-run nation, and opposes U.S. policies aimed at isolating the island through economic sanctions and travel restrictions on Americans.
Cuban authorities rounded up 75 critics five years ago, tried them on charges of being U.S. mercenaries to undermine Fidel Castro’s government and sentenced to long prison terms. The independent journalists, rights activists and other dissidents denied they received U.S. government funds.
With new releases, 20 of the 75 will have been freed, leaving 55 behind bars. The 16 freed earlier were released on medical parole and several, including well-known writer and journalist Raul Rivero, have since left Cuba.
Alvarez, of Havana, and Pernet, from the central city of Villa Clara, were sentenced to 25-year terms in rapid trials following the roundup. Ramon, of the eastern city of Santiago, was serving a 20-year sentence and Gonzalez, from the central-eastern province of Camaguey, had a 14-year sentence.
Sanchez’s commission earlier this year reported that 234 prisoners of conscience were being held on the island.
That number was down from 246 on June 30 — continuing a decline since Raul Castro took over provisionally for his ailing elder brother Fidel in July 2006, when it listed 316.