Cuba Starts Releasing Group of Political Prisoners

By Park Sae-jin Posted : July 11, 2010, 13:12 Updated : July 11, 2010, 13:12

Cuba has begun releasing a group of ailing political prisoners as part of a landmark church-brokered deal to free 52 dissidents, relatives of three freed inmates said.

If all 52 activists are freed, it would be the largest prisoner release since President Raul Castro took Cuba's reins permanently from his brother Fidel Castro in 2008.

After a politically embarrassing hunger strike to near death by dissident Guillermo Farinas, the government and church struck a deal.

The first three dissidents freed Saturday were taken to undisclosed locations and were reportedly among a group of 17 of the dissidents who plan to go to Spain.

Dissident Jose Luis Garcia Paneque phoned his family to tell them he was being transferred from the Las Tunas provincial prison to a location in Havana, according to his cousin Raul Smith.

The wives of dissidents Pablo Pacheco and Luis Milan received calls from other inmates telling them that their husbands had been released.

Sources close to the process said that the departure for Spain would be early next week. The Archbishop's office said it would leave it to Cuban authorities to identify prisoners being released or who may emigrate.

Under the agreement, 52 political prisoners will eventually be freed, but the initial release had been expected to include just five detainees.

Thursday, the church had announced that five prisoners would be freed imminently, but none was apparently set free until the announcement of the first three releases on Saturday.

Several families of imprisoned dissidents said they had been contacted by authorities and told to be prepared to travel after their relatives were released.

On Saturday, the Archbishop of Havana said in a statement that another five detainees would be "leaving soon to Spain" as part of "the continuation of the process of prisoner releases."

The unusual prisoner release was announced earlier this week after unprecedented talks between Cardinal Jaime Ortega and President Castro, who leads the only one-party communist regime in the Americas.

All 52 were part of a group of 75 dissidents rounded up in 2003 and sentenced to jail terms of between six and 28 years.


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