Thirty-seven Cuban political prisoners arrived in Spain today, accompanied by 208 family members, an action that “ends the process of releasing prisoners of conscience in Cuba,” according to a Spanish government announcement.
Update: A statement from the Archdiocese of Havana says it “has not received from the Cuban government any notification referring to the end of [the prisoner release] process.”
The process began last July and involved Catholic Church mediation. Among those released were the remaining 52 of the 75 arrested in the spring of 2003; of those, 12 remained in Cuba.
In the entire process, Spain received a total of 115 prisoners and 647 relatives in a process that looks akin to the U.S. program for refugee resettlement, where a range of benefits and services are provided to allow for a successful transition.
Is this a victory for human rights? It’s not, if you believe as I do that these people should not have been arrested in the first place. And the releases certainly don’t solve other human right problems in Cuba. But it’s a very positive step, and one would expect that governments that have pressed for years for the release of political prisoners would say so.
Cuba’s government has had a long practice of releasing prisoners to exile, often by offering individuals or large numbers of prisoners the stark choice of serving out their sentence or accepting a one-way ticket out of the country. This case is not so clear. The government’s clear preference was shown by the fact that those who refused to leave Cuba were released very late, and those who were making up their minds were aided, we can be sure, by large numbers of relatives who were interested in going to Spain. But in the end, those who refused to leave Cuba were released and they remain in Cuba.
I have seen no announcement of the names of the 37 released today. When it is released, we will know if there are any remaining prisoners of conscience in Cuban jails by the count of Amnesty International, other international monitors, or Cuban human rights monitors. (See discussion of the counting procedures here.)
Translation of the Spanish Foreign Ministry statement by Cuban Colada.
The State Department’s new human rights report on Cuba.