This December 23 Nota Oficial announces a decision by Cuba’s Council of State to release more than 2,900 prisoners who have served substantial parts of their sentences and shown good conduct, with releases to occur “in the coming days.” The action is “in fulfillment of established policy” and responds to appeals from family members and “diverse religious institutions.” Save for a few exceptions, prisoners convicted of espionage, terrorism, murder, drug trafficking, and several types of violent crimes are not included in the reprieve.
Human rights monitor Elizardo Sanchez called it a “shallow gesture.” I suppose that would be the case if the prisoners had all served 90 percent of their sentences, but we don’t know any of those details yet. To me it seems odd to be dismissive of the release of so many. Already, with the political prisoner releases, the number of prisoners of conscience counted by Amnesty International had fallen to zero. Elizardo keeps a list of persons convicted of politically motivated crimes, including some involving violence; I wonder if any of those will be released.
The State Department, for its part, is “deeply disappointed” that jailed USAID contractor Alan Gross was not among the 2,900 and “deplores” his exclusion. It’s as if the strategy of the U.S. government, which sent Gross to Cuba to conduct clandestine operations, is to obtain his release simply by demanding a unilateral gesture. Again, it seems that Gross is on his own and the top priority is to defend the program, not him.