Tuesday, July 27, 2010

How many political prisoners?

Cuba has committed to release 52 political prisoners, and last week parliament chief Ricardo Alarcon said it was “very clear from the discussions that the government’s wish is to free all the people” as long as they were not involved in crimes of violence (see AFP English and Spanish).

So what would constitute release of all political prisoners?

There are differing counts.

Amnesty International counts 53 prisoners of conscience, so that if Cuba releases the 52, only one prisoner of conscience will remain in jail by AI’s count.

Elizardo Sanchez of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation is an independent monitor of human rights conditions. He counts 167 in jail for “political or political-social motives,” and his list is cited in many places as the definitive accounting of political prisoners. Some of the 167 have been released and are in Cuba or abroad. And some have been involved in violent crimes such as hotel bombings. It is a mystery to me why Sanchez would combine people who engage in nonviolent political action with those who attack civilians based on political motives (terrorism), but it’s his list and it is completely transparent.

And Human Rights Watch asserts that these lists understate the number of people jailed in Cuba for their beliefs because of the state’s abuse of the “dangerousness” charge (peligrosidad predelictiva) to lock up opponents based on specious accusations. Human Rights Watch does not have a concrete count.

At any rate, these issues are treated in detail in this report from the Associated Press.

Other information on this, if you want to sort it out yourself:


Anonymous said...

Elizardo Sanchez list has to be scrutinized very carefully. On the list he includes Ernest Cruz Leon, the self-confessed terrorist who planted a series of bombs in Cuba in 1997, one of which killed Italian tourist Fabio DiCelmo.
To in any capacity consider Cruz Leon a political prisoner compromises to a great extent the whole list. How many other terrorists are on the list? Unless he considers all acts of terrorism a political statement (where does that leave 9/11?)
For full details on Cruz Leon and the hotel bombings, check out the new book; Voices From the Other Side: An Oral History of Terrorism Against Cuba (Pluto Press London 2010)

leftside said...

According to the AP investigation, of those 110 or so remaining on Sanchez's list "about half were convicted of terrorism, hijacking or other violent crimes, and four are former military or intelligence agents convicted of espionage or revealing state secrets." Another 10 have been released on parole.

But you are right, the inclusion of violent criminals taints the entire rest of the list. After all, how many "political prisoners" would we have in the US if an political motive was considered the only relevant criteria? The list would include all manner of folks Americans view as repulsive - just as most Cubans view the folks on Sanchez's list.