HAVANA TIMES, July 8 – Despite the Soccer World Cup, the news that the Cuban government will release 52 prisoners of conscious has traveled the world. Negotiations between President Raul Castro, Cardinal Jaime Ortega and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos have panned out.
This, however, was not the first outcome. Prior to this announcement of the releases, Elizardo Sanchez, the president of the opposition Human Rights Commission, commented to me that “Cuba has reached the lowest number of political prisoners in the last 50 years.”
His organization’s biannual count certified that as of June 30, 2010 a total of 167 prisoners were being held on political grounds (a figure that will now be reduced to around 115). This contrasts with the 201 registered cases at the end of the previous semester.
The reasons for the particular releases are many: commutations of sentences, health exceptions and completions of terms. Beyond the significance of each one of these, though, is the now-evident tendency of ending the continued criminal trying of dissidents.
Shift on position regarding Human Rights
What is gradually occurring in the country implies a change in the Cuban government’s position on the issue of human rights. Some believe it is only “cosmetic” while others fear that the government is walking in quicksand.
Nonetheless, no one can ignore that unprecedented changes are occurring, such as the government meeting with Catholic clergy to discuss current national issues, among them being those concerning human rights and prisoners of conscious.
This process began with another unusual measure: official authorization for the Ladies in White to parade through the streets of Havana. This was the first time in a century that an openly oppositional group received permission to carry out public protests.
Also this year, there began the elimination of a policy of physically distancing prisoners from their relatives. A dozen of them were transferred back to their home provinces and six more will be relocated this week. Without a doubt, this measure especially benefits their mothers, children and wives.
Likewise, two court trails recently concluded with dissidents being freed from jail. These cases, which were highly contested internationally, involved a journalist and a doctor, with both being dissidents but charged with common crimes. Though both are now out of State institutional confinement, the physician has been placed under home arrest.
No executions under Raul Castro
But in the area of human rights, the gesture of President Raul Castro that seems most significant was the pardon granted to several dozen people on death row, a fact that has been given almost no international attention.
Moreover, since he assumed office, no convict has been executed, which in practice is an implied moratorium. This is paradoxical because General Castro was considered by many to be one of the toughest of the group of the historical leaders.
The process might appear slow, however it is occurring not only in this arena; it’s also taking place in the economic, political and social spheres. It is clear that the Cuban government doesn’t have the takeoff of a Ferrari – on the contrary, it begins each movement with the slowness of a steam engine.
However, it cannot be ignored that the country is moving forward and in directions that have never before been traveled. The process began with a national debate, is continuing with a process to lessen the State’s role in the means of production, and has now arrived at the area of human rights.
The Catholic Church seems to have perceived this movement from the beginning. The papal envoy, Cardinal Bertoni, was the first visitor to meet with President Raul Castro and was also the first person who refused to speak with the dissidents.
The Spanish government has also sought dialogue, succeeding in getting its European partners to lift sanctions against the island. Spanish Foreign Minister Moratinos now assures that Brussels will eliminate the Common EU Position on Cuba, which conditions relations with Havana on the improvement of human rights.
Spain and the Vatican are coordinating their efforts in negotiations with the Cuban government at a higher level. Both expect a lot, convinced that the locomotive will begin moving but that the only way to influence this will be by their getting aboard.
An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original) published by BBC Mundo.