Cuba Releases 53 Political Prisoners Honoring Deal With U.S.

Jessica Applegate

Cuba has completed the release of 53 political prisoners it promised to free as part of its normalization deal with the United States. Over the weekend, Cuban government officials informed the Obama administration that the last of the prisoners had been set free. The U.S. Interests Section in Havana, which handles consular affairs and other contacts for America, has confirmed the release.

Last month, President Obama announced that the U.S. is taking steps to restore full diplomacy with Cuba and its leader, Raúl Castro, an effort that will end 54 years of frozen relations with the communist country.

Obama stated at the White House, "I believe we can do more to support the Cuban people and our values through engagement. These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It's time for a new approach."

A U.S. official explained who these prisoners were, though their names have not yet been made public to Congress.

"These political prisoners were individuals who had been cited by various human rights organizations as being imprisoned by the Cuban government for exercising internationally protected freedoms or for their promotion of political and social reforms in Cuba."

It was initially questioned as to whether the Cuban government would release all or some of the prisoners as part of the deal initiated last month. Both Cuba and the United States maintained intense confidentiality of who the 53 prisoners are, and elicited skepticism over whether or not the communist nation actually intended to uphold its end of the negotiations. Many believed that the U.S. hasn't put enough pressure on Cuba's focus of human rights in exchanged for normalizing the long-standing economic and travel restrictions to the country.

In addition to the United States releasing three Cuban prisoners and having Alan Gross, a U.S. aid worker, released from Cuba, the deliverance of these prisoners is a huge step toward restoring a relationship with the small island nation. The release is expected to shed a positive light on next week's continuing talks in Havana, where U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson will begins high-level negotiations on issues ranging from investments to immigration.

Despite the happy news that these people will be returning home, there are still other prisoners who have yet to be freed. The U.S. government has said they would continue to put pressure on Cuba to release more prisoners.

"The fact of the matter is there are other individuals whose cases we have raised in the past. We have every expectation of going forward in the future. We're going to be wanting to raise the cases of different individuals who may be detained in Cuba for exercising their universal rights."

Negotiations between the two nations was instigated last year as the U.S. investigated Cuba's willingness to improve its human rights record, something the communist country is certainly not known for. As part of that investigation, government officials presented Havana with a list of prisoners they wanted released. Castro's council agreed to all but a handful of names, and the list was finalized. Obama's aides were notified in July that Cuba was prepared to release the listed prisoners.

The final meeting was held at the Vatican, where the terms of reconciliation were once again reviewed and the steps each side was committed to take were outlined, including the prisoner release. The deal was officially announced last month, following 18 months of negotiations.

One U.S. official has stated that Obama could exercise executive powers "in a matter of days and weeks," to begin easing some business and travel restrictions to Cuba.

The U.S. embassy in Havana being reinstated will also be on the table and included in Roberta Jacobson's talks with Cuban government officials, though no timeline for its reopening has been determined.

Questions still remain regarding Cuba's willingness to forge a new relationship with the United States, but the release of 53 political prisoners has certainly gone a long way in restoring its good will.

[Image courtesy of The World Daily Blog]