HAVANA – The U.S. Interests Section in Havana received Tuesday family members of Cuban political prisoners set for release in order to brief them on how to apply for refugee status in the United States, though it offered no additional facilities apart from the normal procedure.
At least six women related to dissidents accepted an invitation from U.S. diplomats to be briefed on the options prisoners have who want to emigrate to the United States.
President Raul Castro’s government has already released 20 political prisoners in line with a pledge to free all 52 of the 75 dissidents rounded up and jailed in the “Black Spring” crackdown of March 2003 still remaining behind bars.
Eleven of those detainees left Cuba with their families for Spain and the other nine are expected to do likewise during the course of this week.
Those among the 52 prisoners who reject the option of going to Spain are to be freed in stages over the next three or four months.
Berta Soler, a member of the Ladies in White group comprising relatives of the Group of 75, told reporters on Tuesday as they left the Interests Section that prisoners who do not want to go to Spain can use the program for refugees with “the same mechanisms followed by all” Cubans who choose that option.
“This is good news because many men who don’t want to go to Spain say they want to go directly to the United States. But they really can’t go (directly) from prison to the United States,” Soler said.
Sofia Garcia, wife of opposition member Jose Miguel Martinez, said that for them the possibility that the United States offers “is very remote” and entails a very long wait.
Garcia stressed that the refugee plan’s required procedures can take more than a year, and does not offer the same advantages of allowing family members to leave the country that are included in the agreement between the governments of Cuba and Spain.
Sources at the Interest Section told Efe the meetings with prisoners’ families will continue all week with the goal of “offering orientation on the consular options for entering the United States.”
Earlier Tuesday, the speaker of the Cuban parliament said in Geneva that the island’s communist government may free other political prisoners in addition to the 52 whose release was announced two weeks ago.
Ricardo Alarcon said that “the wish of the Cuban government is to release from jail everyone not convicted of violent crimes,” sources at Cuba’s U.N. mission in Geneva told Efe.
Alarcon traveled to the Swiss city to take part in the 3rd World Conference of Speakers of Parliament.
The announcement that more prisoners might be released took place a day after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Cuba to continue with “measures of reconciliation” with regard to the freeing of political prisoners and asked Havana to respect human rights.
The prisoner releases stem from a dialogue between Castro and Cuba’s Catholic primate, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, that began in May. EFE