The release of the remaining prisoners sets a positive tone for historic talks next week aimed at normalizing relations after decades of hostility, the officials said. They described the Cuban government’s release over the weekend of the last detainees on the list as a milestone but said they would keep pressing Havana to free more people the United States considers political prisoners.
The officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, did not say how many prisoners were released over the weekend or identify them. But the White House will provide the names of all 53 to Congress and expects lawmakers to make them public, the officials added.
Leading Cuban dissidents said that as of Sunday they had not received word that the prisoner release was complete and only knew of up to 39 people freed since Dec. 17, including a popular hip-hop artist.
“We have heard nothing new today,” said Elizardo Sanchez, president of the dissident Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation. “We’ll see in the next few days if they complete the list.”
But the issue of the prisoners’ release highlights the difficulties of dealing with an opaque authoritarian regime, analysts suggest.
“[The Cubans] have said the Americans are the problem, but now the Americans are getting out of the way, and it’s shining a light on the difficulty that Cuba has in dealing with the U.S. in a transparent manner,” said Carl Meacham, director of the Americas Program at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies:
On Dec. 30, less than two weeks after Messrs. Obama and Castro announced the agreement, Cuban agents detained and then released the husband of prominent blogger Yoani Sánchez ahead of a planned public gathering of reform advocates. The agents arrested other dissidents as well. Obama administration officials and allies who worked on the deal with Cuba defended the process.
“It’s premature to be accusing the Cubans of reneging or the Obama administration of being naive,” said Tim Rieser, foreign-policy aide to Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, who is involved in the U.S.-Cuba negotiations.
“At least 25 have been released and we expect the others to be released in short order,” he said noting that “it’s the administration’s judgment that it is better to not make this a public spectacle.”
Despite the recent policy shift by the US administration – described as a hemispheric coup for the Castro regime by Mauricio Claver-Carone, Director, Cuba Democracy Advocates – Cuba continues to act in an authoritarian manner, as The New York Times recently reported:
State security personnel detained journalist Reinaldo Escobar, the husband of popular dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez, outside their home and prevented her from leaving, according to the digital news site the couple runs, 14yMedio. Eliécer Ávila, a young government critic who leads the political movement ‘Somos +’ — which means, “there are more of us,” was taken into custody alongside Mr. Escobar.
When the Berlin Wall came down, Eastern Europe liberated itself and the Soviet Union collapsed, the role of U.S. international broadcasting was universally recognized, note A. Ross Johnson and S. Enders Wimbush.
In the wake of these world-changing events, Václav Havel, Lech Walesa, Boris Yeltsin and other new leaders insisted that Radio Free Europe (RFE), Radio Liberty (RL) and the Voice of America were central to the peaceful democratic transitions in their countries, they write for The Washington Post:
Post-communist transitions may be protracted and suffer reversals. But we know from our experience on the front lines of U.S. international broadcasting that unforeseen events can enhance the role of surrogate free media and accelerate change. Obama’s decision to reestablish diplomatic ties with Cuba, regardless of whether it is followed by liberalization or more repression, is likely to be this kind of game-changer for Martí. This is the moment for which Radio and TV Martí were created. The White House and Congress should make available the resources necessary for Martí to provide Cubans with information that will help them gain their freedom.
A. Ross Johnson, a fellow at the Wilson Center and the Hoover Institution, was director of Radio Free Europe from 1988 to 1991. S. Enders Wimbush was director of Radio Liberty from 1987 to 1993 and a member of the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors from 2010 to 2012. RTWT
Other observers object to the condescension with which U.S.-based analysts depict Cuba’s dissidents and pro-democracy movement:
Brookings Institution analyst Richard Feinberg told the New York Times recently: “The hard-liners here will have to either engage, or perish. . . . Obama had a conversation with Raúl Castro. Then why can’t they?”
His colleague Ted Piccone, another Cuba expert, recently observed that “democratic change” in Cuba “requires indigenous citizen movements who are willing to take the difficult steps to demand it themselves.”