On December 17, 2014, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said that Cuba “based on its own assessment and the urging of the United States, did release more than 50 political prisoners.” “These were names that were provided by the US government,” Earnest said, later clarifying that some of the prisoners had either already been released or were to be released shortly.
As recently as last week, there was little to no information about these supposed prisoners. Cuban President Raul Castro insisted he would release them in a “unilateral” manner. However, after a spate of critical coverage by the international press, as well as pressure from activists and organizers in Cuba and the United States, the U.S. State Department has publicly released a list with the names of 53 Cuban political prisoners, claiming they have all been let go.
Nevertheless, the New York Times wrote yesterday that the release of the list “was received with skepticism by Cuban opposition figures, who said the government had released fewer prisoners than the numbers suggested.” The Associated Press reported that “Cuba’s leading human rights group said it had not been informed of any prisoner release since Thursday, when the total count stood at 41.”
Another Associated Press report from last week noted that “[r]elatives of Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, a U.S. spy released under last month’s agreement [whose name is not on the list of 53], say they are puzzled about why they have yet to hear from him,” though his sister, who lives in Spain, told the AP yesterday that she received a phone call from her Cuban-born brother, who is now apparently residing in the US.
Imprisoned since 1995, Sarraff Trujillo is thought to be the person described by President Obama as “one of the most important intelligence agents that the United States has ever had in Cuba.” Trujillo is widely rumored to be the man Cuba exchanged with the United States in return for the release of the remaining three members of the “Cuban Five” spy ring. The December 2014 prisoner swap also saw USAID subcontractor Alan Gross freed on humanitarian grounds after five years in Cuban prison.
But according to a Miami Herald report from January 9, 2015, “a man who claims he is a former member of Sarraff’s spy ring .. [also says] that Sarraff was a fake, feeding the CIA false or trivial information as part of a Cuban scheme to disrupt U.S. intelligence.”
Nearly all of the people on the recently-released State Department list were named in a list of 74 “recognized political prisoners” that appears in a July 2014 document from the International Society for Human Rights (Internationale Gesellschaft für Menschenrechte, IGFM), a German-headquartered NGO. Many of the 53 reportedly belong to the “Patriotic Union of Cuba” (UNPACU), led by activist José Daniel Ferrer García.
According to an August 2012 press release from Amnesty International, Ferrer García “was among 75 Cuban dissidents arrested during the so-called ‘Black Spring’ crackdown in March 2003…[He] served eight years of a 25-year jail sentence for his political activism before being granted conditional release in March 2011.”
UNPACU was formed in mid-2011 as an umbrella group of Cuban dissident organizations in and around the province of Santiago de Cuba who seek democratic change by non-violent means.
Since its creation, the Cuban authorities have used arbitrary detention and other measures to harass and intimidate its members. One member, Wilman Villar Mendoza – whom Amnesty International named a prisoner of conscience – died last January on a hunger strike to protest his four-year prison sentence after a summary trial.
Many of the people listed below were imprisoned in the past and many have engaged in hunger strikes and other forms of protest to denounce their treatment. Many others Cuban dissidents have been detained temporarily since the December 17 announcement or remain in custody.
This post is part of an attempt to probe a little bit deeper into the history and current statuses of these 53 dissidents.
Click here for the full list, or use the link below: