Did anyone actually think Cuba would release all 53 political prisoners whose release Barack Obama demanded for normalized relations? Outside of the White House and John Kerry’s State Department, that is?
The Cuban government is resisting the release of several of the 53 people the U.S. government has said were to be freed as part of a thaw in relations, linking them to acts of violence, a congressional aide told Reuters.
“We’ve been told that the Cuban government has agreed to release all but several of the political prisoners on the list,” the aide said.
“The government in Havana believes that the smaller group has committed acts of violence,” the aide said.
No specific number of prisoners was provided.
“All but several”? What exactly does that mean? Five, fifteen, twenty-five … fifty-two? At this point, we might do better to ask for the list of those whose release the Obama administration has confirmed. It’s likely to be shorter than the alternative.
In fact, Patricia Zengerle notes that the White House hasn’t shared the original list with anyone — not even on Capitol Hill. That makes it rather difficult for Congress to oversee the compliance of the Cubans on this deal, which allowed them to welcome back five of their intelligence agents home, two of whom had participated in murder here. Maybe we should have reneged for “acts of violence” too, eh? We got back Alan Gross, but the White House promoted the acquiescence on the demand of the political prisoners to be evidence that Obama had fought for some kind of reform in exchange for normalization.
The Washington Post notes the “air of secrecy” surrounding the list:
Almost three weeks after the agreement, neither dissidents on the island nor leaders in the Cuban exile community know how many have been let out or whether any of the prisoners they are aware of are among those scheduled to be freed.
Both the White House and the State Department refuse to publicly name the prisoners included on a list U.S. negotiators provided their Cuban counterparts amid negotiations to normalize relations, although officials said a prisoner release was not a precondition for renewing diplomatic ties. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday that not everyone on the list has been set free yet, but it was always understood that they would be released “in stages.”
Cuban activists in the US are less than satisfied with that response:
“With the tremendous propaganda victory the U.S. government has given Fidel Castro and the Cuban government by agreeing to establish diplomatic relations, the U.S. government should at least ensure the unconditional release of bona fide prisoners of conscience,” he said. “We have to insist this list be made public.”
Josh Earnest told the press yesterday that releasing their names would put an even bigger target on their backs. That sounds highly self-serving, considering that the Cuban government already has the 53 in custody. The point is to get them released, not to worry about the supposed targets on their backs once they are freed. Speaking of which, it’s interesting that the Cubans have taken this approach when it might have been easier to release the 53 on the US list now, and just round them up again later. That’s what most of the Cuban activists in the US who opposed this move expected to happen, and why making the list public now would make things at least a little more uncomfortable — for both governments. Balking now suggests that the Castros don’t have much respect for Obama as a negotiator, and they’re unfortunately correct.
Keep that in mind when the agreement ends up infusing “economic blood” into the Castro regime, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen advised yesterday: