Cuba has allegedly released all 53 political prisoners as promised

Plenty of us had our doubts as to if it would actually happen, including yours truly. But if the breaking news from Reuters pans out, Raul Castro has carried through and released the full crop of 53 political prisoners under discussion in the ongoing American rapprochement with Cuba.

Cuba has released all 53 prisoners it had promised to free, senior U.S. officials said, a major step toward détente with Washington.

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.

You’re not off base at all if you would rather wait until Congress has been briefed and we get this from multiple sources in DC. Getting mixed messages (or outright lies) out of Havana would be nothing new. But assuming this proves true, it shouldn’t be all that surprising. Cuba has a lot on the line in this deal as we’ve discussed here at length. The benefits to Castro and the communist party far outweigh anything we’ll see out of this deal, and if Raul had bailed out on one of the very first agreements he made – particularly one which was so easy for him to make good on with no restrictions on his end – then opponents of this deal would be handed a huge new slug of ammunition to undermine it going forward.

One of the chief complaints I heard when the deal was first announced is still in play, of course. Just because these prisoners were released this week and government leaders had a chance for a photo op, that doesn’t mean that they can’t be picked up again and thrown in a cell next week on “new charges.” But there is at least hope that things won’t play out that way because of the aforementioned need on Castro’s part to keep painting the best face on all of this. (Of course, it still wouldn’t hurt for those 53 to hightail it out of the country by Friday if they have the chance.)

The next goal on the table is to reopen the embassy in Havana and, presumably, the one in Washington also. We heard some strong words out of the GOP when this was first announced, specifically along the lines of, “Good luck getting funding for that.” As the weeks have gone by, though, general public support for easing restrictions has been nearing the 70% mark and I don’t know how many members of Congress are going to want to buck those types of numbers when the total money involved will be essentially a rounding error in the budget.

Who knows? This thing just might work. And as I wrote when the story first broke, it was time to try something new anyway. If it all falls apart, it’s not like things were going so well before this anyway.

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David Strom 10:01 AM on February 04, 2023