Cuban dissident says he believes 2 men on US list of 53 political prisoners have been freed

Two young Cuban political prisoners were freed Wednesday, and a leading human rights advocate said he believed their liberation was part of a U.S.-Cuban deal to release 53 dissidents.

The head of Cuba's Human Rights and Reconciliation Commission, Elizardo Sanchez, told The Associated Press that 19-year-old twins Diango Vargas Martin and Bianko Vargas Martin were released without any of the judicial procedures that normally precede the liberation of those held in politically related cases.

According to Amnesty International, the brothers were arrested in December 2012 as they tried to return to their home, where they lived with their mother, a member of the dissident group Ladies in White. They had been held on charges of using violence or intimidation against a state official. Amnesty described them as prisoners of conscience.

U.S. officials said last month that Cuba agreed to free 53 people considered by Washington to be political prisoners who it wanted freed as part of negotiations to restore full diplomatic relations. Since then, neither Cuba nor the United States has publicly give out any of the names on the list and no releases have been announced, prompting swelling criticism in the U.S. of the deal between Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro.

Francisco "Pepe" Hernandez, president of the Cuban American National Foundation, said he had been informed by the White House that Lady in White member Sonia Garro, her husband and a neighbor had been let go as part of the deal prior to both governments' Dec. 17 announcement of warming relations.

Sanchez said he had no official confirmation that the Vargas Martin brothers were on the list of 53 prisoners, but the facts of their release led him to believe their release was part of the U.S.-Cuba deal.

"They're prisoners of conscience and they've been freed immediately and with no conditions," he said.


Associated Press writer Michael Weissenstein contributed to this report.


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