Published December 30, 2016
The release of 53 political prisoners continues to be shrouded in secrecy even after the Obama administration confirmed they had all been set free.
Late Monday, the U.S. foreign affairs committee released the names of the political prisoners but did not disclosed their whereabouts after their release. The Cuban government said it released the prisoners as part of last month's historic deal between the United States and Cuba.
"We welcome this very positive development and are pleased that the Cuban Government followed through on this commitment. Our Interests Section in Havana was able to verify these releases,” said a senior Obama official. “These political prisoners were individuals who had been cited by various human rights organizations as being imprisoned by the Cuban government for exercising internationally protected freedoms or for their promotion of political and social reforms in Cuba.
Most of the released dissidents belong to the Patriotic Union of Cuba, an anti-government group based in far eastern Cuba. The group’s spokesman told Fox News Latino that even though the political prisoners were sprung, the move is purely “cosmetic.”
“Today they free 53 and next month we have another 53 [in jail],” said Guillermo Fariñas, who famously staged a 134-day hunger strike last year to draw attention to the plight of activists. “What needs to be done is change the law and eliminate the entire series of felony charges that are not felonies because they are [protected by] freedom of speech.”
Both the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation – the island’s leading human rights group – and Patriotic Union of Cuba said they had not been personally informed of any prisoner release since Thursday.
The White House provided the names of all 53 to Congress and lawmakers made them public late Monday.
Among those released earlier last week were Haydee Gallardo S., a Lady in White, and her husband Angel Figueredo C. who were both arrested in May 2014 on charges of "public disorder."
The independent rap artist Ángel Yunier Remón Arzuaga, known as "El Crítico," was also released after being sentenced to eight years in prison without a trial in March 2013 for "resistance" against the communist regime.
In a telephone interview Monday with Yoani Sanchez's blog 14ymedio, "El Crítico" said he was repeatedly tortured throughout the year, 10 months and 15 days he spent in jail.
"I want you to know that I was subjected to physical and psychological torture intended to suppress my ideals, which are in tune with those of the majority of Cubans today. They are the same dreams of the people who have lived a fallacy for over 56 years and spent decades demanding change, demanding justice is done."
He said his release came as a surprise while he was serving one month in the "punishment cell," wearing only his underwear, for an unspecified insubordination.
Fariñas, who has also experienced Cuban jails firsthand, is not buying any of the reconciliation story.
“[With the releases] they are fooling the public opinion of the United States,” Fariñas told FNL. “What the [Castro] government wants is the American investments. It wants to be maintained by its top enemy.”
“Their main goal is to change everything so nothing is changed.”
An official traveling with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Islamabad said the U.S. verified the release.
Speaking in Louisville, Kentucky on Monday, President Barack Obama's U.N. ambassador alluded to the recent release but said more needs to be done.
"Welcome as that step is, and heartening as it is for their families,” Samantha Powers said,” (it) does not resolve the larger human rights problems on the island."
Includes reporting by The Associated Press.