HAVANA—A top Cuban official criticized Washington's decision to applaud the release of an ill political prisoner, saying it has no moral authority to judge the communist-run island.
Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, director of the Cuban Foreign Ministry's North American affairs office, told The Associated Press late Tuesday that "Cuba doesn't recognize any authority by the State Department or its spokesman to pass judgments on internal matters."
She added that "moreover, the United States doesn't have moral authority to give lessons to anyone."
Vidal Ferreiro's comments came a day after U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the U.S. views the Saturday release of Ariel Sigler as "a positive development."
"We hope that this will lead to the release of additional prisoners of conscience," Crowley told reporters in Washington. He added, "We certainly respect the positive role played by ... those working for the improved treatment of released political prisoners, including the Catholic Church."
Sigler, 44, who is paralyzed from the waist down, was freed on medical grounds. One of 75 activists arrested in 2003 during a crackdown by Cuban authorities, he had been serving a 25-year sentence for treason.
Crowley's comment was the most positive yet by a U.S. official since Cuba began making a series of human rights concessions following talks between the communist government and the Roman Catholic church.
Under an agreement ironed out with church leaders, 12 prisoners of conscience have been transferred to jails closer to their homes in recent weeks. The moves came ahead of a visit to Cuba that began Tuesday night by the Vatican's foreign minister, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti.
Cuba had not publicly acknowledged Sigler's release or the transfer of the dozen prisoners, and Vidal Ferreiro only broke the silence to scold the U.S.
"The United States commits acts of torture, has an illegal detention center in Guantanamo," Vidal Ferreiro told The AP by telephone, referring to the U.S. Navy base on Cuba's eastern tip.
She said Washington "keeps political prisoners in its prisons, like the case of five Cuban antiterrorists," referring to the so-called "Cuban Five," a ring of men convicting of spying in the United States, which Havana maintains was only keeping watch on violent anti-Castro groups.
Cuba's Catholic church has suddenly burst on the scene as a powerful political voice.
In May, Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega negotiated an end to a ban on marches by a group known as the Ladies in White, which is made up of the wives and mothers of some of the dissidents jailed in 2003.
The cardinal and another church leader later met with Raul Castro, leading to the agreement on prisoners.
Human rights officials say Cuba holds 180 political prisoners. Havana says opposition activists and dissidents are a mix of common criminals and agitators paid and manipulated by Washington.