Cuba to free prisoners not on church list

Associated Press / December 24, 2010

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HAVANA — Cuba is set to release two prisoners, the archbishop of Havana said yesterday, though the men are not among 11 high-profile prisoners slated to be freed under a deal between the government and Roman Catholic Church.

Under the informal agreement, the government of President Raul Castro is to free 52 peaceful dissidents jailed in 2003. While 41 have been released, 11 are still behind bars, and there have been questions of whether the government would free them before Christmas.

Orlando Marquez, spokesman for the Havana archbishop, said Miguel Angel Vidal Guadarrama and Hector Larroque Rego are to be released “shortly’’ and will be sent to Spain. His brief statement did not provide details about the men or their convictions.

Both appear on a list of people jailed for committing crimes against Cuban state security. The list was compiled by Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

Vidal was convicted on terror charges in 2003 and sentenced to 15 years in prison, according to the commission. Larroque was arrested in 2000 and convicted on charges including robbery, illegally possessing arms, and piracy.

“We are still very worried because the government is freeing people by dribs and drabs,’’ Sanchez said in a phone interview. “Also, they’re freeing those who used force while peaceful prisoners remain in jail.’’

The 52 prisoners named in the government’s deal with the church are among 75 activists, social commentators, and opposition leaders jailed following a 2003 crackdown.

The agreement was announced after a July 7 meeting of Castro, Havana’s Roman Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega, and Spain’s foreign minister at the time, Miguel Angel Moratinos.

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