.- Following unprecedented dialogue between Cuban officials and the country's Catholic leaders, political authorities in Cuba announced today that they will release 52 political prisoners.
According to the Miami Herald, Cuba's leader Raul Castro announced the move to Cardinal Jaime Ortega of Havana on July 7 during the latest meeting in their nearly two-month series of talks.
Castro informed the cardinal that 5 prisoners will be released immediately with the remaining 47 being allowed to leave the island nation within the next four months, the Herald reports. The 52 were part of a group of 75 dissidents arrested in 2003 for what the local communist government viewed as treason.
Prior to today's announcement, the prelate's talks with Cuban authorities had garnered the release of one prisoner and the transfer of a dozen others to prisons closer to their homes.
The prisoners have reportedly suffered harsh conditions while incarcerated, with some going on hunger strikes as a sign of protest. Ariel Sigler Amaya, a 46-year-old prisoner released last month, became a paraplegic while in prison and now weighs 106 lbs.
Dialogue contributing to the prisoners' release has also been credited to the Vatican's foreign minister, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, who visited the country during the recent Cuban Social Week in June.