After unprecedented talks with the Catholic Church, Cuban officials have agreed to release the last of a large group of political prisoners who were jailed during a repressive wave in the country nearly eight years ago.
Felix Navarro and Jose Daniel Ferrer – activists who had each been sentenced to 25 years in jail – are the last dissidents to be freed under an agreement President Raul Castro and Cardinal Jaime Ortega of Havana reached in July of 2010.
The release is the latest of several, following a landmark dialogue between Cuban officials and the country's Catholic leaders. In 2003, 75 dissidents – including prominent intellectuals, opposition leaders and activists – were arrested for what the local communist government viewed as treason.
The prisoners have reportedly suffered harsh conditions while incarcerated, with some going on hunger strikes as a sign of protest.
Many of the political prisoners who have been released in the last several months are living in exile in Spain, which agreed to accept them. However, those dissidents who have been released recently had refused to leave their homeland, which slowed their being released because the Cuban government had to return to the negotiating table.
On March 15, Cuban officials set free 10 political prisoners, including prominent dissident Oscar Elias Biscet, who was recently nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize.
The 49 year-old doctor is the president of the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights. Biscet became one of the most well known opponents of the communist government in Cuba and suffered numerous arrests beginning in 1998.
Tuesday's announcement of Navarro and Ferrer's release comes on the same day that 84 year-old Fidel Castro confirmed he secretly stepped down as head of the country’s Communist Party nearly five years ago.
Fidel became critically ill in 2006 and was forced to turn the presidency over to his brother, Raul.