Cuba government begins relocating political prisoners closer to families

.- Fulfilling a promise made in recent talks with the Catholic Church in Cuba, the Cuban government on Tuesday began moving political prisoners to jails closer to their homes.

Six men among the 75 government opponents jailed in a 2003 crackdown were being transferred to prisons nearer to their families in various Cuban cities, the Archdiocese of Havana said in a statement.

The relocated prisoners are: Félix Navarro Rodríguez, José Luis García Paneque, Iván Hernández Carrillo Adolfo, Diosdado González Marrero, Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique and Antonio Ramón Díaz Sánchez.

The archdiocese added, “Given the speculation generated in recent days regarding this process,” only information released by the Archbishop of Havana's office should be trusted.

Family members said they hoped the transfers were a first step towards freedom for the imprisoned, Reuters reports. The families had complained about the difficulty of visiting jailed dissidents in distant prisons.

Julia Nunez told Reuters she has been told her husband Adolfo Fernandez was among those being moved to a Havana prison from his current jail in the central Cuba city of Ciego de Avila.

"I am very happy. It's a small light at the end of the tunnel," she said.

Cuban President Raul Castro promised the prisoner relocations in a May 19 meeting with Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the Archbishop of Havana.

According to Reuters, the move was seen as a concession ahead of the mid-June visit of Vatican foreign minister Dominique Mamberti.

Catholic officials have also said that Castro pledged that ailing prisoners would be moved to hospitals. At least 26 are reported to be in ill health. Some reports have said Castro indicated an unknown number of prisoners may be released.

Breta Soler, a leader in the dissident group Ladies in White, said the government’s relocation of the prisoners was “a window, a door that is opening.”

“I think some of the most ill may be released," commented Soler, whose husband Angel Moya Acosta is serving a 20-year sentence.

Last month Cuban officials tried to stop the Ladies in White’s weekly protest marches, bringing in pro-government mobs to harass them for hours. However, they allowed the marches to proceed after Cardinal Ortega intervened.

Dissident Guillermo Farinas, who is almost 100 days into his hunger strike seeking the release of 26 ailing political prisoners, said the government’s action was “laudable.” According to Reuters, he said if the government releases 10 or 12 of the sick prisoners he might call off his fast, which has helped to prompt international criticism of the Cuban government.

After his May meeting with President Castro, Cardinal Ortega said that the topic of political prisoners was “being dealt with seriously.”

According to the cardinal, the discussions had “a magnificent beginning” which ought to continue.

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