Latin America & Caribbean

Cuba releases all 53 prisoners agreed as part of US deal

Recently released dissidents Aide Gallardo (left) and Sonia Garro hold the Cuban national flag during a march in Havana on 11 January, 2015. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Dozens of dissidents have been released over the past days but the US has yet to release the list of names it provided to the Cuban government

US officials say Cuba has completed the release of 53 political prisoners agreed as part of last month's historic deal between the two countries.

The US said it had verified the release of the 53, which it welcomed as a "very positive development".

However, the US said the release did "not resolve the larger human rights problems on the island".

Last month, the two countries said they would restore diplomatic relations severed since 1961.

The thaw was announced in simultaneous televised speeches by President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The two presidents announced the policy shift on live television from Havana and Washington DC

The deal also included the release of US contractor Alan Gross from a Cuban jail, and the freeing of three Cuban secret agents from prison in the US.

"We welcome this very positive development and are pleased that the Cuban government followed through on this commitment," said State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf.

The US has not yet disclosed the identities of the 53 Cuban prisoners released over the past days.

Dissident leaders in Cuba disputed the State Department announcement.

The head of the Ladies in White group, which stages regular protests in Havana, said she believed 12 prisoners remained in jail.

"We really don't know who these 53 freed people are," Berta Soler told the French newsagency AFP, adding that by her count only 41 had been released.

"Where are the other 12?" she said.

Another group, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights said it was not aware of any prisoner releases since Thursday.

It added that 17 prisoners on the list had been freed before the historic deal was signed by Washington and Havana last month.

Continued pressure

US officials said the Obama administration would continue to seek the release of other Cuban political prisoners still in jail.

"This list (of 53) is not to be seen as the end of our discussion on human rights with the government of Cuba," state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

On Tuesday, US officials gave the names of the 53 to Congressmen saying they expected them to make them public.

The topic is expected to be raised at high-level talks between the US and Cuba on 21 and 22 January, when US Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson will lead a delegation to the Cuban capital, Havana.

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