Castro to Obama: 'Free Cuban political prisoners'

Issue 

Responding to US president Barack Obama's for Cuba to free so-called dissidents in Cuban jails, Cuban President Raul Castro said on April 16: "Why do they not release our five heroes, young heroic men who never inflicted any harm on the United States?"

Castro said that the five Cuban men in US jails had merely sought information about "the terrorists that attacked and have been attacking, to a greater or lesser degree, my country for nearly 50 years".

"If they want these supposed political prisoners released, among whom there are a number of confessed terrorists ... [then] let our prisoners go and we'll send these there", Castro said.

Five Cubans are serving prison sentences in the US ranging from 10 years to life after a questionable trial found them guilty of being agents of the Cuban government.

There real crime, however, was uncovering the activities of right-wing anti-Cuban terrorists protected by the US government.

The issue of US-Cuba relations was a central feature of the April 17-19 Summit of the Americas. Cuba is the only country in the hemisphere excluded from the summit, but all the countries minus the US support its re-incorporation into the Organisation of American States.

The April 20 Washington Post said: "Obama noted progress [in relation to Cuba], citing Raul Castro's recent statement that his country was willing to discuss human rights issues with the United States. Cuba, Obama said, should ... grant new freedoms to its citizens as a next step in thawing relations with the United States."

Before the summit, Obama said the US would lift restrictions on travel to Cuba only for Cubans living in the US. Restrictions on remittances sent to Cuba would also be eased.

However, he said nothing about lifting the illegal blockade on Cuba, something he campaigned on in his successful 2004 run for senator.

Castro said on April 23: "While the measures recently announced by President Obama are positive, their reach is minimal.

"The blockade has remained intact. There is no political or moral pretext that can justify the continuity of that policy. Cuba has not imposed any sanctions whatsoever on the United States or against its citizens.

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