Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    US hails Cuba releases, but rights still ‘poor’

    US hails Cuba releases, but rights still 'poor'

    WASHINGTON — The United States said Friday that conditions
    under Cuba's communist regime remain "poor" despite 's recent
    release of the last members of a group of dissidents detained eight
    years ago.

    "We welcome the release of the last of peaceful Cuban activists
    who were unjustly for exercising their universal rights and
    fundamental freedoms during the 2003 'Black Spring' crackdown," Mark
    Toner, a State Department spokesman, said in a statement.

    The release marked "a step in the right direction," he said.

    "However, human rights conditions in Cuba remain poor. The Cuban
    government continues to limit fundamental freedoms, including of
    speech, the press, and peaceful assembly," said Toner, adding that
    Washington urges Havana to "release all remaining political prisoners."

    He also pressed Cuba to allow the United Nations and Red Cross access to
    the country's jails, "so that a fuller accounting of remaining political
    prisoners can be possible."

    On Wednesday the government released Felix Navarro and Jose Ferrer, the
    last from the 2003 group.

    But Cuba's opposition movement stresses that the prisons are not empty
    of dissidents, with one activist noting on Wednesday that there are some
    60 people currently held on political charges.

    Last July, the Catholic Church struck a deal with the state to have the
    2003 group's remaining 52 imprisoned dissidents freed and allowed to go
    into in , in the biggest release since President
    Raul formally took power in 2008.

    But only 40 agreed to leave Cuba, and the remaining dozen insisted on
    staying, leading in some cases to months-long delays in their release.

    Toner said US President Barack Obama has focused "on increased
    engagement with the Cuban people in an effort to promote democratic
    ideals and improve human rights conditions on the island."

    On Monday in a speech in Chile, Obama urged Cuban authorities to "take
    meaningful actions" to improve the rights of Cubans.

    Ties between Washington and Havana, which have had no formal relations
    for more than 50 years, thawed slightly when Obama took office.

    But Washington was incensed when in December 2009 Cuba arrested an
    American contractor, Alan , for delivering communications equipment
    on the island.

    On March 12 he was sentenced to 15 years in for "acts against the
    independence or territorial integrity" of Cuba.

    Tag: human rights