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    How prisoner names were drawn up in U.S.-Cuba secret talks

    How prisoner names were drawn up in U.S.-Cuba secret talks
    HAVANA/WASHINGTON Mon Jan 12, 2015 7:06pm EST

    (Reuters) – Cuba’s deal with the United States to release 53 prisoners,
    worked out in secret talks over many months, has left a number of
    political opponents still in jail on the communist-led island.

    The U.S. side drew a narrow definition for the people it wanted released
    to include only those defined as being jailed for peacefully having
    exercised their rights of freedom of expression and assembly, two senior
    U.S. officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

    Left out under these terms were at least eight Cuban exile
    militants jailed on terrorism charges after they attempted to infiltrate
    Cuba with weapons, as well as 20 Cubans jailed on charges of trying to
    hijack boats or planes to flee the island.

    Several Cubans jailed on unspecified charges of crimes against the
    state, including a handful of people believed to have spied for the
    United States were also not considered for release.

    The Patriotic Union of Cuba, Cuba’s largest dissident group, said on
    Monday about 10 people, whom they described as peaceful political
    activists, remained in jail.

    It was not immediately clear whether they were among the original group
    of prisoners whose freedom was sought by the United States. U.S.
    officials said they would continue to press Havana to free people they
    consider political prisoners.

    The issue of prisoner releases was just one element in talks that
    began 18 months ago to eventually restore diplomatic relations between
    the United States and Cuba after five decades of hostility. The talks
    initially focused on how to win the release of an American government
    contractor jailed in Cuba and pull off a complicated spy swap.


    As the talks evolved, the U.S. officials said, both sides agreed to
    take it further, delving into broader issues, including the release of
    dozens of prisoners inside Cuban jails.

    “As our discussions moved into 2014 the package that was envisioned
    by both sides began to grow,” one of the officials said.

    It was the first time U.S. officials have spoken in detail about the
    release of dozens of Cubans considered by Washington to be political
    prisoners, a key part of President Barack Obama’s historic shift on Cuba

    The accords, announced on Dec. 17, included plans to renew
    diplomatic relations while also securing the release of American
    contractor, Alan Gross, and the swapping of three Cuban spies held in
    the United States for a Cuban jailed in Cuba who spied for Washington.

    One of the two key U.S. negotiators was Ricardo Zuniga, Obama’s top
    Latin American adviser, who had once served as a human rights officer at
    the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. His familiarity with the Cuban
    dissident community helped guide decisions on who to include on the list.

    Using information drawn from names of detainees provided by dissident
    activists and international human rights groups, the U.S. delegation
    drew up a list of what it considered to be a core group of political

    Cuba agreed to all but a handful of the names and the final list of 53
    was agreed in July, U.S. officials said.

    “None of the 53 were released before we finalized the list in July –
    when we agreed to the list, those people were all still in prison,” a
    senior State Department official said.

    In its Dec. 17 announcement, the Obama administration said the 53
    prisoners would soon be released by Cuban authorities, cheering
    dissidents. However, it now appears, the activists said, that by the
    time of the announcement 17 of the prisoners had already been freed.

    (Writing by David Adams, reporting By David Adams in Havana, and Matt
    Spetalnick, Lesley Wroughton and Patricia Zengerle in Washington,
    editing by David Storey)

    Source: How prisoner names were drawn up in U.S.-Cuba secret talks |
    Reuters –