Where Are Cuba’s Political Prisoners?
Where Are Cuba’s Political Prisoners?
Fifty-three of those jailed by the Castros were supposed to have been
freed in the Obama deal.
By MARY ANASTASIA O’GRADY
Jan. 4, 2015 5:47 p.m. ET
Who and where are the 53 Cuban political prisoners that President Obama
promised would be freed by Havana as part of a deal to liberate three
convicted Cuban spies serving lengthy sentences in the U.S.?
I asked the State Department this last week. State referred me to the
White House. White House officials declined to provide the list of names
citing “concern that publicizing it would make it more difficult to
ensure that Cuba follows through, and continues with further steps in
Bottom line: The U.S. government cannot confirm that they have been
released and is not certain they’re going to be released, even though
the three Cuban spies have already been returned.
A government official told me that keeping the names of the 53 quiet
will give Cuba the opportunity to release them as a sovereign measure,
rather than at the behest of the U.S., and that this could allow for
In other words, the Castros are sensitive boys who throw despotic
tantrums when their absolute power is questioned. Asking them to keep
their word is apparently a trigger.
Mr. Obama was destined to have trouble changing Cuba policy. Nixon went
to China. But “Obama goes to Havana”? That sounds like stand-up comedy.
A man with some humility might have prepared for the challenge. Mr.
Obama did not. Now, little by little, what he says he got in the
“negotiations” seems to be evaporating while what he gave away appears
The U.S. president hasn’t gone to Havana, not yet anyway. But he did use
the prisoner swap to announce that he plans to unconditionally open
diplomatic relations with the military dictatorship, something that the
Castros have long demanded. Count that as concession one.
He said he would ease restrictions on American travel to the island and
make it legal to use U.S. credit cards and debit cards in Cuba, thereby
boosting revenues for the military-owned tourism industry. That’s
His promise to review Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terror
sounded like he had already made up his mind. “At a time when we are
focused on threats from al Qaeda to ISIL, a nation that meets our
conditions and renounces the use of terrorism should not face this
sanction,” Mr. Obama said.
That would complete the concession trifecta. Cuba still supports the
FARC, the Colombian terrorist group, it got caught in 2013 trying to
smuggle weapons through the Panama Canal to North Korea, and credible
intelligence analysts say Cuba has provided Venezuela the technology it
needs to falsify identities for Middle East terrorists.
If Mr. Obama is serious about selling U.S.-Cuba detente, a little less
obfuscation would be nice. The U.S. has not confirmed the identity of
the intelligence asset who it says had been in a Cuban prison for nearly
20 years and was also traded for the Cuban spies. Mr. Obama said the
Cuban, before his arrest, had supplied key information to the U.S. that
led to the nabbing of those spies, as well as three others.
Press reports and intel experts I talked to say the “asset” is Rolando
Sarraff. But a debate is raging in the intelligence community about
whether Mr. Sarraff, who has not been heard from since his arrival on
U.S. soil, is all he’s cracked up to be by Mr. Obama. Another
possibility is that his résumé was embellished to cover up for what was
essentially a trade of the convicted spies for Alan Gross, the U.S.
Agency for International Development contractor who was arrested by
Cuban state security in Havana in 2009.
Mr. Obama claimed in his speech that Mr. Gross’s release was a
humanitarian gesture on the part of Cuba. That’s not believable. Almost
from the day Mr. Gross was arrested, Havana made it clear that he would
not be released until the Cuban spies were returned to the island. He
was a hostage.
If the Castro brothers renege on their promise to free the 53 it
wouldn’t be a surprise. But nothing in their history suggests they would
want to keep the release a secret. On the contrary, going back to the
days of Jimmy Carter , Fidel has always released dissidents as a
propaganda tool to boost his image as a benevolent leader—even while he
sends them into exile or only paroles them.
Most of the prisoners arrested in Cuba’s Black Spring of March 2003, for
example, were shipped off to Spain when international pressure forced
the regime to let them out. The regime boasted about it; the press and
the Catholic Church reported it as a humanitarian gesture.
In the weeks since Mr. Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba, reports from the
island say that more than 50 dissidents have been arrested, including
the husband of the dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez. Most have been
released but some remain in prison.
Don’t expect much outrage from Washington. Mr. Obama wouldn’t want to
damage his newly reconciled relationship with the police state.
Write to O’Grady@wsj.com
Source: Mary O’Grady: Where Are Cuba’s Political Prisoners? – WSJ –