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    White House facing questions over murky status of 53 prisoners Cuba agreed to free

    White House facing questions over murky status of 53 prisoners Cuba
    agreed to free
    By Barnini ChakrabortyPublished January 06, 2015 FoxNews.com

    WASHINGTON – The status of 53 Cuban political prisoners who were
    supposed to be freed as part of the historic deal thawing U.S.-Cuba
    relations remains a mystery nearly three weeks after the announcement,
    prompting criticism from rights groups and lawmakers that the Castro
    regime is stringing along the White House.

    “We are very concerned,” Francisco Hernandez, co-founder and president
    of the Cuban American National Foundation, told FoxNews.com. “The
    problem with the agreement [between Cuba and the U.S.] is that there is
    no agreement. There are no guarantees. This has been a tremendous
    victory for the Cuban government.”

    The State Department on Tuesday claimed some of the prisoners have been
    released, without identifying them.

    Hernandez’s Miami-based organization has contacted the White House and
    pressed officials to publicly identify the dissidents scheduled for
    release. He hasn’t had much luck and says the push for transparency has
    been widely ignored and in turn is fueling suspicion over Cuba’s
    intentions. He and others question whether the Cubans supposedly set for
    release are even political prisoners.

    “We wonder why there has not been any indication – especially on the
    part of the White House – who is on the list,” Hernandez said. “We want
    to confirm that those on the list are political prisoners and not common
    criminals, but we have not been able to.”

    In a Jan. 6 letter to President Obama, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.,
    demanded more clarity on the identities of the 53 Cuban political
    prisoners, writing “the least your administration can do now is hold the
    regime accountable for fully freeing these 53 political prisoners as
    well as those who have been detained in recent weeks.”

    During a televised address on Dec. 17, Obama said Havana would free the
    53 prisoners as part of a deal that included the release of three
    convicted Cuban spies serving lengthy sentences in the United States.
    The Cuban government also released 65-year-old American Alan Gross – a
    move that reportedly cleared the way for a new chapter in the U.S.-Cuba
    relationship.

    “Neither the American nor Cuban people are served by a rigid policy
    that’s rooted in events that took place before most of us were born,”
    Obama said at the time. “I believe we can do more to support the Cuban
    people and our values through engagement. After all, these 50 years have
    shown the isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach.”

    But since making the announcement, the U.S. government has shied away
    from providing details on the status of the prisoners, their names or
    where they may have been taken.

    “I’m surprised by the naiveté and the lack of professionalism by the
    [Obama] administration,” Jamie Suchlicki, director at the Institute for
    Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, at the University of Miami, told
    FoxNews.com. “They should have had a list, and the prisoners should have
    been released simultaneously. Here’s mine and here’s yours.”

    The White House and State Department have not disclosed the names of the
    prisoners, but have urged patience. White House Press Secretary Josh
    Earnest said Monday that the release “would take place in stages” and
    that “not all of them have been released at this point.”

    State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki clarified Tuesday that Cuba has
    released “some of the prisoners,” and said the U.S. wants the process
    completed “in the near future.”

    She said the administration has been “careful” about discussing the
    details “because we’re not looking to put a bigger target on Cuban
    political dissidents. We’re looking to get them released, and this is
    the process that we think will be most effective.”

    A day earlier, Psaki signaled the names on the list may never be made
    public. “Well, we know who’s on there,” Psaki said Monday. “And the
    Cuban government knows who’s on there.”

    Rubio, a Cuban-American lawmaker, complained in his letter to Obama,
    which his office shared with FoxNews.com, about the administration’s
    handling of the matter.

    “To date, no information has been provided about the political prisoners
    to be released – regarding their identities, conditions or whereabouts,
    even on a confidential basis, to members of Congress,” he wrote. “Just
    yesterday, your own State Department was unable to provide an
    explanation about the political prisoners in question.”

    The vague answers from the Obama administration have many in the Cuban
    community, like Hernandez, on edge. He believes Cuba will renege on its
    promise or alter the terms, and potentially release common criminals
    rather than legitimate political prisoners Cuba has behind bars.

    The mutual distrust between the two nations isn’t new. Cuba and the
    United States have been at ideological odds since the 1959 Cuban
    revolution that brought current president Raul Castro’s older brother,
    Fidel Castro, to power. Though the U.S. embargo has been in place for
    decades, Obama urged Congress last month to consider lifting it.

    According to a recently released report from the Cuban Commission for
    Human Rights and National Reconciliation, there were 8,899 short-term
    detentions of dissidents and activists in 2014 – about 2,000 more than
    in 2013 and four times as many as in 2010, Elizardo Sanchez, the group’s
    founder, said.

    The report also said many dissidents still in Cuba did not know who was
    on the list of 53.

    When announcing the December deal, Raul Castro said Cuba was releasing
    prisoners who were of interest to America. He did not say who those
    prisoners would be. Eight days before he made those comments, three
    dissidents were freed from prison. One told Reuters they had been in
    jail for three years on charges of murder and public disorder.

    Source: White House facing questions over murky status of 53 prisoners
    Cuba agreed to free | Fox News –
    http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2015/01/06/fate-53-political-prisoners-schedule-to-be-released-in-us-cuba-deal-still/