Filed under: Caribbean | Tags: Barack Obama, Cuba, Cuban Five, Political Prisoners, Raul Castro, U.S. Trade Embargo
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Dec. 18, 2008
Reprinted from Reuters
BRASILIA: President Raul Castro said on Thursday Cuba could release political prisoners as one of the “gestures” needed to pave the way for talks with incoming U.S. President Barack Obama.
It was Cuba’s most specific offer of a way to ease ties with the United States since Obama, who takes office on January 20, was elected in November.
“Let’s do gesture for gesture,” Castro told reporters during a visit to the Brazilian capital Brasilia.
“These prisoners you talk about — they want us to let them go? They should tell us tomorrow. We’ll send them with their families and everything. Give us back our five heroes. That is a gesture on both parts,” he said, referring to five convicted Cuban spies in U.S. prison.
The United States regularly calls for the release of political dissidents held in Cuban prisons.
A U.S. court in June upheld the convictions of the so-called “Cuban Five,” who are serving long prison sentences for spying and conspiracy to commit murder but opened the door to new and possibly lighter sentences for three of the men.
The men are celebrated by many in Cuba as national heroes who were spying on armed exile groups in Miami to prevent attacks on their country and are victims of Washington’s campaign against the communist-run island.
Obama has raised expectations of improved U.S.-Cuba ties by saying he was open to talks and pledging to ease limits on Cuban-Americans who travel to their homeland and send money to relatives living there.
But he has said he would keep the four-decade-old U.S. trade embargo as leverage to influence changes in the one-party state.
Cuba has signalled it is willing to talk with Obama, with Castro previously saying he could meet Obama in a neutral place.