In a response to church-government talks launched on May 19, 2010, Cuba has started relocating political prisoners this week so that they would be more accessible to their family members. The Archbishop of Havana’s office announced that so far, the Cuban government moved six political prisoners to jails closer to their families in an attempt to end the hunger strikes that have become a major political embarrassment for Cuban President Raul Castro.
The prisoners who have been relocated are Felix Navarro (sentenced to 25 years), Antonio Diaz (20 years), Diosdado Gonzalez (20 years), Ivan Hernandez (25 years), Jose Luis Garcia Paneque (24 years) and Arnaldo Ramos (18 years), the office said. The government also agreed with church mediators to move any prisoners who are sick to hospitals for treatment. “The Ladies in White,” an activist group of relatives of political prisoners, welcomed the news it has been waiting years to hear.
Last week a dissident on a three-month hunger strike had said the government would take the steps; Guillermo Farinas went on his latest strike demanding that 26 sick political prisoners be freed before he would end the protest. An opposition journalist, Farinas began his 23rd hunger strike since 1995—refusing both food and water— the day after leading Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata died on February 23 following an 85-day hunger strike. Farinas is currently in Santa Clara hospital in central Cuba, where he has been treated with an intravenous drip since March 11. Church officials also negotiated with the government on behalf of Farinas.
Dissident groups say there are more than 200 political prisoners held in Cuban jails. Amnesty International considers 65 of them as prisoners of conscience. However, media has not reported on the nature of the crimes of which they have been actually accused.
Cuba denies that these prisoners are political prisoners and has claimed that many of the “dissidents” are “mercenaries” funded by the United States and conservative Cuban-American groups that seek to undermine the Cuban government’s credibility.