Cuban President Raul Castro addresses the National Assembly in Havana Dec. 23. He said Cuba will release 2,900 prisoners for humanitarian reasons in a sweeping amnesty ahead of a spring visit by Pope Benedict XVI. CNS photo/Marcelino Vazquez, Cuban Government National Information Agency via Reuters

Castro says Cuba will free 2,900 political prisoners in spring

By  Catholic News Service
  • December 29, 2011

HAVANA - Cuban President Raul Castro announced his country will free 2,900 political prisoners in the spring, a move he partially attributed to Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming visit.

In a speech to the National Assembly, Castro said the Council of State had taken into account the papal visit as well as requests from prisoners' family members and top Catholic officials. He also mentioned the 400th anniversary of the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, patroness of Cuba.

Pope Benedict XVI has said he will visit Cuba and Mexico before Easter, although official dates have not yet been announced.

Cuba released approximately 50 political prisoners in 2010, a move that Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino said was popular within the country but even more important for foreign relations. Cuba's treatment of political opponents has long been a key element in the 50-year U.S. economic embargo of the nation.

Castro told the National Assembly Dec. 23 that those freed will include the sick, elderly, women and youth with the potential for reintegration into Cuban society. HavanaTimes.org reported that Castro said young people who have done well in prison schools will be released in the hopes they would attend college. It also reported that prisoners would not include prisoners "convicted of crimes of espionage, terrorism, murder, drug trafficking, violent pederasty, rape, the corruption of minors and armed robbery."

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