The U.S. government said Cuba has released 53 of its political prisoners, complying with a promise made last month as the two countries announced efforts to normalize diplomatic ties.
A senior administration official said the Cuban government held some of the detainees for promoting political and social reform in Cuba. The United States shared the names of those prisoners with Cuban authorities after consulting with human rights groups and dissident activists in Cuba.
"We welcome this very positive development and are pleased that the Cuban government followed through on this commitment. Our Interests Section in Havana was able to verify these releases," the U.S. official said.
Senior U.S. officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the release over the weekend of detainees was a milestone, but the officials said the United States would continue to press Havana to free more people it considers political prisoners.
Names kept secret
Intense secrecy surrounds the 53, whose names have been withheld by both countries.
Leading Cuban dissidents told Reuters that as of Sunday they had not received word that the prisoner release was complete and only knew of up to 35 people freed since Dec. 17, including a popular hip-hop artist.
“We have heard nothing new today,” said Elizardo Sanchez, president of the dissident Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, which monitors detentions. “We'll see in the next few days if they complete the list.”
Washington and Havana simultaneously revealed in late 2014 that they were taking concrete actions to resume a diplomatic relationship after a decades-long political stand-off.
President Barack Obama could exercise executive powers “in a matter of days and weeks” to begin easing some business and travel restrictions, one U.S. official also told Reuters.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson begins high-level negotiations on issues ranging from investments to immigration in Havana Jan. 21-22.
Mutually beneficial relationship
U.S. Republican Senator Marco Rubio said in an appearance Monday on CBS This Morning that while he supports improving ties with Cuba, he said he's worried that the Cubans are getting virtually everything they want from the United States for “these minimal changes.”
Rubio represents the state of Florida, which has the largest Cuban population in the country.
He said he wants to be certain that improved relations between Washington and Havana provides equal benefits to the U.S.
VOA's Pamela Dockins contributed to this report. Some material for this report came from Reuters, AP and AFP.