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Cuba and the Virtue of Dialogue

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The dialogue with Cuban authorities initiated by the Catholic Church and Spain has been successful. Indeed, after releasing prisoner Ariel Sigler in June 2010, who, for health reasons, chose to emigrate to the U.S., Havana has agreed to release, in the next four months, 52 of the 55 so-called "political" prisoners listed by Amnesty International who were arrested and sentenced in 2003 to long terms for being "association with a foreign power" (23 of the original 75 convicted have already been released). They had accepted funding provided by Washington for the promotion of opposition to the Cuban government. Such action constitutes a serious crime in Cuba and the Cuban justice system was particularly severe with them. There is no question of their guilt: Washington, the corporate media, Amnesty International (AI) and the dissidents themselves admit to it.

Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos also obtained approval from the Cuban government for the beneficiaries of these measures to relocate in Spain. The first releases took place on July 10, 2010 and corporate media photos demonstrated that the prisoners had been well fed during detention. Most of them were a bit overweight and were in good health. On July 25, 2010, a total of 20 individuals (out of the 52) were flown to Spain.

Cardinal Ortega said that relocation was "an offer" and not forced "exile." Indeed, the released dissidents were able to stay in Cuba, but most chose to leave the island and travel to Spain for obvious economic reasons (among others), as the country has been affected by the global crisis just like many nations have. Of the remaining 32 individuals, ten of them say they want to stay in Cuba. Moratinos also confirmed that Raul Castro assured that those released would be able to return to Cuba in the future and retain their properties. For its part, Spain is committed to welcoming all released prisoners and granting them immigrant status.

Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada, president of the Cuban Parliament, confirmed that those released could stay in Cuba if they wished. "In Cuba there are people who were released from prison years ago and are in their homes." He also said "the intention of the Cuban government is to release from jail all those who have not committed violent crimes" in addition to the 52 releases already assured by the Catholic Church and Madrid.

General Secretary of the Organization of American States Jose Miguel Insulza was pleased with the success of the policy based on dialogue and mutual respect undertaken by Madrid and the Vatican, in contrast to the repressive measures taken by United States and the European Union which, in vain, have imposed various sanctions on Cuba since 1960 and 1996 respectively. According to Insulza, the Cuban Government's decision is a positive step that paves the way for a change in the island's domestic climate."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed the release of the 20 detainees describing it as a "positive sign." She also said that the Obama administration was "encouraged" by these decisions. State Department spokeswoman Virginia Staab expressed her satisfaction: "We see the release of prisoners as a positive development." Philip J. Crowley, assistant secretary of state, applauded " the efforts of the Cuban Catholic church, Spain and others who have worked toward the release of prisoners of conscience from jail in Cuba."

The European Union also welcomed the announcement of the Catholic Church. "The EU actively supports the ongoing dialogue process and is ready to facilitate the release of the maximum number of political prisoners," said Catherine Ashton, head of European diplomacy.

Spain, which was congratulated for the "success of dialogue and diplomacy," has called on the European Union to put an end to the Common Position adopted in 1996. This policy, officially provoked by the human rights situation, is still in force and limits political, diplomatic and cultural exchanges between Havana and Brussels. It is the main obstacle to full normalization of bilateral relations. Cuba rejects the common position as discriminatory -- as the island is far from being the worst nation on the continent in terms of respect for human rights, according to AI -- hypocritical -- given that the Europe Union of 27 countries is not irreproachable in terms of respect for fundamental rights, again according to AI -- and interventionist -- because Brussels conditions the lifting of sanctions on structural change in Cuba, which goes against the principle of sovereignty and self-determination of nations.

"Now is the time to establish a new relationship between the EU and Cuba," said Moratinos, who stressed the "new attitude of the Cuban authorities...All prisoners of conscience, of politics, will be released within four months, and even sooner," he added.

Spanish diplomacy and the Catholic Church have shown that dialogue based on mutual respect and non-interference is the best recipe for achieving results. Madrid and the Vatican have realized that Havana is not responsive to coercive language and that sanctions policies are doomed to failure.

After the release of 32 prisoners classified as "political" in the coming four months, only three deemed prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International will remain. But they too will probably be released over the same period according to statements by Alarcón. Thereby, the main accusation against the Cuban government, prisoners of conscience, will become invalid and therefore, the European Union will be obliged to remove the Common Position.

But the most significant gestures should come from the U.S., given that it has imposed economic sanctions against Cuba for half a century, which, far from affecting its leaders, have affected the most vulnerable sectors of the Cuban population and have been the main obstacle to country's development.

President Barack Obama has repeatedly expressed his desire to normalize relations with Havana. He can take a initial step in that direction by releasing the five Cuban political prisoners who have been imprisoned in U.S. since 1998 for infiltrating violent groups in South Florida that are responsible for dozens of terrorist attacks against Cuba

Amnesty International, The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions, at least ten Nobel Laureates, former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, the entire Mexican Senate, former Chief of Staff to then Secretary of State Colin Powell, Lawrence Wilkerson, 100 EU Members of Parliament, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the academic organization Cuban-American Scholars, the Ibero-American Federation of Ombudsmen, the National Jury Project, the William C. Velasquez Institute, the Mexican American Political Association, The National Lawyers Guild, the National Conference of Black Lawyers, the Civil Right Clinic of Howard University School of Law, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers-Miami Chapter, the Center for International Policy and the Council on Hemispheric Affairs all demand the release of Gerardo Hernandez, Antonio Guerrero Rodríguez, Ramón Labañino Salazar, René González Sehweret and Fernando González Llort.

It would only take a simple pardon. It is time for President Obama, whose election has aroused so much hope in the world, to act.

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