HAVANA (Reuters) - The dissident group “Ladies in White” accused the Cuban government on Sunday of failing to meet a deadline to release political prisoners and vowed to continue their weekly protest marches until all are freed.
They said Sunday was the day by which 52 prisoners were supposed to be released in a July agreement between the state and Catholic Church, but that 13 of those remain behind bars.
“They are deceiving and have played with the Church, with the government of Spain, with the governments of the European Union and with all the international community,” Ladies in White leader Laura Pollan told reporters at the group’s weekly protest march on Havana’s Fifth Avenue.
The Church announced on July 7 an agreement with the government to free 52 prisoners jailed since a 2003 crackdown in process it said would take “three to four months,” although it did not set a specific date.
The government, which views the prisoners as mercenaries in the pay of its longtime foe, the United States, has never publicly discussed a deadline for the releases.
As part of the deal, Spain said it would take in the prisoners, who the government wants out of the country.
So far, 39 of the 52 have agreed to go to Spain and been freed, but the rest, who include Pollan’s husband Hector Maceda, say they do not want to leave Cuba.
The 52 are husbands and sons of the Ladies in White, who have marched weekly since their arrests demanding that they be freed.
In the meantime, the government has released or agreed to release another 14 prisoners not included in the original 52.
It has told the Church it wants to free all political prisoners, but there is disagreement on who qualifies.
Cuban authorities have reportedly said they did not want to free political prisoners who committed acts of violence, although some of the 14 not included in the original 52 were accused of hijacking and other violent acts.
Pollan said there are at least 33 prisoners who should be released because they committed no acts of violence.
She said the Ladies in White will continue marching until all political prisoners are freed, not just their loved ones.
“The Ladies in White are going to continue fighting while there exist non-violent political prisoners,” she said. “We want there to be no political prisoners in Cuban jails.”
Reporting by Jeff Franks; editing by Cynthia Osterman