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Among those to be released are some individuals convicted of crimes against national security who have completed parts of their sentences with good behavior, in addition to 86 foreign nationals from 25 countries held in Cuban prisons.
Since 2008 the Cuban courts released 300 political prisoners, including those who were internationally regarded as prisoners of conscience; in addition, the government commuted the death sentences of dozens of other prisoners.
At the same time, an announcement was made concerning preparations to strengthen the prosecution of those involved in “white collar” crime, theft and scams carried out by managers and officials, who, according to Castro, have become the principal enemy of the revolution.
Regarding much awaited immigration law reforms, he said this will continue to be studied and that “the changes required concerning this complex subject” will be introduced gradually, while evaluations will be made of the pros and cons of each step.
INCLUDED AND EXCLUDED
The Cuban president said that this procedure to release inmates would begin taking place every year so that the justice system could release greater numbers of prisoners according to their conduct, the type of crime committed, and their health and family conditions.
Among those pardoned are young people, many of whom are in prison-schools, where their sentences are reduced in proportion to their progress in school as well as the possibility of them going on to college.
Castro explained that “the pardons will exclude those who were convicted of crimes of espionage, terrorism, murder, drug trafficking, violent pederasty, rape, the corruption of minors and armed robbery.”
Apparently this would exclude the possibility of pardons for the Central Americans who in exchange for money planted bombs in Cuban tourist hotels in 1997, causing several injuries and the death of a young Italian.
Nor would it benefit US citizen Alan Gross, sentenced to 15 years for participating in an operation financed by Washington to sneak communications equipment onto the island. Cuba continues to propose a “humanitarian way out” of that case, which includes its five agents (Cuban Five) imprisoned in the US.
THE RELIGIOUS TOUCH
The president explained that the pardon was in response to the requests from relatives of the prisoners, evangelical and Catholic churches, as well as for the Pope’s upcoming visit and the 400th anniversary of the apparition of the Virgin de la Caridad del Cobre, the patroness of Cuba.
Not surprisingly, Castro made these references to the churches as they have in fact become powerful allies. Since the 1990s, the government has developed closer relations with the evangelical churches – some of them even have deputies in parliament.
Among the prisoners to be pardoned are young people educated in the prison-schools and who no longer represent a danger to society. Photo: Raquel Perez
Relations with the Catholic Church were stormy for decades, but in 1998 — with the arrival of Pope John Paul II — a period of dialogue began, one whose most notable accomplishment was the release of political prisoners in 2010.
The announcement of the trip to Cuba next year by Pope Benedict XVI is another step in convergence of interests between the two sides, with the church seeking to regain its social influence and the government attempting to gain a powerful international ally.
THE PRINCIPAL ENEMY
Prisons will not be left emptied. While political and common prisoners leave through one door, in the other will be entering Castro said dozens of “corrupt bureaucrats under charges of fraud and acts of opportunism that they committed when still occupying positions for amassing fortunes and while counting on the eventual defeat of the Revolution.”
Finally, he announced that these crimes committed by “domestic and foreign managers and officials” would be fought “with all the severity permitted by our laws just like when we successfully faced the emerging drug trafficking.”
Since assuming power, the campaign against corruption has uncovered millions of dollars in embezzlement and fraud in nickel, cigars, telephone services, civil aviation and food importing, with some foreign business executives and dozens of Cuban managers and officials — including a minister — ending up in jail.