HAVANA Cuba will free two of 11 political prisoners who have remained behind bars despite President Raul Castro's promise last summer to release them, the Catholic Church said on Friday.
They were among 52 jailed dissidents Castro agreed to let go in a landmark agreement with the Church that began what has become a broader release of political prisoners on the communist-led island.
One of the men, Angel Juan Moya Acosta, will be allowed to stay in Cuba and the other, Guido Sigler Amaya, has said he wants to go to the United States, according to a Church statement.
Only one of the previous 41 released has stayed in Cuba, while most have gone to Spain, which has agreed to take them in.
The Cuban government, seeking to remove opponents it views as mercenaries of its arch-enemy the United States, has pushed the prisoners to leave the country, but some have refused.
Moya and Sigler were among 75 dissidents jailed in a 2003 government crackdown that damaged Cuba's international relations.
Of those, 52 were still in jail when Castro agreed in July to let them go.
The Church said at the time the process of freeing them would take three to four months, but it has now stretched out to almost seven months.
In the past few days, two of the prisoners and one of their wives began hunger strikes demanding their release.
At the same time, Cuba has freed or promised to free another 19 political prisoners not connected to the 2003 crackdown and, according to the Church, the government plans to release all jailed dissidents to end one of its most intractable international problems.
Cuba has been criticized for years for putting its opponents behind bars.
Castro's agreement with the Church followed international condemnation for the death last year of an imprisoned dissident hunger striker and of harassment of the "Ladies in White" opposition group.
Moya is the husband of Bertha Soler, one of the leaders of the "Ladies in White," who have staged silent protest marches weekly in Havana since 2003 seeking the release of their loved ones.
She said she was glad her husband would be freed, but would continue pressing for the release of the remaining prisoners.
"I want my man at home, but the others also have to get out of jail," Soler told Reuters. "I'm going to continue my activities for the freedom of all of them."
(Additional reporting by Rosa Tania Valdes; Editing by Vicki Allen)