Cuba to free two more political prisoners

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba will soon release two of 13 political prisoners who had rejected a government deal to leave the country in exchange for freedom, the Catholic Church said on Saturday.

The Ladies in White, a group of family members of imprisoned dissidents, march during their weekly protest in Havana November 7, 2010. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan

The Catholic Archdiocese of Havana said on its website that Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique would stay in Cuba on parole for his 18-year prison sentence, while Luis Enrique Ferrer will go to Spain.

Ferrer agreed to go into exile after reaching a deal with the communist government to give his home to family members remaining in Cuba, said Elizardo Sanchez of the independent Cuban Commission of Human Rights.

The concessions may signal that Cuba will soon free all of the 13 political prisoners still in jail of 52 the government pledged to release in a deal with the Catholic Church announced on July 7.

The church said the process would take three to four months, but did set a specific completion date. The other 39 were freed earlier after agreeing to go to Spain.

All 52 were arrested in a 2003 crackdown on government opponents. Of the group, Ferrer was serving the stiffest prison sentence -- 28 years.

Laura Pollan, leader of the opposition group Ladies in White, said on Friday she had been advised by the church and European diplomats that the Cuban government had not backed out on its release pledge and “to have confidence” that it will free the men.

She said another prisoner, Diosdado Gonzalez, has been told he will be released within a month.

Her group had accused the government of failing to meet what they said was a November 7 deadline to let the 52 men go.

Cuba President Raul Castro promised to release the jailed dissidents in a move to defuse international criticism after the February death of imprisoned dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo following an 85-day hunger strike.

Cuba views the dissidents as mercenaries for the United States, its longtime ideological foe, and therefore wanted them off the island.

In the meantime, the government has freed or agreed to free another 14 prisoners not included in the original 52. All of them have accepted the offer to go to Spain.

Cuba has told the church it wants to free all political prisoners, but there is disagreement on who qualifies.

Reporting by Rosa Tania Valdes; Editing by Jeff Franks and Anthony Boadle