(AFP) – Mar 25, 2011
WASHINGTON — The United States said Friday that human rights conditions under Cuba's communist regime remain "poor" despite Havana's recent release of the last members of a group of dissidents detained eight years ago.
"We welcome the release of the last of the 75 peaceful Cuban activists who were unjustly arrested for exercising their universal rights and fundamental freedoms during the 2003 'Black Spring' crackdown," Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, said in a statement.
The release marked "a step in the right direction," he said.
"However, human rights conditions in Cuba remain poor. The Cuban government continues to limit fundamental freedoms, including freedom of speech, the press, and peaceful assembly," said Toner, adding that Washington urges Havana to "release all remaining political prisoners."
He also pressed Cuba to allow the United Nations and Red Cross access to the country's jails, "so that a fuller accounting of remaining political prisoners can be possible."
On Wednesday the government released Felix Navarro and Jose Ferrer, the last from the 2003 group.
But Cuba's opposition movement stresses that the prisons are not empty of dissidents, with one activist noting on Wednesday that there are some 60 people currently held on political charges.
Last July, the Catholic Church struck a deal with the state to have the 2003 group's remaining 52 imprisoned dissidents freed and allowed to go into exile in Spain, in the biggest prisoner release since President Raul Castro formally took power in 2008.
But only 40 agreed to leave Cuba, and the remaining dozen insisted on staying, leading in some cases to months-long delays in their release.
Toner said US President Barack Obama has focused "on increased engagement with the Cuban people in an effort to promote democratic ideals and improve human rights conditions on the island."
On Monday in a speech in Chile, Obama urged Cuban authorities to "take meaningful actions" to improve the rights of Cubans.
Ties between Washington and Havana, which have had no formal relations for more than 50 years, thawed slightly when Obama took office.
But Washington was incensed when in December 2009 Cuba arrested an American contractor, Alan Gross, for delivering communications equipment on the island.
On March 12 he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for "acts against the independence or territorial integrity" of Cuba.
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