Cuban President Raul Castro (R) smiles as he meets Pope Francis during a private audience at the Vatican May 10, 2015.
Cuban President Raul Castro, right, smiles as he meets Pope Francis during a private audience at the Vatican May 10, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Gregorio Borgia/pool

Cuba pardons 3,522 prisoners days before Pope Francis' visit

September 12, 2015

Share this!


Cuban President Raul Castro (R) smiles as he meets Pope Francis during a private audience at the Vatican May 10, 2015.

Cuban President Raul Castro (R) who met Pope Francis during at the Vatican in May will greet him September 19 in Cuba. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Gregorio Borgia/pool


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba on Friday pardoned 3,522 common prisoners in what it called a humanitarian gesture ahead of next week's visit by Pope Francis, repeating similar actions it took ahead of two previous papal visits.

Cuba said they would be released within three days in what would be among the largest mass releases of prisoners since the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power. Cuba freed 3,600 political prisoners at once in 1978.

This time, however, there appeared to be no political prisoners among those pardoned.

The Communist-led country, which officially denies it has political prisoners, said those convicted of crimes against state security would not be pardoned. Also not included, according to state-run media accounts of the Council of State decision, were people convicted of murder, rape, child abuse, the illegal rustling or slaughter of cattle, or drug trafficking.

Those freed would include men over 60 and under 20, women, the chronically ill, prisoners due for conditional release in 2016, and foreigners whose repatriation could be assured, Cuba said.

The Cuban Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is preparing for the pope's Sept. 19-22 visit, welcomed the release, saying in a statement it was "cause for happiness and spiritual relief for the prisoners and their family."


READ: Havana’s U.S. flag no victory for pope (COMMENTARY)


Church officials were still trying to determine if any of those pardoned were among the prisoners they have asked the government to release.

None of the 3,522 names published in the Official Gazette appeared to match a list of 60 political prisoners published in June by the dissident Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation, according to a Reuters review.

Commission members said they were still reviewing the government's 129-page document.

The Reuters review showed one name on both lists matched, but the commission said it appeared to be a coincidence involving a common name as the circumstances of their cases differed.

None of those pardoned belonged to the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), the country's largest dissident group, leader Jose Daniel Ferrer said. Some 21 UNPACU activists are in prison, Ferrer said.


READ: Atheist Castros praise Christian values, prepare for papal visit


However, Ferrer said he considered one of those pardoned to be a political prisoner because he took up political activism in prison.

Andres Frometa, one of those pardoned on Friday, was convicted in the early 1990s for attempting cross into the U.S. military base at Cuba'a Guantanamo Bay, setting off a landmine in the buffer zone, Ferrer said.

The human rights commission said it had excluded Frometa from its list of political detainees because of a history of violent crime, but welcomed his release and that of the others.

Commission president Elizardo Sanchez said Cuba's prison population was still excessive at an estimated 60,000 to 70,000 out of a total population of 11 million.

Francis' visit this month is part of steadily improving relations between Cuba and the Catholic Church after decades of strained ties.

Cuba released about 300 prisoners including 101 political prisoners ahead of Pope John Paul's landmark visit in 1998, Sanchez said. It freed 2,900 common prisoners ahead of the 2012 visit by Pope Benedict.


READ: Alan Gross release hailed as Hanukkah ‘miracle,’ first step in ‘normalized’ U.S.-Cuba relations


More recently, Cuba released 53 political prisoners in conjunction with last December's announcement of detente with United States. Cuba at that time also freed American aid contractor Alan Gross, who had been held for five years, and a Cuban man who had been caught spying for the Americans, the latter in exchange for three Cuban spies held in the United States.

The human rights commission's list of 60 political prisoners includes seven armed anti-government infiltrators, about a dozen who hijacked or attempted to hijack a plane or boats to leave the country, four armed soldiers and a civilian collaborator who helped them try to desert, and others accused of violence or spying.

However, the commission also says about two dozen peaceful political activists are held as political prisoners on the Caribbean island.

Among the most celebrated is artist Danilo Maldonado, alias "El Sexto," who is awaiting trial on a charge of "disrespect" for painting "Fidel" and "Raul" on a pair of pigs in a satire of former President Fidel Castro and his brother, current President Raul Castro, the commission said.

Comments

  1. There are degrees of sin:
    1John 5:16-17 “If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal”
    Mortal sins are listed as follows:
    Rev 21:8 Matt 15:18-20, Rev 22:15, Ephesians 5:3-7, Col 3:5-6, Gal 5:19-21, 1Cor. 6:9-11.

  2. @SL

    “We all must Repent!”

    If we already have the moral capacity to choose to be good and to thus reach for ‘Repentance’ (as you claim)…
    why can’t we just “be good” without it? And why wouldn’t that be enough?

  3. Murder and rape are forgivable. Having legal consensual adult relations outside of the arbitrary rules of the faith, or belonging to the wrong faith/sect, means one is eternally damned. 🙂

  4. As a Catholic, Mortal sins are forgiven by the sacraments of Baptism (if not previously baptized), Confession, and Anointing of the Sick (if unconscious). Extreme sorrow would be sufficient if no priest were available and your life’s end was closing in on you. As for those who hold to other Faiths, well, our Lord knows how honest that person’s convictions truly are, and will Judge accordingly. If, for example, a person Knows that the Catholic Church is the Church He established, guards, and operates through, but refuses to join it because of the rigors associated with it, then there is no salvation for that person. However, should a person “truly believe” that his/her church is the real McCoy, then Our Lord will Judge that person by the precepts required by that church. But you’d better be following those precepts, or else. Conviction of the Conscience is everything at Judgment time.

  5. What really matters is that these prisoners repent of their wrongful actions and turn their lives around, no longer practicing their sins, so that they can receive forgiveness from God and have the hope of everlasting life on earth. They can receive forgiveness on the basis of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice (1 Tim. 2:5,6).

    A good example of that happening is the wrongdoer who was next to Jesus before death (Luke 23:42), when he asked Jesus to remember him when Jesus would get into his kingdom.

    Jesus promised him at that time that he would be with him in paradise (verse 43), so the wrongdoer has the hope of being resurrected back to life on earth (which will become a paradise) when Jesus is exercising his millennial rule (Isaiah 11:1-9).

Leave a Comment