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Monday, March 14, 2011

Raul Castro, seeking a better economic deal with the , has
promised to release 10 more , including the justly
celebrated Afro-Cuban medical doctor Oscar Elias Biscet, who was awarded
the Presidential Medal of by President George Bush in 2007. In
absentia, of course. Dr. Biscet was serving a 25-year sentence for
political activity at the time.

The question is whether the Cuban government is truly turning over a new
leaf or simply trying to curry favor in Europe. The release of Dr.
Biscet may be the test case.

The Cuban government this week also gave permission for the family of
deceased political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo to emigrate to the
. Mr. Zapata died in last year on a hunger strike to
protest his mistreatment.

In recent months Mr. Castro has released 80 political prisoners amid
indications that he believes such measures will satisfy conditions set
down by the European Union in 1996 requiring Cuban respect for human
rights and freedom of expression before normal relations could be

Many European nations maintain embassies in and pursue their own
interests without regard to the common position. But a decision by
the EU to negotiate aid and agreements with Cuba requires a
unanimous decision, and in recent years Britain has held out for
stronger evidence of Cuban compliance with EU conditions.

The latest releases, negotiated by the Catholic 's representative
in Cuba, Archbishop Jaime Ortega, still leave three prominent political
prisoners in captivity, Librado Linares, Jose Daniel Ferrer and Felix
Avarro, the Herald reports. Along with Dr. Biscet, the three were
among the Group of 75 dissidents arrested by the Cuban government in
2003 and accused to being in the pay of the United States.

Most of the freed prisoners have been exiled from Cuba. But Dr. Biscet,
who has been nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize, has announced
his intention to remain in Cuba to fight for political rights. That sets
up a confrontation with Mr. Castro over the extent to which he is ready
to allow anti-government, pro-democracy political activity. That
confrontation could become an acid test on Cuba's new policies and how
they are interpreted in Europe.

Could it also become the spark for an Egyptian-style public uprising?
Revolution, after all, is very much in the air in 2011.


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