On December 17, Pres. Obama read his Statement on Cuba Policy Changes. In it, he mentioned,
In addition to the return of Alan Gross and the release of our intelligence agent, we welcome Cuba’s decision to release a substantial number of prisoners whose cases were directly raised with the Cuban government by my team.
No specifics, just “a substantial number of prisoners.”
Later it was revealed by the White House that, out of the untold number of political prisoners in Cuba (where in 2014 the number of arrests totaled 8,012), 53 were to be released as part of the deal. As Jason Poblete points out,
— Jason Ian Poblete (@JasonPoblete) January 5, 2015
The 53 are part of a deal that included impregnating (through artificial insemination by having his sperm collected at prison in the U.S. and then flown to Cuba at U.S. taxpayers’ expense) the wife of a spy serving two life sentences for murder. U.S. taxpayers also paid to fly the spy to Cuba, where he was received as a hero, and the U.S. government paid about $3.2 million to Alan Gross.
Following the Statement, I have been trying to find the list of the 53 names. I set out right away, even asking on Twitter after my (failed) initial search,
— Fausta (@Fausta) December 17, 2014
The names, as far as I could see, are nowhere to be found. I thought perhaps I could not find them due to the fact that I have very limited resources through which I can conduct research. However, none of the dozens of Latin American or Spanish news sources I constantly consult had any information at all on the names, which is very unusual.*
As it turns out, I am in good company:
In U.S.-Cuba prisoner swap, mystery surrounds the unnamed 53
Cuba’s most prominent dissidents say they have been kept in the dark by U.S. officials over a list of 53 political prisoners who will be released from jail as part of a deal to end decades of hostility between the United States and Cuba.
For years, dissident leaders have told the United States which opponents of Cuba’s communist government were being jailed or harassed, but they say they were not consulted when the list of prisoners to be freed was drawn up or even told who is on it.
The lack of information has stoked concern and frustration among the dissidents, who worry that the secret list is flawed and that genuine political prisoners who should be on it will be left to languish.
“We’re concerned because we don’t agree with the silence, because we have a right to know who they are. Who are they?” said Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White dissident group, which marches in Havana on Sundays to demand the release of prisoners.
“There are not just 53 political prisoners, there are more, and we are concerned that the U.S. list might have common criminals on it,” she told Reuters in Havana.
Reuters also brings up another interesting question, in view of Obama’s wording “a substantial number of prisoners whose cases were directly raised with the Cuban government by my team,”
It also is not clear if some prisoners were kept off the list because the Cuban government refused to release them.
Mary O’Grady is also asking, Where Are Cuba’s Political Prisoners?
Fifty-three of those jailed by the Castros were supposed to have been freed in the Obama deal. She couldn’t even get an answer from the State Department:
I asked the State Department this last week. State referred me to the White House. White House officials declined to provide the list of names citing “concern that publicizing it would make it more difficult to ensure that Cuba follows through, and continues with further steps in the future.”
Bottom line: The U.S. government cannot confirm that they have been released and is not certain they’re going to be released, even though the three Cuban spies have already been returned.
O’Grady points out,
If Mr. Obama is serious about selling U.S.-Cuba detente, a little less obfuscation would be nice. The U.S. has not confirmed the identity of the intelligence asset who it says had been in a Cuban prison for nearly 20 years and was also traded for the Cuban spies. Mr. Obama said the Cuban, before his arrest, had supplied key information to the U.S. that led to the nabbing of those spies, as well as three others.
Press reports and intel experts I talked to say the “asset” is Rolando Sarraff. But a debate is raging in the intelligence community about whether Mr. Sarraff, who has not been heard from since his arrival on U.S. soil, is all he’s cracked up to be by Mr. Obama. Another possibility is that his résumé was embellished to cover up for what was essentially a trade of the convicted spies for Alan Gross, the U.S. Agency for International Development contractor who was arrested by Cuban state security in Havana in 2009.
Considering how the Communist regime has a history of touting the release of prisoners for propaganda purposes, this secrecy around the names of 53 people is extraordinary enough that, by now, my question is, is there a list?
* Note: Unusual enough that I can not recall a news item in ten years of blogging where two weeks’ research turned out nothing.