MIAMI - The number of political prisoners in Cuba dropped by 37 in the past six months, but the island still has the highest number of such prisoners per capita in the world, according to a new report by the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.
The report of a decrease comes as Defense Minister Raul Castro completes nearly a year as the country's acting president, and experts look for signs of new policies. But human rights activists warn against reading too much into the drop, because it was largely a result of the release of prisoners who completed long sentences.
Others were freed for medical reasons "because the Cuban government simply didn't want them to die in jail," said Juan Carlos Acosta, director of the Miami-based Accion Democratica Cubana, which distributed the report.
"We consider that the situation of civil, political, economic rights and certain cultural rights has continued being the same of the last decades, that is to say, a situation highly unfavorable for the Cuban people," the commission report said.
Cuba now has 246 documented cases of people imprisoned for political causes, down from 283 at the start of the year, according to the commission, tolerated but not officially recognized by the Cuban government.
Among them is Jose Carlos Montero, who hijacked a plane to Cuba and later lost his parole when he dared to testify before a United Nations commission about his experience in prison.
Others include: American citizen Walter Van Der Veer, who sneaked into Cuba to foment a counterrevolution; Maikel Delgado, serving a life sentence for hijacking a ferry in an attempt to break out of Cuba; and El Salvador's Raul Ernesto Cruz, on death row for Havana bombings allegedly masterminded by exile Luis Posada Carriles.
Others include journalists, librarians and civic activists.
Last month, one political prisoner, Manuel Acosta, died in police custody. The government said he committed suicide, but his family said Acosta's cadaver was covered in bruises.
The report also estimated the number of "common criminals" jailed in Cuba to be from 60,000 to 80,000.
Cuba's government has repeatedly denied having any political prisoners and insists the inmates cited are U.S.-financed mercenaries trying to topple the government.
"The only place in Cuba where very gross violations of human rights are taking place is at the Guantanamo Bay area, the only part of Cuba that is not under our effective jurisdiction," National Assembly speaker Ricardo Alarcon said on CNN.
The Cuban Commission report also urges U.S. authorities to shut down its detention camps at Guantanamo Bay - as soon as there is no risk of the Cuban government using them.