Castro government to move Cuban political prisoners

The Cuban government has promised to move sick political prisoners to hospitals, and other jailed dissidents closer to home, in a stunning concession to the recent avalanche of criticisms of its human rights record, an independent journalist said Sunday.

Guillermo Farinas, who has been on a lengthy hunger strike demanding the release of 26 ailing political prisoners, said Havana Auxiliary Bishop Juan de Dios Hernandez told him the changes would begin Monday, and that eventually some jailed dissidents could be freed.

Catholic church officials have been regularly keeping Farinas and the Ladies in White protesters abreast of their negotiations with Cuban leader Raul Castro on the fate of the political prisoners, currently estimated at about 190.

Cuba's government remained silent on Farinas' comments, but Havana human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez said he had received reports from jailed dissidents that prison directors already had told some inmates to pack their personal items.

The government's gesture toward the prisoners, if true, would mark a rare gesture of good will by Cuba's communist rulers, who are facing a barrage of domestic and foreign attacks on the country's human rights record sparked by the February death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata after a nearly three-month hunger strike.

Farinas told El Nuevo Herald by telephone from his hospital bed in Santa Clara, where he has been receiving intravenous nutrition to make up for his refusal to eat or drink, that Hernandez gave him the information during a visit Saturday.

Hernandez told him that Homero Acosta, executive secretary of the ruling Council of State, telephoned church officials Friday and told them the government would begin on Monday to shift all the seriously ill jailed dissidents to hospitals, and others to prisons closer to their homes, Farinas added.

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