Relatives of Cuban political prisoners meet with U.S. officials

U.S. diplomats in Havana began what they portrayed as routine meetings Tuesday with relatives of political prisoners, briefing them on the process for seeking U.S. entry if the prisoners are freed.

Cuba has promised to release 52 of its political prisoners -- the last still in jail from the 75 dissidents sentenced to lengthy prison terms during a 2003 crackdown -- following historic talks between Raul Castro and the Cuban Catholic Church backed by the Spanish government.

Twenty of the 52 have agreed to fly directly from prison to Spain, and 11 are already in Madrid. Ten others have vowed to remain in Cuba if freed, and there has been no word on the remaining 22.

Dissident Ariel Sigler Amaya, freed on June 12, received Cuban permission Tuesday to leave the island and fly to Miami within the next few days, said his brother, Miguel Sigler, who lives in Miami.

"Yesterday, he was beaten up when he went to ask for his exit permit," the brother told El Nuevo Herald. "Today, surprisingly, he got a call from the same person he talked to, that his permit was ready."

Ariel Sigler, who is paraplegic and uses a wheelchair, was granted a U.S. "humanitarian parole" -- while still in prison -- after two months of processing by the State Department, his brother said.

The individual meetings between U.S. Interests Section officials and prisoners' relatives replaced initial plans for one session at 1 p.m. Tuesday because of the many questions likely to be raised about applying for migrant, refugee or other status, the mission's spokesperson said.

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