President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
Yesterday, after weeks of inquiries, Secretary of State John Kerry shared a list of 53 former political prisoners with members of Congress that have supposedly been released as part of your efforts to normalize relations with Cuba. While we all rejoice for any political prisoner who is no longer unjustly held by the Cuban police state, Secretary Kerry’s list raises more questions than it answers.
Cuban activists report that many of the people on the list had already been released months prior to your announcement on December 17, in one case, more than a year earlier. Others had already served the bulk of their sentences and were already due to be released. One political prisoner was released and then subsequently re-arrested and beaten and then released again. Human rights groups also report that many of those released have been done so conditionally with charges still pending against them, released on probation, released with the threat of being imprisoned again if they resume their efforts in support of freedom for the Cuban people, or released with prohibitions on being able to leave the country.
The list thus raises additional questions about your administration’s handling of the negotiations with Havana. It also increases uncertainty about whether the Cuban regime can be expected to abide by its commitments in the future:
- What commitments did the Cuban government make, if any, regarding the treatment of released prisoners?
- Does the United States agree that releasing prisoners on probation and with pending charges is consistent with the deal?
- Who compiled the original list submitted to the Cuban government and what criteria were used to determine who was placed on the list?
- What Cuban human rights groups were consulted about the prioritization of the list?
- Did the Cuban regime refuse to release any prisoners that the United States requested? If so, who?
- According to Reuters, the State Department claims that this list was finalized in July, five months before your December 17 announcement. Why was the list of prisoners not updated to account for new prisoners jailed during the intervening five months and those that were already scheduled to be released for serving out their terms?
- What is the United States doing to continue to address the plight of Cuba’s remaining political prisoners?
- What specifically does your administration hope to achieve on this issue of securing the unconditional release of all remaining political prisoners – and seeing to it that they are all released unconditionally – during the course of the normalization talks in Havana next week?
I urge you to ensure that U.S. policy going forward is devoted to ending the regime that has committed these abuses, not strengthening it through half measures and incomplete negotiations. The goal of U.S. policy should be to ensure that there are no more political prisoners in Cuba. Answers to the above questions will help further this agenda.