WSJ Editorial: About Those Cuban Political Prisoners

Thursday, March 24, 2016
From The Wall Street Journal's Editorial Board:

About Those Cuban Prisoners

Castro invited a list, dissidents provided one. Did Obama follow up?

Cuban dissidents were grateful for a two-hour audience with President Obama at the U.S. Embassy in Havana on Tuesday. In a police state that seldom allows influential visitors access to opposition activists, Mr. Obama’s insistence on the meeting was a much-needed sign of solidarity with the pro-democracy movement.

But if the Cuban opposition had any expectations that the U.S. President would intervene on their behalf to free political prisoners, they have so far been disappointed. During a joint press conference with President Obama in Havana on Monday, a journalist asked Raúl Castro why he won’t release Cuba’s political prisoners. Mr. Castro countered: “After this meeting is over, you can give me a list of political prisoners, and if we have those political prisoners, they will be released before tonight ends.”

The Castros have claimed for decades that there are no political prisoners in Cuba, though there have been tens of thousands. And within the hour, authoritative lists of dissidents doing time in Castro lock-up were all over social media. The next day at the U.S. Embassy, Mr. Obama asked Elizardo Sánchez, the head of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, for his organization’s list. The Cuban handed him 89 names. After the meeting Mr. Obama joined Raúl Castro at a baseball game.

The White House isn’t saying what happened to the list. A spokesman referred us to comments from deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, who said in a Tuesday press briefing that he has “shared many such lists with the Cuban government over the course of my two and a half years now of dealing with them.”

But that was before Mr. Castro publicly offered to release the prisoners if he was presented with names. That Mr. Obama apparently did not take him up on it won’t go unnoticed by the dissidents or the regime.