WASHINGTON/HAVANA (REUTERS) - Cuba has released all 53 political prisoners it agreed to free as part of a historic deal with the United States announced last month to restore relations between Washington and the communist-ruled state, senior US administration officials said.
The officials said the move was "an important step" and set a positive tone for the beginning of diplomatic talks in Havana next week at normalising relations after more than 50 years of hostilities.
"Cuba has completed the release of the 53 political prisoners," one of two officials told Reuters in an interview, speaking on condition of anonymity. They said the bulk of the releases took place in recent days.
Leading Cuban dissidents said that as of Sunday they had not received word that the prisoner release was complete and only knew of up to 39 people freed since the deal was announced on Dec 17. The Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) said most were warned they would be rearrested if they continued opposition activities.
The US officials said Washington would push for the release of other Cuban political prisoners who were not included on the list of 53 and would work for all Cubans to be able to exercise their rights.
Havana committed to free the 53 prisoners as part of a deal sealed between President Barack Obama's administration and President Raul Castro's government in December.
During negotiations last June and July, Cuba refused to include the names of a small number of other prisoners requested by the US for release, the officials said.
They said the list of 53 prisoners released would now be made available to the US Congress, and the White House fully expected the names to be made public.
Details about who was to be freed has been withheld by both governments, providing ammunition for US opponents of the detente, who have complained that Obama has not pushed Cuba hard enough on human rights and that the government in Havana has not lived up to its side of the bargain.