Spain's top diplomat expects 'results' from Cuba visit

5th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

Spain's foreign minister said Monday he hopes a trip to Cuba this week for talks on human rights will lead to "results", as Spanish media said Havana may agree to free some political prisoners.

Spain's leading daily El Pais said the minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, believes Cuba's communist government will gradually begin releasing political prisoners starting with 26 whose are in poor health, as a result of his visit.

Another newspaper, ABC, said most of the freed inmates would go to the United States, while France and Italy are also ready to take in some of them.

Moratinos leaves for Cuba later Monday to raise human rights issues and support mediation efforts launched by the Roman Catholic Church.

He is to hold talks with his Cuban counterpart, Bruno Rodriguez, and the archbishop of Havana, Jaime Ortega. But a meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro "is not yet confirmed," the foreign ministry said.

The visit comes after Havana said at the weekend that dissident Guillermo Farinas is close to death after 130 days on a hunger strike.

Moratinos is not scheduled to meet with Farinas. But he told a news conference Monday that his delegation would be in touch with the dissident's entourage "and will express our conviction that the best thing for everyone would be for him to end this hunger strike.

"We think that (Farinas) should already feel satisfied with his aims and that he should work, as we are all doing, to improve human rights in Cuba," he said.

"I obviously have other objectives on this visit to Cuba which make it worthwhile and can lead to results and help all the citizens of Cuba," he said.

Farinas stopped taking food the day after leading dissident Orlando Zapata died on February 23 as the result of an 85-day hunger strike.

The international outcry over both hunger strikes and pressures from the Catholic Church led the Castro regime last month to free a paraplegic dissident and transfer 12 other prisoners to jails closer to their homes.

The Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission (CCDHRN) -- an outlawed but tolerated group -- estimates there are some 200 political prisoners in the Caribbean nation of more than 11 million people.

Cuban authorities consider them a threat to national security, and claim the prisoners are "mercenaries" on Washington's pay, out to smear the Cuban government.

During its just-ended tenure of the European Union's rotating presidency Spain urged that full relations with Cuba be restored, but it met with resistance from other countries in the 27-nation bloc.

EU foreign ministers decided to look at the question again in September.

© 2010 AFP

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