Cuba: Church negotiates support for political prisoners

Cardinal Ortega

Cardinal Ortega

After a rare meeting between Cuban President Raul Castro and Cuban primate Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the government has agreed to move many of the country's 200 political prisoners to jails closer to their homes, and will give medical attention to other ailing prisoners.

Cardinal Ortega said he was optimistic that there was willingness on the government's side to compromise.

A Havana church official said: "The office of religious affairs of the central committee of the Cuban Communist Party advised the Catholic Church on Friday that as of next week the political prisoners will be transferred to jails in their place of origin."

Bishop Juan de Dios Hernandez, an auxiliary bishop in Havana visited hunger-striking dissident Guillermo Farinas in his home in central Cuba on Saturday to tell him of the government's decision to move the prisoners.

Farinas has refused food for 91 days. Another political prisoner, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, died on 23  February after a lengthy hunger strike in jail.

Farinas called his hunger strike to protest over Zapata Tamayo's death, and has said since then that his main demand is better treatment for 26 political prisoners said to be in poor health.

There have been signs in recent weeks that Cuban leaders are taking a more conciliatory approach to the dissidents.

Earlier this month, the government reversed a decision barring the Ladies in White - wives and mothers of jailed dissidents - from holding their weekly vigil. The decision came after Cardinal Ortega intervened on their behalf.

The  latest meeting between Cardinal Ortega and President Raul Castro has been  covered extensively by Cuban state media.

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