Cuban President Raul Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama sparred over human rights issues including the American prison at Guantanamo Bay and Cuba’s political prisoners.
At a historic news conference in Havana on Monday, Mr Castro said if he was given a list of political prisoners, he would “release them tonight”. The White House has said it has given Cuba lists of dissidents in the past. Mr Castro does not view the prisoners as dissidents, US officials said.
That disagreement is central to the conflict between U.S. and Cuban officials.
Castro denied having political prisoners in his country after being questioned by CNN’s Jim Acosta during a press conference Monday with U.S. President Barack Obama.
“What political prisoners? Give me a name or names,” Castro said in response to Acosta’s question on why the prisoners have not been released. “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.”
After the news conference, Obama told ABC in an interview that he had not yet given Castro a list of dissidents but that he had in the past.
Deputy National Security adviser Ben Rhodes also told reporters that in the course of the talks leading to normalization a list of 53 prisoners were given to the Cuban government. The 53 prisoners on the list were all released around the announcement, according to Rhodes.
“The heart of the difference with President Castro is not their lack of awareness of these individuals and how we follow their cases and how independent organization follow their cases, it’s their belief that they are not political prisoners,” Rhodes said Monday.
“That they are in prison for various crimes and offenses against Cuban law and what we have said again in Cuba or in any country around the world that if someone is in prison, detained for fundamentally nonviolent political offense … that those people inherently are in prison for political purposes and it’s unjust therefore under international principles for those detentions to be carried forward,” he said. (Excerpts from CNN and BBC)