Trade between the U.S. and Cuba may be reaching its nadir, but prisoner exchanges seem to be just getting started.
On the day when paraplegic political prisoner Ariel Sigler Amaya arrived in Miami, a video of Fidel Castro shows the jefe supremo predicting the release of "The Cuban Five" by year's end. On the pro-government website "Yohandry's Weblog," Castro can be seen calling for the release of the five Cuban intelligence officers, arrested in 1998 and sentenced to between 15 years and life in jail.
And while Castro has kept mum on the already-underway release of as many as 75 political dissidents from Cuban jails, he doesn't appear shy to comment on the condition of the five prisoners in the U.S.
"Just imagine our five comrades, kept in separate jail cells," Castro says in the video. "They (Americans) haven't shown the slightest gesture of letting them go free. What would it cost them to let five human beings separated from their families come back here?"
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"They are going to have to let them go," he says. "I think the U.S. is close, closer than ever before, to letting them go. You can start getting ready for their return... long before the end of the year."
The Cuban government considers the five to be "antiterrorists" or heroes, and claims they were simply keeping tabs on violent elements of the Cuban-American community in order to prevent attacks on Cuban soil. The U.S. government, however, found them guilty of espionage, including relaying American military information to Havana.
Sigler, meanwhile, arrived in Miami with a bang, telling a boisterous crowd at the airport: "Down with the dictatorship. Down with the Castro tyranny. Down with the assassins Castro."
In a deal brokered by the Catholic Church, Cuba has released 20 political prisoners over the past month, all but Sigler sent to Spain. As many as 55 more could be released later this year.