Cuban Rapper El Critico and 52 Other Political Prisoners Released by Castro Regime

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On March 21, 2013, Ángel Yunier Remón Arzuaga, a Cuban rapper also known as El Critico Del Arte (which translates to The Art Critic), was arrested during a raid on his home by agents of the Castro regime.

On October 15, 2014, he was sentenced to six years in prison after what opponents of the government called a "sham trial."

He endured Las Mangas Prison of Bayamo. He went on a 27-day hunger strike. And he was denied medical treatment and family visits.

But in the last two days, El Critico and 27 other political prisoners were suddenly released, according to Miami's Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba.

UPDATE U.S. officials now confirm that, over the last two months, 53 have been freed.

See also: U.S. and Cuba Normalize Relations: "We're Going to See a Renaissance of Cuban Music"

A founder of rap group Los Hijos Que Nadie Quiso (The Unwanted Children), El Critico is also an activist who's served as a secretary in the city of Bayamo for the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), a dissident human rights organization that opposes the Castro regime.

So it was not only his work as a hip-hop musician that led to his unjust 2013 arrest. It was also his role as a public advocate for political change.

Among the other prisoners released this week were members of UNPACU, as well as the Ladies in White, the protest group consiting of wives, children, and relatives of political prisoners.

This development follows last month's agreement between the U.S. and Cuba to normalize relations, which included a commitment from the Castro regime to free 53 political prisoners.

However, the names on that list remain secret, with both the Obama administration and the State Department keeping quiet on the specific identities of those slated for release. So it can't be said for certain whether El Critico or any of the other 27 liberated Cubans belong to that group.

UPDATE As of January 12, the Obama administration and the State Department have confirmed that the Castro regime has released all 53 political prisoners.

Though names still weren't officially made public, they leaked after being sent to members of Congress.

Political Prisoners Released by Castro Regime in U.S.-Cuba Normalization Deal

1. Emilio Planas Robert

2. Alexeis Vargas Martin

3. Diano Vargas Martin

4. Bianko Vargas Martin

5. Ivan Fernandez Depestre

6. Sonia Garro Alfonso

7. Ramon Alejandro Munoz

8. Eugenio Hernandez Hernandez

9. Juliet Michelena Diaz

10. Angel Yunier Remon Arzuaga

11. Vladimir Morera Bacallao

12. Jorge Ramirez Calderon

13. Marcelino Abreu Bonora

14. Wilberto Parada Milan

15. Alcibiades Guerra Marin

16. Jose Leiva Diaz

17. Eider Frometa Allen

18. Alexander Roberto Fernandez Rico

19. Aracelio Riviaux Noa

20. David Piloto Barcelo

21. Enrique Figuerola Miranda

22. Jose Manuel Rodriguez Navarro

23. Lazaro Romero Hurtado

24. Luis Enrique Labrador Diaz

25. Madeline Lazara Caraballo Betancourt

26. Miguel Alberto Ulloa Ginard

27. Reiner Mulet Levis

28. Roberto Hernandez Barrio

29. Alexander Otero Rodriguez

30. Angel Figueredo Castellon

31. Anoy Almeida Perez

32. Carlos Manuel Figueroa Alvarez

33. Cesar Andres Sanchez Perez

34. Daniel Enrique Qezada Chaveco

35. David Bustamante Rodriguez

36. Eliso Castillo Gonzalez

37. Ernesto Roberto Rivery Gascon

38. Ernesto Tamayo Guerra

39. Haydee Gallardo Salazar

40. Jorge Cervantes Garcia

41. Jose Lino Ascencio Lopez

42. Juan Carlos Vasquez Osoria

43. Julio Cesar Vega Santiesteban

44. Leonardo Paumier Ramirez

45. Miguel Tamayo Frias

46. Miguel Guerra Hastie

47. Niorvis Rivera Guerra

48. Rolando Reyes Rabanal

49. Ruberlandis Mainet Villalon

50. Sandalio Mejias Zulueta

51. Vladimir Ortiz Suarez

52. Yojarnes Arce Sarmiento

53. Yordenis Mendoza Cobas

See also: Miami Musicians on U.S.-Cuba, From "It's a Castro Bailout" to "Free Travel Is a Dream"

Known in his hometown of Bayamo for his uncompromising raps, penchant for passing out pro-freedom literature, and stirring debate about the Cuban government, El Critico's clashes with agents of the Castro regime reached a critical point in the spring of 2013.

He had been detained time after time because of his participation in protest activities. And after yet another arrest in March, he was released and returned home to paint defiant statements across the outside of his residence, where they could be seen from the street.

He wrote, "I do not commit any crimes. That is why I am free. Down with the rob-alution."

Over the next few days, police and their sympathizers (which the rapper's family identified as "state-organized mobs") bombarded El Critico's home with tar and stones.

So he added the message: "Down with the dictatorship."

Meanwhile, he addressed neighbors and the crowd, criticizing the Castro regime, denouncing the destruction of Cuban culture, and inviting people into his home to read anti-government leaflets.

This standoff between El Critico and authorities reached its peak on March 26, 2013, when police stormed his house, taking him and four relatives -- including his aunt, Jaqueline Garcia Jaenz, a member of the Ladies in White -- into custody.

He was soon locked up. And held without clear charges. But he continued to protest while in prison, refusing to shave his beard, painting "Change" on his bedsheets, and launching hunger strikes.

A year and eight months later on October 15, 2014, he was finally sentenced. The term: Six years.

During his detention, El Critico's family, friends, fellow UNPACU members, as well as dissident bloggers, human rights activists, and celebrities like Gloria Estefan and Willy Chinio, joined the #FreeElCritico campaign.

Today, after almost two years in prison and finally back home, Ángel Yunier Remón Arzuaga was able to once again address his supporters and the world.

"I'm not really free yet, because our country is not yet free," he told the blog Pedazos de la Isla. "But I am now alongside my children and my wife. I am here again, confronting the situation that all us Cubans have to face."

And El Critico added: "To all those people, to all those artists, who have put their faith in me, and have in one way or another recognized my work and have demanded my freedom, I will not let you down. I will keep enriching and making Cuban music, and I thank all of you for all your support and effort. I hope to one day be able to share words with you all in person, and thank you for everything."

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