The bishop in charge of the pastoral care of prison inmates in Cuba declared Wednesday that Cuba is holding a number of political prisoners on the island, some of whom are serving long sentences, a claim that Havana has repeatedly denied.
“Let’s be clear,” said Jorge Serpa, the bishop of the western diocese of Pinar del Rio. “We do have cases of political prisoners, persons serving long sentences for whom I have requested a review on behalf of the Church, and I will not tire of doing so.”
The bishop’s statements formed part of an interview published Wednesday in the magazine Palabra Nueva, a publication of the Archdiocese of Havana.
The Cuban government vehemently denies the existence of political prisoners on the island and instead punishes dissidents or members of the opposition under non-political charges, such as disturbances of public order or danger to the state.
In the interview, Serpa, who is head of the Commission of Pastoral Work with Prisoners of the Catholic Church in Cuba, said that there are “persons serving 47 or 40 years in prison.” He added, “In my group there are seven ‘color orange’ prisoners, who are those serving life sentences, and some of them are politicians.”
“Not long ago I received a call from an accredited foreign journalist in Cuba who had just received a list of political prisoners,” Serpa stated in mid-December.
Earlier this month, Cuba’s attorney general, Dario Delgado, declared that there were no political prisoners detained on the island and referred to dissidents as “common delinquents.”
“Sometimes it is said that we have political prisoners here. There are none,” Delgado said in an interview published on Human Rights Day.
The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, an officially banned group tolerated by authorities on the island, says there are sixty “prisoners of conscience” in Cuba.
A year ago, the United States and Cuba began a historic diplomatic reconciliation after more than a half century of estrangement dating to the Cold War.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.