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Cuba has freed five political prisoners, including three who were held for years without being tried for any crime. One was Leonardo Bruzon Avila, whose plight was highlighted last October by President George W. Bush:

“Today, the struggle for freedom continues -- it hasn’t ended -- in cities and towns of that beautiful island, in Castro’s prisons, and in the heart of every Cuban patriot. It is carried on by brave dissidents like Oscar Elias Biscet, Marta Beatriz Roque, Leonardo Bruzon Avila.”

Mr. Bruzon, a well-known Cuban democracy advocate, was never formally charged with a crime after his arrest. His health deteriorated after more than two years in prison and four hunger strikes.

Michael Kozak, U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, says Cuba’s political prisoners are very poorly treated:

“Many of these prisoners of conscience, falsely accused, summarily tried, and sentenced to long terms in prison, are subjected to treatment usually reserved for the most violent criminal offenders. Most are allowed to see their families only briefly, once every three months. For many, their only real hope of release is to accept exile from the country they love and for which they have sacrificed so much.”

For forty-five years, says Mr. Kozak, Castro’s Communist government has done everything in its power to crush political dissent in Cuba:

“It controls all aspects of daily life through an elaborate and pervasive system of undercover agents, informers, and neighborhood committees working to detect and suppress dissent and impose ideological conformity. Spouses are encouraged to report on each other and children on their parents. Independent voices have been arrested on charges as vague as ‘dangerousness’ or as clearly political as ‘disrespect for authority.’ Dissidents are routinely and falsely labeled as foreign spies, mercenaries, and agents of the United States.”

The U.S. will continue to speak out until the Castro regime fully respects the rights of Cuba’s dissidents. “Focusing our support on activities that promote democratic values,” says President Bush, “will go a long way toward accelerating the democratic transition of Cuba.”