Eight years after they were arrested and imprisoned for demonstrating for improved conditions in their native Cuba, the last of the 75 "Black Spring" political activists have been released by government authorities in Havana. Two men – Jose Ferrer Garcia and Felix Navarro Rodriguez – were freed under an arrangement negotiated by the Roman Catholic Church, which worked to win their release and that of the other 50 remaining political prisoners and prisoners unjustly jailed for exercising their universal rights and fundamental freedoms during a government crackdown on dissidents in 2003.
The United States welcomes the action as a step in the right direction toward improved human rights in Cuba. Many more such steps remain, however. Human rights conditions remain poor in the island nation, where the government continues to limit the fundamental freedoms of peaceful assembly, speech and the press, among others.
Many more political prisoners languish in Cuban jails, and we urge their release as well. Those who choose to leave Cuba should be free to return if they so choose. To ensure a fuller accounting of the remaining political prisoners, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the International Committee of the Red Cross should be granted access to them.
Under President Barack Obama, the United States has increased its engagement with the Cuban people to promote democratic ideals and improve human rights conditions on the island. The Cuban government must take meaningful action in these areas as well – not because the U.S. and international community insist on it, but because the Cuban people deserve it.