About 150 Cuban political prisoners will have been allowed to go to the United States by Sept. 30 at the end of a one-year bilateral agreement on refugees, U.S. consular officials said Saturday.
They are among 3,000 refugees the U.S. government agreed to take under an immigration accord revived last November that also provided for an annual quota of up to 20,000 non-refugee emigrants from Cuba to the United States."Both on the regular immigrants' and the refugees' sides, it has been going relatively smoothly thanks to the excellent cooperation from the Cubans," Bill Brencick, consul at the U.S. interests section, said.
"There is no doubt the Cubans are committed to get these 3,000 out before the cutoff date," he said.
Barring a new suspension of the immigration accord, up to a quarter million Cubans should leave for the United States by the end of the century, U.S. officials estimated.
At mid-July, 1,100 people had emigrated as refugees, at a rate now reaching 180 per week in three charter flights to Miami.
The prisoners were transferred directly from their cells to a special exit lounge at Jose Marti International Airport where they joined relatives who were also allowed to leave.
Brencick said 65 Cuban prisoners were currently being interviewed by U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service officials but not all would be approved - "maybe 25, maximum."
From a list of 68 "historic plantados" (intransigents) - long-term prisoners who refuse to wear prison uniforms or follow prison rules - seven names have been omitted.
The Cuban government gave no explanation for the omission of the seven but a U.S. interests section official said: "We are putting their names up each time. We want to see them."
Diplomatic sources speculated the seven were men whose revelations might create problems for President Fidel Castro.
Similarly, of 336 inmates on a list sent by the Cuban government to New York's Roman Catholic Cardinal John O'Connor, a list said by diplomats to represent the total of what Cuba considers "counter-revolutionary" prisoners, about 280 can be released.
Previous figures mentioned up to 429 on the list but a copy of it seen by Reuters showed it was 336.
The U.S. government and human rights activists here say the number of political prisoners on the Communist-ruled island nation is much higher, up to 15,000, particularly if those jailed for illegal attempts to leave the country are included.