Is the real Fidel Castro finally starting to stand up?

Though the Cuban dictator used to deny holding any political prisoners whatsoever, Castro now admits that his jails contain 429 of them. What's more, Castro claims he's willing to release all but 44 of them - providing that the United States agrees to accept them as refugees.While Washington should take Castro up on his offer, it ought to have a few mental reservations and insist on a few conditions.

For one thing, let's not buy the notion that Castro has finally come clean on this issue. Plenty of refugees from Cuba insist that the number of political prisoners in Havana can be counted not in the hundreds but in the thousands.

For another, any U.S. decision to accept new Cuban refugees should be tied to demands for speeding the return to Havana of the criminals and mental patients that Castro dumped on America in 1980. As Scripps Howard News Service reports, "There has been little or no movement on an agreement reached last November to exchange 2,500 criminals and mental patients for 27,000 Cubans who want to come to the United States."

Moreover, let's make sure that any new deal does not let Castro get away with dumping more undesirables or planting spies in the U.S. Before accepting them, Washington should insist on interviewing and studying the record of each prisoner that Castro releases.