March 2, 2008 in Nation/World

Cuba might trade dissidents for jailed agents, cardinal says

Pablo Bachelet McClatchy
 

WASHINGTON – New Cuban leader Raul Castro would consider exchanging dissidents held in Cuban jails for five Cuban intelligence agents imprisoned in the United States as spies, a top Vatican official said in an interview.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said Friday the subject came up during a meeting with Castro.

The five Cubans are serving U.S. jail sentences for spying after being convicted in a Miami federal court in 2001. The Cuban government insists, however, they were sent to Miami to infiltrate anti-Castro groups and avert terrorist attacks on Cuba , and were not spying on U.S. government agencies.

Bertone said Castro mentioned the five agents after Bertone told him the church would consider the release of some of the island’s dissidents a humanitarian gesture.

“The president underlined the importance of practicing reciprocity,” Bertone said, bringing up “the problem of the five Cuban prisoners in the United States and therefore the question of a humanitarian treatment for them, too, with the eventual possibility of an exchange.”

Bertone said Castro was prepared to deal “with great openness” and “make concrete gestures, in the presence of reciprocity, with respect to the identity and the sovereignty of the Cuban people.”

The State Department reacted coolly to the idea.

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