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Why is Cuba releasing 52 political prisoners?

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“In some ways you might see this as Cuba testing the sincerity of the US, doing something dramatic that the US demanded, to see if the US responds positively,” he says.

Other than the easing of US travel restrictions and remittances for Cuban Americans, little has changed in the bilateral relationship between the US, which has implemented an embargo for nearly 50 years against Cuba, since Barack Obama and Raul Castro became heads of their respective nations. Mr. LeoGrande says Obama could respond to the prisoner release by easing rules for medical exchanges or issue more commercial licensing in areas of mutual cooperation.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US views it as a welcome advance. "We think that's a positive sign. It's something that is overdue but nevertheless very welcome," she said Thursday.

The Archdiocese of Havana said that at the center of their negotiations with the Cuban government has been the political activists and journalists who were arrested in March 2003, what Cuban dissidents have dubbed the Black Spring. A group of wives and relatives have protested each Sunday ever since. Prior to now, some of the Black Spring prisoners have been released for various reasons, including health issues.

The Catholic Church has taken a more prominent role lately in negotiating with the Cuban government, viewed as a good sign by Cuba observers in the US.

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