Cuba will release in the coming days 2900 prisoners, including 86 foreigners from 25 different countries, for "humanitarian reasons".
Cuban President Raul Castro made the announcement Friday during the second annual session of the National Assembly. The government says that these releases are issued in response to "numerous" requests from the families of detainees, as well as religious institutions.
The decision also comes a few months before the visit of Pope Benedict XVI, expected in spring. In 2010, Havana had released more than 100 political prisoners after negotiations with the Catholic Church.
According to information obtained by AFP, the American Alan Gross, sentenced to 15 years in prison in Cuba for crimes of state, will not be part of the released prisoners.
U.S. authorities have admitted that Alan Gross, arrested in 2009 for handing out telecommunications equipment to Jewish organizations in Cuba, worked for a subcontractor program using the U.S. State Department, but they consider the sentence as an "injustice". The U.S.chief diplomat, Hillary Clinton had personally called for his unconditional release.
The United States argues that no improvement in their relations with Cuba is possible as Alan Gross remains in prison.