Obama Should Follow Cuba’s Lead and Free People in U.S. Prisons

By Organizers of Days of Action Against the Blockade on September 20, 2105

Photo: Bill Hackwell

Rafael Cancel Miranda speaking at Days of Action Against the Blockade in Washington DC, Photo: Bill Hackwell

Organizers of the Days of Action against the Blockade of Cuba which took place this past week in Washington D.C. issued a statement in response to Cuban President Raul Castro’s humanitarian gesture of releasing 3,255 prisoners in anticipation of the visit of Pope Francis. The organizers made a call to President Obama to follow Cuban President Raul Castro’s lead… and release some of the more than 2.5 million prisoners currently in jails and prisons in the United States.

To mark Pope Francis’s upcoming visit to Cuba, the Cuban government has announced the release of 3,522 people in that country’s jails. This humanitarian gesture will include prisoners over 60, younger than 20, those with chronic illnesses, women and those close to their release dates.

“Why can’t Obama follow the Cuban example before Pope Francis continues on his tour to the US on Sept. 22?” asked Alicia Jrapko, a spokesperson for the International Committee for Peace, Justice and Dignity for the Peoples, which is co-sponsoring the Days of Action in Washington this week. The goal is to pressure the United States to end its failed blockade against Cuba.

The United States, Jrapko pointed out, has the dubious distinction of having the largest per capita prison population in the world. US prisons are overflowing with people who are primarily incarcerated for nonviolent offenses, drug charges, or simply for being mentally ill and poor. The vast majority of those incarcerated are people of color.

“As his presidency winds down, Obama could do the right thing by releasing an equal percentage of the prison population as the Cubans did,” agreed Gail Walker of IFCO/Pastors for Peace, another of the groups organizing the Days of Action. “Now that would be a humanitarian gesture that a war-torn world could appreciate and a gesture of justice to the visiting Pope. It would amount to freedom for tens of thousands of people.”

Obama could start by releasing political prisoners like:

  • Black activist and journalist Mumia Abu Jamal, whose health is in rapid decline from untreated Hepatitis C,
  • American Indian Movement leader Leonard Peltier, who just spent his 71st birthday in prison, and
  • Oscar Lopez Rivera, the Puerto Rican Independence activist who has spent 34 years in prison on conspiracy charges.

Jan Susler, the lawyer of Oscar Lopez, and Rafael Cancel Miranda, the legendary fighter for Puerto Rican independence were among the speakers at a human rights panel during a conference being held as part of the Days of Action for the End of the Blockade.

Days of Action Against the Blockade was co-sponsored by: International Committee for Peace, IFCO/Pastors for Peace, Justice and Dignity for the People, the Institute for Policy Studies, the National Network on Cuba, Venceremos Brigade.