Tuesday, February 19, 2008

WASHINGTON — Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain called for the release of political prisoners in Cuba following Fidel Castro’s resignation today.

Castro’s resignation “should mark the end of a dark era in Cuba’s history. … Fidel Castro’s stepping down is an essential first step, but it is sadly insufficient in bringing freedom to Cuba,” Democratic Sen. Barack Obama said in a statement.

“Cuba’s future should be determined by the Cuban people and not by an anti-democratic successor regime,” Obama said. “The prompt release of all prisoners of conscience wrongly jailed for standing up for the basic freedoms too long denied to the Cuban people would mark an important break with the past. It’s time for these heroes to be released.”

Obama also urged that the United State be prepared to take steps to normalize relations with Cuba and to ease the trade embargo of the last five decades if the Cuban leadership “begins opening Cuba to meaningful democratic change.”

Republican Sen. John McCain also underscored that “freedom for the Cuban people is not yet at hand” despite Castro’s resignation.

“We must press the Cuban regime to release all political prisoners unconditionally, to legalize all political parties, labor unions and free media, and to schedule internationally monitored elections,” McCain said in a statement.

“Cuba’s transition to democracy is inevitable; it is a matter of when not if. With the resignation of Fidel Castro, the Cuban people have an opportunity to move forward and continue pushing for the moment that they will truly be free. America can and should help hasten the sparking of freedom in Cuba. The Cuban people have waited long enough.”

The ailing, 81-year-old Castro resigned as Cuba’s president after nearly a half-century in power. His 76-year-old brother Raul, who has hinted at political reforms, has been ruling in his place since June 2006.

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