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After freeing prisoners, Cuba presses for U.S. to reciprocate

From Shasta Darlington, CNN
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Cuba presses U.S. to release agents
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Cuba has freed 21 of 52 political prisoners from jail
  • Cuban officials are pressuring the United States to free five Cuban agents
  • The five agents have been held in the United States since 1998
  • There are no indications that a swap will take place

Havana, Cuba (CNN) -- Ariel Sigler is the latest of 21 Cuban political prisoners to fly into exile after being freed from jail in Cuba.

Gaunt, and confined to a wheelchair, the former boxer received a hero's welcome in Miami.

Later at a hospital, he talked about his release.

"The first dish that I was able to taste with great delight was the dish of freedom, the dish of democracy, the dish of my second country that has received me as if I was another one of its children," Sigler said.

Cuba has agreed to release a total of 52 political prisoners by-mid November as part of a deal with the Catholic Church and Spain.

International pressure to free them grew when one prisoner died earlier this year after an 84-day hunger strike.

But the Cuban government has also ratcheted up its own campaign.

It is denouncing the imprisonment of five Cuban agents held in the United States since 1998.

They're convicted of spying in the United States. In Cuba, they're considered heroes, fighting to protect the homeland from extremists in Miami.

Over the weekend, Cuba's National Assembly accused the U.S. of putting one of the agents, Gerardo Hernandez, in what assembly members called an "isolation hole" even though he was ill.

The National Assembly signed a petition calling the conditions of Hernandez's current confinement "so harsh that his health and physical integrity are being seriously affected."

U.S. officials could not be reached immediately for comment.

Hernandez's wife recalled Cuban President Raul Castro's offer of a gesture for a gesture.

"Our president was very clear," she said. "We were waiting for the U.S. to free the five and we would hand over the prisoners we have in Cuba, even with their relatives. Cuba has complied with its gesture."

However, there are no indications that any talks about a tradeoff are underway between Havana and Washington. But some Cuban officials have pointed to the recent swap of Russian and American spies as evidence that there may be a possibility.