12 freed Cuban political prisoners arrive in Canada

TORONTO (AP) — Twelve former Cuban political prisoners, including two jailed for exposing a government spy in dissident circles, came to Canada on Tuesday after being freed at the request of Pope John Paul II.
The 12 former prisoners, along with about two dozen relatives, reached Toronto’s Pearson International Airport after an overnight flight from Havana.
A number of the prisoners reportedly have sought asylum in the United States, but it is not clear if it has been granted to any of them.
Canada initially agreed to accept 19 of the 200 prisoners whose cases were cited by the pope during his recent visit to Cuba.
Two of the 19 are to arrive in Canada later, but five are still imprisoned because Canadian authorities decided not to accept them after conducting health and security checks.
One of those rejected by Canada was involved a 1992 attempt to steal a boat in which four policemen were killed; two others were jailed for a failed 1987 plane hijacking in which 14 people were injured by a hand grenade.
Many of those who were freed had received prison terms of 10 years or more for alleged involvement in “enemy propaganda” or “rebellion.” Human-rights groups said the offenses often were nothing more than distributing political leaflets, talking about alternatives to the Castro regime or phoning Miami radio stations with news about the island.
The released prisoners and their families are free to remain in Canada, but some are expected to head to Florida because they have relatives in the huge expatriate Cuban community around Miami.
Canada is one of Cuba’s largest trading partners, and has expanded its involvement on the Communist-ruled island while the United States continues its longstanding embargo. Canadian tourists, about a third of the island’s visitors, have increased from 142,000 to 169,000 a year since 1995.