Page last updated at 20:47 GMT, Thursday, 18 December 2008

Cuba seeks prisoner deal with US

Cuban President Raul Castro
Raul Castro described the five convicted Cubans as 'heroes'

Cuban President Raul Castro has suggested he would release political prisoners as a "gesture" with the US.

Speaking during a trip to Brazil, Mr Castro said: "Let's do gesture for gesture," essentially a call for the US to release five Cubans in its custody.

The five were convicted in 2001 for spying on Cuban exiles, but are considered heroes in Cuba.

US President-elect Barack Obama has said some restrictions on Cuba could be eased after he takes over in January.

Mr Obama has said that he would lift restrictions on family travel and remittances to Cuba, but maintain the US trade embargo to press for changes in the Communist-run country.

Cuba has survived more than four decades of US sanctions against the communist government led by Fidel Castro and, since February, by his brother Raul.

Prisoner exchange

The US has called on Cuba to release political prisoners. Cuba is thought to keep more than 200 dissidents behind bars on account of their political views.

Mr Castro, referring to those prisoners, said to reporters: "These prisoners you talk about - they want us to let them go? They should tell us tomorrow.

"We'll send them with their families and everything. Give us back our five heroes. That is a gesture on both parts."

In June a US appeal court upheld the convictions of the five Cubans, but said the sentences of three of them should be reconsidered.

Convicted in 2001, three were given life terms while the other two are spending 15 and 19 years in jail.

The men are considered national heroes in Cuba, where they figure prominently on billboards all over the country and are the subject of regular rallies and demonstrations.

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