Cuba may free up to a dozen political prisoners

HAVANA — Cuba's government has contacted about a dozen islanders jailed for crimes against the shadowy state-security apparatus and asked if they would be willing to accept freedom in return for leaving their homeland, a leading human rights activist said.
If such a deal became a reality, it would mark the year's second major release of Cuban political prisoners — once unthinkable in a single-party communist state.
Why Cuban authorities have pushed to reduce the number of political prisoners is unclear, though some have speculated it may be part of an effort to promote reconciliation with the United States.
Officials from the administration of President Barack Obama have long suggested it may be time for a new beginning with Cuba — but have also said they would like to see the island embrace small economic and social reforms before a true thaw can take place in 50 years of frigid relations.
In addition to freeing political prisoners, Cuba's government announced last month that it will lay off a half-million state employees and reduce restrictions on self-employment, small businesses and pockets of free enterprise as a way of modernizing and overhauling its state-dominated economy.