VATICAN CITY (CWN) - Senior US officials said on Tuesday that US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright asked the Vatican today to help secure the release of more Cuban political prisoners from the Communist government of the island.

      The official told Reuters New Service that Albright raised the issue during a meeting with Vatican Secretary of State Angelo Sodano. Cuba announced last month that it had released 299 prisoners in response to a clemency appeal made by Pope John Paul during his historic visit to the island in January. Albright was in Rome primarily to discuss the crisis in Kosovo with the Italian government.

      The official said that in her conversations at the Vatican, Albright spoke of a number of political prisoners in Cuba, including four who were well-known on the island. The Vatican's statement on the talks made no mention of political prisoners but focused on the effects of the Pope's visit to Cuba and Washington's recent decision to relax some sanctions on the island for humanitarian reasons.

      In a related story out of Mexico City, several Latin American bishops and officials said on Monday they supported new measures proposed by the United States to reduce the Cuban embargo in place for 36 years.

      Last Friday, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced the lifting of some restrictions against Cuba, and said the US will permit direct charter flights between both countries and also permit transportation of money, medicine, and food through the Catholic Church. The White House said that Pope John Paul's January visit to Cuba convinced President Bill Clinton of "the needs of Cuban people and our obligation to support them."

      After the announcement, the secretary general of the Brazilian Bishops' Conference, Bishop Raymundo Damasceno Assis, said the US government "responded to the call made by John Paul II during his visit to Cuba." Bishop Damasceno Assis also explained his desire "to find in this first announcement against the embargo, a first step in the normalization of the relationships between Washington and Havana." At the same time, the Cuban ambassador to Mexico, Abelardo Curbelo, said that "this new United States" attitude is a step in a direction taken by the whole world."

      During his first visit to the Caribbean island, the Holy Father affirmed, "Economic embargoes are always condemned because they hurt people in need. In our time, no nation can live alone, and the Cuban people cannot be deprived of their links with other nations."

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March 25, 1998 volume 9, no. 60         DAILY CATHOLIC