Christmas comes early for thousands of Cuban prisoners as President Raul Castro announces a sweeping amnesty.
Almost 3,000 prisoners will be released in the coming few days for humanitarian reasons ahead of a visit by Pope Benedict XVI in the spring.
(SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) RAUL CASTRO, CUBAN PRESIDENT
"The Council of State, in a humanitarian and sovereign gesture, agreed to pardon more than 2,900 convicts. Among them are women, the sick, people over 60 years of age and also young people who have raised their cultural level and their possibilities of social reintegration."
But despite the Christmas goodwill, Castro could not resist a swipe at long-term enemy, the United States.
((SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) RAUL CASTRO, CUBAN PRESIDENT, SAYING:
"At the same time that we bring our socialism up-to-date, changing everything that should be changed, the United States government stays anchored to the past."
Minor prisoner releases have taken place in Cuba in the past, usually as a gesture of goodwill to accompany the visit of a dignitary.
Sunita Rappai, Reuters