Cuban prisoner release overshadowed by a rumour of Fidel Castro's death

38 political dissidents were freed this week, but the news was eclipsed by yet another flurry of whispers about the ailing former President
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The Independent US

Not quite a month after President Raul Castro struck a historic deal with the United States to end 50 years of diplomatic hostilities, the political aftershocks continued to shake the nation this weekend as more dissidents were freed from jail and fresh rumours surfaced of the death of his elder brother, Fidel.

Human rights activists welcomed an announcement on Friday that 38 political dissidents had been released. Any euphoria was tempered, however, by concerns that they could be rounded up again at any moment, especially if they resumed anti-government protests. It also appeared that most had been incarcerated for minor offences while higher-profile detainees remained behind bars.

The "substantial and ongoing releases" were hailed by the White House, which has been under pressure from critics of the US-Cuba rapprochement to explain why Havana was balking at a key provision of the agreement between Mr Castro and President Barack Obama that required it to release 53 prisoners. "So good to see people reunited with their families," senior White House official Ben Rhodes said on Twitter.

But for many on the island, and especially those in the Cuban exile community in Miami, news of the releases was partially eclipsed by yet another flurry of whispers that Fidel Castro, who is known to be ailing, had in fact died.

Word of his alleged death raced across social media sites regardless of the absence of evidence, causing crowds (and reporters) to gather at familiar spots in Little Havana in Miami.

The speculation may have been triggered by the demise of a quite different Fidel Castro last week, in Kenya. It may also have mattered that Friday was the first anniversary of the last time Fidel was seen in public. There were also reports, also apparently erroneous, that the road to the cemetery where he would be buried was under rushed repair.

Best known among those freed was the hip-hop singer Angel Yunier Remon, known as "The Critic", who was imprisoned for eight years in 2013 for scrawling "Down with the Dictatorship" on a wall outside his home.