Cuba's political prisoner tally edges up - reportHAVANA, Aug 10 (Reuters) - The number of political prisoners in Cuba rose by three to 208 in the first half of the year as the island continued to have the worst human rights in the Western Hemisphere, a rights group charged on Monday.
The Cuban Commission of Human Rights said the increase, although small, "reflects the situation of paralysis and indifference of the Cuban government toward the urgent need to end political imprisonment on the island."
"During this summer 2009, the situation of civil, political and economic rights, and of certain cultural rights of the first order, continues being the worst of the whole Western Hemisphere," said the illegal, but tolerated group in its semi-annual report.
Those who were hoping for rights improvements under President Raul Castro "suffered a big disappointment," said the report, signed by commission spokesman and former political prisoner Elizardo Sanchez.
The Cuban government views dissidents as mercenaries working for its long-time foe, the United States, which has openly supported members of the Cuban opposition.
Cuba's official position has been that it has no political prisoners, only legal ones because everyone behind bars was given a fair trial.
But Raul Castro, who succeeded his aging older brother Fidel Castro as president last year, has suggested that Cuba exchange its political prisoners with five Cuban agents jailed in the United States.
The rise in political prisoners this year represented a "negative upturn" in what has been a tendency over the past two decades to reduce the numbers, the commission said.
It said the past six years the government has adopted "low profile political repression" that includes brief detentions of human rights activists and other forms of harassment.
The commission's list of political prisoners includes a dozen dissidents who are not behind bars but under house arrest, and two El Salvadorans condemned to die for bombing Cuban tourist destinations in the 1990s.
The commission urged the world's democratic governments to demand that Cuba comply with international human rights standards.
It chastised the European Union which, it said, under Spain's influence had adopted "a policy of virtual blindness" toward the "totalitarian dictatorship that reigns in Cuba."
U.S. President Barack Obama has eased the longstanding U.S. trade embargo against Cuba and taken other steps to recast relations with the island just 90 miles (145 km) from Florida.
But he has said further changes will depend on Cuba improving its human rights.
(Reporting by Jeff Franks and Esteban Israel; Editing by Tom Brown and Cynthia Osterman)