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Cuba will free 52 dissidents

MEXICO CITY — The Cuban government will free 52 political prisoners, Catholic officials in Havana said Wednesday, the largest release of captive dissidents in decades and a surprise gesture that could help thaw relations with the United States.

The scheduled release of those arrested in a March 2003 crackdown against pro-democracy activists on the island was brokered by the country's archbishop, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, with help from visiting Spanish diplomats.

Ortega also met this week with Cuban President Raul Castro, brother of the country's ailing dictator. Fidel Castro, 83, has not been seen in public for four years but remains the country's supreme leader and probably approved the move.

Rio Grande threatens Mexican border towns

NUEVO LAREDO, Mexico — Reservoirs along the U.S.-Mexico border rose to their highest levels in decades after days of drenching rain, forcing officials to close two border bridges Wednesday, dump water into flooded rivers and evacuate tens of thousands from homes, with yet another storm on the way.

The dramatic rise of the Rio Grande caused by Hurricane Alex and continuing rains forced the closure of one major border crossing between downtown Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, and another crossing known as the Colombia Bridge, about 20 miles upriver.

Officials evacuated the flood-threatened Vega Verde subdivision in Del Rio, Texas, some 110 miles upstream from Laredo, while high waters in the northern Mexican state of Coahuila have already damaged some 10,000 homes — many swamped in waist-deep water.

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