Cuba Chronicle of Events
Issue No. 46 • January 16-30, 2008
Cuba Chronicle of Events is produced by the Prima News Agency (Russia) in cooperation with the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe (U.S.A). This edition is based on reports from PRIMA-News, Bitacora Cubana, CubaNet, Puente Informativo Cuba Miami, Martí Noticias, Directorio Democrático Cubano, BBC, Americas News, RATA-news, Pink News, Foodretail.ru, Reuters, Cubanacán Press, Adnkronos.
Madrid: Voices in Support of Democracy in Cuba
Members of Cuban exile groups based in Spain, Cuban Democracy Now (Plataforma Cuba Democracia Ya), United Cuban Political Presidium (Frente del Presidio Político Cubano), and the Spanish Federation of Cuban Associations (Federación Española de Asociaciones Cubanas) unfurled a 10-meter-long banner demanding democracy in Cuba in front of the Cuban Embassy in Madrid.
Rigoberto Carceller, head of Cuban Democracy Now, told EFE they staged the protest action, which they called a “voto unido,” to show that that day’s elections to the National Assembly in Cuba were a farce, with one party permitted to run and no international observers allowed into the country. According to Carceller, police pressure and intimidations surrounding the elections had created an atmosphere of tension and fear among Cubans, particularly in Cuba’s eastern provinces.
Dissident Denounces Election in Cuba as Flawed
Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, issued a statement in Havana denouncing Cuba’s electoral process in which voters are forced to vote only one bloc of candidates on the ballot and unable to choose from among individual candidates even as pro-government voters. Osvaldo Payá told Spanish news agency EFE that those who make the decisions only trust the citizenry when they have no choice.
He also said that never before has such an intense campaign been carried out in Cuba. Although the Christian Liberation Movement did not have the capacity nor the intention to tell Cubans whether or not they should vote, Paya called on all Cubans to act freely, that is to say, according to their own conscience, love for their Homeland, for liberty, their brethren, and the dignity of their children.
Dissidents Set Up Ballot Boxes for Change in Cuba
Residents of Havana’s San Miguel del Padrón municipality had an opportunity, albeit brief, to vote for a change in Cuba. As Cambute neighborhood locals were heading to polling stations to elect a new parliament on Sunday, Carlos Miguel López Santos, an activist of the Cuban Foundation for Human Rights, and fellow dissidents set up their own ballot box giving people the chance to make a vote either for “change” or communism. Carlos Miguel López Santos was detained by police.
The Foundation’s chairman, Juan Carlos González Leiva, told Radio Martí, “We set up our own ballot box as a symbol of free and democratic elections, wishing to express our protest against the Cuban regime’s electoral farce. Our activists put up a Cuban flag, and were showing people the way a free election should be held and calling upon the government to release Juan Bermúdez Toranzo and all other political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Cuba,”
On November 21, 2007, in the election’s first stage, Juan Bermúdez Toranzo set up a mock ballot box at the door of his house and received several dozen ballots for “change.” He was arrested and has been held in Valle Grande prison since then.
The End Is Near for Castro Regime, Say Cuban Dissidents in Warsaw
Cuban dissidents Héctor Palacios and Gisela Delgado said in Warsaw at a conference of the Lech Walesa Institute that “change will come soon” in Cuba and everyone on the island knows it. After the event, Palacios told Spanish news agency EFE that not only Castro is sick but so is his revolution and the Cuban nation is changing rapidly.
Palacios was among 75 dissidents arrested and sentenced to prison in Cuba in March 2003. After the intervention of Spanish authorities, Palacios was released in 2006 on humanitarian grounds and left the island for Spain for medical treatment. His wife Gisela Delgado, head of the Independent Library Project of Cuba, joined him.
Opposition Members Say Fidel Castro’s Re-election Is Absurd
Fidel Castro’s re-election as president of the Council of State on February 24 would slow change that Cubans are seeking, said leading members of the Cuban opposition.
The Cuban leader, who has been convalescing since abdominal surgery in August 2006, was reelected to the National Assembly in the second round of parliamentary elections on January 20. Cuba’s legislature will convene on February 24 to elect a new Council of State, including a president.
Dissident economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe told Agence France Presse that Castro, 81, has always feared economic reforms, seeing them as a prelude to political change. Vladimiro Roca, the spokesman for Todos Unidos, a coalition of Cuban dissident groups, noted that the re-election of the ailing Fidel Castro to his top leadership posts would be absurd.
Universal Rights Declaration Distributed on the Streets of Havana
Cuban dissidents handed out more than 1,500 copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Havana without incident.
Opposition member Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello said that during their 2 km march through Havana’s Plaza they were handing out copies of the rights document to passersby and even to police without incident.
More often than not people willingly accepted the material. Roque said that only a few Cubans showed hostility as reported by AFP. Six other dissidents joined Roque in the march. Roque Cabello added that state security agents who followed them all the way saw to it that nobody obstructed the march.
The action took place on the evening of January 24 on the same location where on January 10 four dissidents were immediately detained for an attempt to hold a similar action (see Chronicle no. 45).
Political Police Boost Activity in Havana
According to incoming reports, police in Havana are taking special measures to prevent the Cuban National Liberal Party from holding a joint meeting. The rush of police activity and intimidation forced the Party’s National Executive Committee to postpone the January 19 meeting in Havana.
Dissident Detained in Palma Soriano Still in Jail
Dissident Daniel Nieto García, who was arrested on January 11, is still being held at a detention center in Santiago de Cuba, nicknamed the Versailles. According to Raudel Ávila Lozada, Nieto García is under formal investigation on suspicion of posting several anti-government stickers that appeared in Palma Soriano in the early hours of January 4. Twenty other dissidents were also arrested in connection with the incident, but released a few days later.
Daniel Nieto García lives in the Palma Soriano municipality of Santiago de Cuba. He is a member of the Movement for Transition to Democracy, a dissident group recently founded in the city.
Rural Dissidents Arrested
A national leader of the Latin American Federation of Rural Women (FLAMUR), Maura Iset González Jurquet, was arrested with her husband Waldímar Parra Santana on January 26 at about 8.30 in the morning at the airport in Santiago de Cuba.
State security officers and members of the national revolutionary police arrested the dissidents and seized their belongings, including two suitcases filled with books, jumpers, baseball caps, stickers and other things bearing the logo of FLAMUR’s campaign for a single currency, “With the Same Coin.”
The couple were arrested as they returned home from a press-conference in Havana where the results of a national survey on Cuba’s dual currency system were announced. The poll has shown widesread support for the campaign on the island.
Recently, FLAMUR activists took a petition signed by more than 10,000 people to the National Assembly demanding that the Cuban peso be an acceptable means of payment in every establishment without exception. The campaign “With the Same Coin” demands that the same money the state uses to pay Cubans their wages be used to buy whatever product or service in whatever establishment in the country. The Cuban Constitution requires the National Assembly to consider any legislative proposals requested by at least 10,000 citizens.
Maura Iset González Jurquet and Waldímar Parra Santana are also members of the Council of Human Rights Reporters in Cuba.
Human Rights First Demands Immediate Release of Cuban Political Prisoners
The U.S.-based group Human Rights First has urged the Cuban government to immediately release Cuban prisoners of conscience Dr. José Luis García Paneque and Tony Díaz, who are both dangerously ill and not receiving medical treatment.
Harassment Against Political Prisoners
Two political prisoners have been placed in isolation cells after they refused to attend a cultural event in Combinado de Guantánamo prison organized by a group of Castroite musicians led by singer Silvio Rodríguez. The two young men, Alexander González Quintana and Aurelio Antonio Morales Ayala, are sentenced to five years in prison each for protest actions calling for human rights to be respected.
Political Prisoner Fights for His Life
The Christian Liberation Movement, led by dissident Oswaldo Paya, renewed its appeal to the international community to aid political prisoner Antionio Díaz Sánchez, an organizer of the Varela Project. Díaz Sánchez, from the Group of 75 sentenced in 2003, is in imminent danger of death, Paya said in an official statement.
According to the prisoner’s wife, Gisela Sánchez, her husband is suffering from cardiovascular disease, stomach ulcer and colitis. His state of health is incompatible with detention in prison.
In June 2007, Gisela hired a lawyer to help her husband get early release on medical grounds. The court has agreed to hear the appeal but has not so far given any response or ordered medical examination. Díaz Sánchez is resolved to defend his rights, even at the risk of his own life, refusing to take medications prescribed by prison doctors and refusing consultations with their specialists until a medical examination is carried out.
Political Prisoner Enters Second Week of Hunger Strike
Political prisoner Ernesto Durán Rodríguez is staging a hunger strike in jail in Santiago de Cuba. He has refused food for over a week to protest against deplorable prison conditions, deliberate humiliation of prisoners, and inadequate medical aid.
The prisoner’s relatives say they are holding the Interior Ministry’s Department of Prisons responsible for the physical and psychological condition of Durán Rodríguez. Marielis Castro Fernández, an authorized representative of the 30 November Democratic Party in Guantánamo, has called on human rights groups to voice concern about this dramatic situation.
Durán Rodríguez is sentenced to 22 years in prison for “showing disrespect” to Fidel Castro and attempting to illegally leave the country. He was moved from Boniato Prison to Malverde Prison a few days before a prison concert to be held there by pro-Castro folk singers Silvio Rodríguez and Vicente Feliu.
35 Political Prisoners in Very Poor Health
Out of a total 290 political prisoners held in Cuba’s jails, thirty-five are ill and in a deplorable state of health, the National Coordinator of Current and Former Political Prisoners (CNPP) said in its latest report issued in Havana. Twenty-six of them are women.
Castro Too Frail to Speak in Public
Before parliamentary elections scheduled for January 20, Cuban leader Fidel Castro said he was not ready physically to speak to Cuba’s masses in person and campaign. Castro made this statement in an essay published by state news media on January 16. “I am not physically able to speak directly to the citizens of the municipality where I was nominated for our elections next Sunday,” the ailing 81-year-old Castro explained.
In his essay, Castro expressed frustration about not being able to make marathon speeches for which he was noted. “I do what I can: I write. For me, this is a new experience: Writing is not the same as speaking,” he said.
Since last March, Fidel Castro has penned over 60 essays that many Cuba watchers view as his political testament following a long recuperation from abdominal surgery in August 2006, which forced him to cede power temporarily to his brother Raul. Castro usually ends his writings with the slogan of the Cuban Revolution “Homeland or Death!’ “We Will Win!” Until recently, he has made no remarks about the possibility of resuming leadership. But last December he wrote that he had no intention “to cling to power, and even less to obstruct the path of younger people.” He has reiterated in his reflections that the country’s political system would remain unchanged. He argues that “capitalism is not even a useful instrument.”
Castro Meets Brazilian Leader in Hospital
A few hours after the essay appeared on the front pages of state-run newspapers, Cuban television aired a video of Castro’s meeting with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. The Cuban leader was seen wearing a tracksuit that has become his trademark since he fell ill. “I have felt very good, very good,” was the only audible comment Castro made on this one-minute of footage.
Speaking to reporters later, Silva said Castro’s health “was a nice surprise.” “I think Fidel is ready to take over his historic political role in this globalized world,” he said. Silva did not elaborate what that role might be.
To retain his post as head of the nation’s Council of State, or president, Fidel Castro has to be re-elected to the National Assembly. After serious intestinal surgery in June 2006 Fidel Castro has ceded power to his brother Raul, who is campaigning for him. Cuban mass media are regularly showing footages of the Cuban leader to convince Cubans he is on the mend.
Fidel Castro Votes From Hospital Room
Cuban leader Fidel Castro took part in the nation’s parliamentary elections on January 20 without leaving the hospital where he is recuperating. Electoral officials brought a special ballot to the medical rehabilitation center where the 81-year-old Castro is recovering after intestinal surgery in July 2006. Television cameramen and photographers were not invited.
In his address to the nation carried by state media, Castro said he voted for the slate of candidates nominated by the Communist Party, municipal organizations and workers’ meetings. It was the only slate allowed on the ballot. In an essay published by Cuban newspapers on January 16, Castro wrote “I am not physically able to speak directly to the citizens of the municipality where I was nominated for our elections.”
According to official sources, more than 95% of eligible voters have participated in Sunday’s uncontested elections. Maria Esther Reus, head of Cuba’s National Electoral Commission, said Cubans have shown “a high level of civil responsibility and discipline.”
Cuba’s Parliament to Determine Fidel Castro’s Fate on February 24
The new Cuban National Assembly will decide on the future of Fidel Castro when it convenes for the first time on February 24, acting President Raul Castro announced on January 20 as Cubans were voting to “choose” members of the new legislature. They were 614 unopposed candidates, including the Comandante.
Castro, Cuba’s unchallenged leader since 1959, has recently hinted he might retire from office, but never said that directly. In a letter read out to the National Assembly in December 2007, Castro said that as a young man he used to cling to power but life had changed his perspective, and urged Cubans to support his brother Raul. In another letter, the Comandante wrote he did not want to stand in the way of a younger generation of leaders.
On the eve of parliamentary elections, Castro said he was not healthy enough to speak to Cuba’s masses in person or campaign. “I do what I can: I write,” he wrote in an essay published by state media.
Fidel Castro, the Cuban President and Secretary General of the country’s Communist Party, had, according to government sources, intestinal surgery in July 2006, and since then has been skipping all major public events, including May Day Parade and Revolution Day festivities. Cuba’s Defense Minister and Vice President Raul Castro, who “temporarily” took over as head of government, filled in for Fidel at these celebrations.
FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE
Catholic Church in Cuba Faces Many Challenges
The Catholic Church in Cuba has acknowledged relations with the country’s communist regime were gradually improving, but said there were still problems to be solved.
Speaking to the Spanish news agency EFE, the general secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of Cuba, Bishop Juan de Dios Hernandez Ruiz, said the Pope’s visit to the island 10 years ago allowed Cubans to know for certain that the Church “was alive,” but pointed out that there was still a long way to go in order for the Church to fully unfold her mission of evangelization in the country. Since the papal visit in January 1998, relations between Church and State “have experienced difficult moments” but “are experiencing a slow, progressive, gradual process of improvement.”
The greatest challenge remains that “of evangelization, of being able to carry out the Church’s mission more widely and to bring the gospel to distinct areas of society.” He stressed that this implies, among other things, greater access to the media, which is state-controlled.
Honduras Grants Temporary Residence to 22 Cuban Refugees
The government of Honduras has granted temporary residence to 22 Cuban migrants. The refugees left the port city of Manzanillo in eastern Cuba in a small boat. After ten days at sea, they landed on the coast of Honduras in the department of Colón. Immigration officials in Honduras said the Cubans have been allowed to stay in the country for 30 days.
Cuba Employs Diplomatic Envoys as Spies
A former U.S. defense intelligence officer told U.S. lawmakers on January 17 that Cuba has been selling or sharing intelligence information about the United States with its allies.
A group of Republican legislators, including Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban American, invited Simmons to brief the Congress about intelligence contacts Havana allegedly maintains with such countries as Venezuela and Iran. Chris Simmons described Cuba’s intelligence apparatus as the threat for the United States, saying Cuban spies are selling intelligence secrets they could get to Cuba’s closes allies.
According to Simmons, who worked on Cuba for the Defense Intelligence Agency, Cuba’s intelligence apparatus numbers 8,000 agents inside the country, and 3,500 operatives who are focused on international operations, mostly in places where vital U.S. interests are at stake. Simmons now works for the Cuban Intelligence Research Center, which he founded.
Brazilian Doctors Protest Against Silva’s Accord with Cuban Regime
The National Medical Federation of Brazil is protesting an agreement President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva signed with Cuba during his recent visit to the island that will allow Brazilians studying to be doctors at the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana to practice when they return home although the Cuban degree is not recognized in Brazil.
The Federation president, Eduardo Santana, said they would lodge a protest with the Supreme Court. José Luiz Gomes, head of the Brazilian Medical Association, also denounced the agreement signed by Silva in Cuba. Regional medical councils in several states of Brazil shared their concern, dismissing the intention to recognize Cuban diplomas received at Havana’s medical school as unacceptable.
These medical institutions call for the Brazilian government to instead invest more money in training local doctors.
Bush Accuses Castro of Repressive Policies
U.S. President George W. Bush accused Fidel and Raul Castro of repressive policies and urged them to free all political prisoners. Bush made the statement at a meeting with the wife of jailed Cuban dissident Oscar Elias Biscet, recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest U.S. civilian honor. “It’s hard for us to imagine what it would be like if we’re living in a society as repressive as the society of Fidel and Raul Castro,” Bush said at the meeting in the Oval Office. Bush has refused any easing of economic sanctions against Cuba without a full transition to democracy. He has also urged international support in isolating Cuba.
Senator McCain: I’ll Bring Freedom to Cuba
Republican Presidential hopeful, Senator John McCain, said that he considers fast-forwarding post-Castro’s Cuba transition to democracy a key foreign policy aspect of his presidential campaign. “When Castro meets Karl Marx, which I hope is soon, it will be a great opportunity to bring democracy and freedom to the people of Cuba. I know how to do it,” McCain told the press on January 25 at the University of Tampa, Florida.
He went on to say that “it’s vital that political prisoners are freed and fair and free elections are held, we do what’s needed to help human rights organizations.” “I’ll bring freedom to the people of Cuba,” said the Republican Presidential candidate and he urged those present to support him in the 2008 White House race.
Senator McCain held a press conference following a National Security Roundtable at the University of Tampa. The function was attended by James Woolsey, the former head of the Central Intelligence Agency, Admiral (Ret.) Leighton Smith, whose last active duty assignment was Commander, U.S. Naval Force, Europe, Jerry Johnson, who is a retired Admiral with the U.S. Navy, John Lehman, the former Secretary of the Navy, Tom Ridge, who was Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and other prominent figures.
President Bush Makes Mention of Cuba in State of the Union
U.S. President George W. Bush reiterated his support for freedom in Cuba in almost the same words as last year’s State of the Union Address “America opposes genocide in Sudan. We support freedom in countries from Cuba and Zimbabwe to Belarus and Burma,” said the president, standing before Democratic-led Congress one last time.
First Lady Laura Bush invited Cuban exile Blanca González, the mother of political prisoner Normando Hernández González, to sit with her in the gallery during Bush’s State of the Union address. Her son, Normando Hernández González, a writer and independent journalist, was arrested on March 18, 2003 with the group of 75 dissidents, and was sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment.
California Sends Trade Mission to Cuba
California, the top U.S. food producing state, has sent its first official agricultural trade mission to the communist-run island, expecting to sell $180 million in products to Cuba.
In 1962, shortly afterwards the Fidel Castro revolutionary government came to power on the island, the United States imposed trade sanctions against Cuba. U.S. food sales to Cuba were allowed in 2000 under an exception to the trade embargo Washington has maintained since that time. Today, other U.S. states are selling Cuba an average $350 million per year in agricultural products, mainly grains.
California, known for its citrus groves, is a late arrival in food exporting to Cuba. Californian companies got there only in 2006, selling products worth just $735,000. Among the products being supplied are powdered milk, rice, and some wine and apples. A delegation of Californian companies currently on a visit to Cuba is seeking contracts for dairy products, wine, grapes, figs, nuts and other fruits.
Cuban Tourism Decline in 2007
Many foreign Internet-resources have published international tourism statistics by country for the year 2007. According to them, overseas travel to France increased by 5% compared to the previous year; to Spain by 1.7%; to Hungary by 3.9%; and to Malaysia by 15.3%.
But in Cuba tourist arrivals reportedly dropped by 3.5% compared to 2006. Cuba’s tourism earnings dropped by 0.6% and reached $2.209 billion in 2007.
Cuban Tourism Ministry insiders say the last year was very bad for the industry, and fear “Cuba is losing out to Cancún and the Dominican Republic as a top tourist destination.” Travel to Cuba is becoming more expensive, with the drop in the dollar exchange rate. Erratic water supply and the poor quality of service in hotels is said to be a significant factor in the decline of travel to Cuba.
U.S. Remains Cuba’s Top Food Supplier
The United States remained Cuba’s main supplier of food and farm products in 2007, selling the Caribbean nation more than $600 million in agricultural exports despite its trade embargo.
Cuba imported nearly the same amount of agricultural products as it did in 2006, but rising production and transportation costs forced it to spend $30 million more than the $570 million it paid two years ago for the same goods, said Pedro Alvarez, chairman of Cuba’s food import company Alimport
The United States has been the island’s top food source since 2003. U.S. companies in 35 states ship 1,600 types of agricultural products to Cuba, including wheat, chicken and soy.
Power Outages Hit Cuba
Frequent disruptions of power in Pedro Betancourt municipality, Matanzas province, are causing serious concern among locals, independent journalist Jesús Galván Fernández told Radio Martí.
Cuban Authorities May Legalize Same-Sex Unions
The Cuban Communist Party is considering granting legal recognition to same-sex unions, said psychologist and director of the CENESEX sex education center Mariela Castro, who is the niece of Fidel Castro. According to her, the proposed change to Cuban family law would put members of same-sex unions on a par with heterosexual couples.
CENESEX, which is a department of the Public Health Ministry, approached Cuba’s parliament two years ago with a proposal to review the 1975 Family Code to recognize the rights of gays, lesbians and transsexuals. But it is the Communist Party that will decide whether the proposal becomes law.
“We are receiving suggestions and debating adjusting the proposal so it is more flexible and has more chance of being approved,” said Mariela Castro. The principal needs of Cuban homosexuals, she explained, “are related to the right to their recognition as consensual couples, as non-matrimonial couples, but that authorities recognize their property and inheritance rights in those non-legalized unions.”
She added that besides legal recognition, gays, lesbians and transsexuals in Cuba want respect: “Let no one feel the right to humiliate them, nor harm them, nor exclude or reject them, we should strengthen within the family this ethic of accepting everyone and of not being discriminated against for sexual orientation.”
Mariela Castro, 45, is a licensed psychologist. She strongly believes her struggle for the equality of the sexes and gay rights would “enrich the Cuban Revolution.” But she admits that the task is not an easy one in a “patriarchal” society where many remember the labor camps where homosexuals were interned in the late 1960s as ideologically suspects.
Mother Unable to Buy Food for Her Newborn
Leyanes Moya Borges, who lives in Santa Clara, is unable to register her newborn baby daughter Jaidi. Cuban authorities are refusing to register the girl under the name of her father José Enrique Calafé Pérez, who is serving a prison term in Villa Clara. Cuban authorities are putting pressure on him to give up his U.S. residence permit. The baby was born on December 9.
Without obtaining the state-issued certificate of birth, called here an “infant’s card,” Moya Borges has no chance to have her daughter included into a “ration book” that records and controls the amount and the frequency with which food products are purchased for national currency.
Moya Borges has repeatedly but unsuccessfully applied for help to local state security officials and the head of correctional facilities in the region. But all of them have refused to look into the matter. So Moya Borges is depending on her relatives’ and neighbors’ mercy and generosity to keep the baby alive.
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