Cuba Chronicle of Events
Issue No. 11 • March 1-15, 2006
Cuba Chronicle of Events is produced by the Prima News Agency, based in Moscow, in cooperation with the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe. Items in this issue are based on reports from Bitacora Cubana, CubaNet, PRIMA-News, RIA-Novosti, BBCRussian.com, Abdala Press, and auto.mail.ru .
New NGO to Aid Political Prisoners
Havana. A new non-governmental organization was formed in Cuba last week. Froilán Osmany Rodríguez Sánchez, president of the newly emerged Commission to Assist Political Prisoners, Prisoners of Conscience, and Their Families, said that a “small group of activists decided in November 2005 to establish a project for monitoring the condition of political prisoners and their families as an act of spiritual support and wholehearted solidarity.”
The NGO’s Charter was approved on February 19 at a meeting hosted by its vice president Lázaro Prieto Álvarez. Among its participants were Sergio Pastor Martínez Carrazana (public relations); Ricardo Aguilar García (human rights); Cristóbal Soriano Argudín (finances); and coordinators Pedro Leonel Ordoñez, Jóse Lorenzo Pérez Fidalgo and Daniel Mesa Castillo.
Independent Medical Library Opened
The first ever independent medical library (BMEIC) has been opened in Havana on February 24. The library is named after the Cuban patriot Dr. Honorato del Castillo. The opening ceremony was timed to coincide with the 111th anniversary of the Baire Battle, which started the Cuban war for independence led by José Martí.
The library is housed at the home of Dr. Orestes Campos Venegas, a well-known oppositionist and secretary of the Republican People’s Party (PPR). The library is meant for medical students, health care professionals, and the public in general as a means of broadening their scientific, technical and cultural knowledge. The organizers of the library have appealed to all health care workers in Cuba and their international colleagues to support the project and help spread the initiative to other parts of the island.
Guillermo Fariñas Continues to Struggle With Death
Havana. Dr. Orestes Campos Venegas from the Solitary Star information center reported a gradual improvement in Guillermo Fariñas Hernández’ condition after nine days in intensive care. The oppositionist was taken to the Arnaldo Milian Castro hospital in the municipality of Santa Clara in a comatose state after fifty days on a dry hunger strike begun on January 31 to demand unrestricted access to the Internet. He is currently on an IV drip. His life signs are normal, however he has lost a lot of weight and is suffering from headaches and nausea.
Independent Librarians Harassed
Havana. Llaneidis Álvarez reported her husband and she were being harassed by the authorities. They were targeted for housing an independent library at their home in the town of Madruga, Havana province. Llaneidis and her husband José Manuel López Montero belong to the Cuban Liberal Movement (MLC) and run, at their own expense, the Octavio Hernández independent library. They had already been subjected to repression by pro-government activists who were encouraged by the authorities. This time they demanded that the couple relinquish their books deemed subversive by the government. The authorities are acting under the pretext that people without proper upbringing or education might get access to these books and misinterpret them that would present a danger for the country. The oppositionists have decided to continue their activity despite recent fearful rumors that the government intends to confiscate private houses which might be the beginning of a new kind of repression.
Anti-Government Activity Costs Dissident His Home
Havana. Cuban authorities have seized Alejandro Miguel Novoa Zaldívar’s house on grounds that anti-government meetings took place there. “This is a no-win case,” said defense lawyer Orlando Castro González. Novoa, 35, is a delegate of the Democratic Solidarity Party and activist of the Juan Gualberto Gómez Movement for Racial Integration. Novoa will have a chance to challenge the seizure in the provincial civil court. The municipal authorities refused on January 15 to return the house.
The one-room wooden house with an outside toilet has belonged to the Novoa family for quite a long time. The Novoas had allowed a homeless dissident couple, Grisell de la Caridad Palomino Ruiz and her husband, to live with them. Susana Pérez Ferrol from the municipal housing authority claimed that the “sheltered” couple permitted themselves a “negative political conduct” while living in the house.
PPR Activist Detained in Ciego de Ávila
Linsais Casas Sánchez, an oppositionist and a member of the Republican Peoples’ Party (Partido Popular Republicano, PPR) from Finca la Nueva, in the Majagua municipality, Ciego de Ávila region, was arrested and brought to a police station by Captain Ramón for opening a book of condolences to honor the pilots from the Brothers to the Rescue organization killed by Cuban fighter jets in 1996. The rights activist was released on his third day in custody after he was warned in writing to the effect that if he chooses to continue his opposition activities he may face a jail term of eight years. Linsais Casas Sánchez said that he would carry on with his struggle for freedom and democracy.
Another Cuban Dissident Summoned to Court
Havana. Oscar Manuel Espinosa Chepe, a Cuban economist, independent journalist, and former political prisoner, was summoned to court on March 1.Under a new ruling by the municipal judge, Oscar Espinosa Chepe was told he has no right to leave Havana or change his place of residence without the court’s permission. He will be under surveillance of the so-called political representatives of the local Committee for the Defense of the Revolution and other similar organizations. They will report to the authorities about his social activities, and on March 6, Oscar should receive those “political representatives” at his place to make a closer inspection. One restriction, however, has been revoked by the court. Since Oscar is 65 and a pensioner with 37 total years of service, he has been relieved from the obligation to work for a state organization selected by the court.
Oscar Espinosa Chepe was arrested during the “black spring” of 2003, among the group of 75 dissidents, and sentenced to 20 years in prison for criminal actions against Cuba’s independence. After a year and a half in prison, he was released for health reasons. A similar summons to appear before the court was received several days ago by Jorge Olivera Castillo, a dissident and independent journalist. Mariam Leiva, the wife of Oscar Espinosa Chepe, believes that authorities are trying to create a legal base for returning the early released dissidents to jail.
Independent Librarian Still in Custody
Camaguey. Eduardo González, an independent librarian, is still in custody awaiting a public trial for the alleged crime against public security. Neither the date nor the essence of a charge has been announced. Eduardo González was detained on February 23 at his home in Sedano Street in the town of Camaguey by agents of the state security and National Revolutionary Police. They banged on his door at five in the morning when the librarian and his family were still asleep. Eduardo refused to open the door until six o’clock in the morning, the time when, under Cuba’s criminal procedure legislation, police have the right to carry out investigative actions at private houses.
The agents not only arrested the independent librarian but seized issues of Vitral magazine available at his home, books deemed subversive, a handheld lantern, three short-wave receiver and other things.
Abdala Press Correspondent Threatened
Pinar del Rio. Political police agents in Pinar del Rio province searched the house of Felipe Gil Sanjudo and threatened his family. Gil Sanjudo said that he was visited by two political police agents who called themselves Justo Luis and Roberto. After searching the house, they began threatening my wife and other relatives who happened to be at home at the time. “They threatened to throw me in jail if I don’t stop my opposition activity,” he said.
Women Threatened by Political Police
Pinar del Rio. Political police in this province have threatened women for marking International Women’s Day.
A FLAMUR member, Aurora González Veliz was visited by police agents at her home and threatened for participating in the activities of this feminist group. “March 8 is the date celebrated by all women in the world,” González said. “Cuba is the only place where women who disagree with the ruling system are banned from observing the red date. We, members of the FLAMUR, have decided to avail ourselves of this right and take part in actions proposed by our chairman. We knew there would be threats, but we were ready to withstand the challenge.”
According to González, police agents who came to her place introduced themselves as Mario and Beune. Later, the same state security officers visited Iris Díaz Pérez, a member of the opposition People’s Party.
Prisoners of Conscience Mark the February 24 Date
Four prisoners of conscience, all members of the Group of 75, held at Guanajay prison in Havana marked February 24 as the 111th anniversary of the start of the war for independence and the 10th anniversary of the 1996 shooting down by Cuban jet fighters of two civilian planes operated by the humanitarian group Brothers to the Rescue (Hermanos al Rescate).
The prisoners were Efrén Fernández, a member of the Christian Movement for Liberation (MCL), Héctor Raúl Valle, leader of the Confederation of Democratic Workers of Cuba, José Miguel Martínez, a member of MCL and founder of the Juan Bruno Zayas independent library, and José Ubaldo Izquierdo, an independent journalist from the Decoro labor group. They put Cuba’s national flags in their cell windows, lit candles, and held a chain of prayer for the souls of the four Cuban pilots who perished in 1996 and in commemoration of the Cuban patriots led by José Martí who resumed their struggle for Cuban independence on that day in1895.
Prisoners Denied Right to Pray
Havana. In a note smuggled from Combinado del Este prison in Havana, political prisoner Augusto Guerra Márquez said that prison authorities had not allowed him and his fellow inmates to hold a prayer meeting. “They broke up our prayer after more than 15 prisoners gathered,” the letter read. Guerra is serving a two-year term for “disobedience” because of his public anti-government statements. During the year and a half he has spent in prison, he has refused to wear prison clothes. He has been denied visitation as a punishment.
Political Prisoner Denied Visit from His Wife
Havana. Isabel Carcoba Osor reported that on March 6, an officer named Amaury at Combinado de Guantánamo jail, at the eastern tip of the island, did not allow her to see her husband, political prisoner Alberto Martínez Fernández. After pleading, “He allowed our children Alberto and Karel to see their father. Prison warders searched them and confiscated letters from relatives and friends we brought to my husband,” Mrs Carcoba Osorio recalled.
Alberto Martínez Fernández, 56, is leader of the Club for Political Prisoners and Former Inmates in Guantánamo province. On September 23, 2005, he was sentenced to four years in prison for committing a crime “against public security.” He has recently been locked in solitary for 21 days for disrespectful remarks about the Cuban government, his family said.
FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE
Eleven Protestant Priests Detained
Havana. Eleven clergy from the Protestant Churches in the city of Havana have been detained in recent days. The reasons for their arrest are not known. However, the arrests appear to be politically motivated. The detained are being held at 100 y Aldabó, a special investigation center. Along with this, the Havana government has continued restrictions on religious freedom including seizure of premises for worship unless they are registered as private homes.
Over 30 Cuban Refugees Died Near Cuba’s Coast
Thirty-one Cuban refugees died off Cuba’s coast while attempting to reach the United States by a speedboat, reports Argentina’s TV channel Crónica quoting the Cuban national television. According to the source, the tragedy occurred last December but was reported by the Cuban television only on March 2 this year.
A survivor, Daysel Alfaro Blanco said that a group of 34 Cubans had tried to escape to the United States on a boat designed to carry only ten men. Twenty miles from the Cuban coast, the boat engine died. The passengers panicked and the boat overturned. Most of the refugees drowned at sea. Only two women and one man miraculously escaped death. After three days on the high sea they were picked up by a dry-cargo vessel and taken to the port of Havana.
The Cuban authorities blamed the tragedy on the United States. Under U.S. law, all Cubans who reach U.S. dry land are granted residency permit. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 2,600 Cubans had safely reached the U.S. coast last year, the most recorded in the last ten years.
Cuba Sends Land Surveyors to Venezuela
Havana. As part of a cooperation agreement between Cuba and Venezuela, Cuba’s Ministry of Agriculture is assembling a group of 5,000 land surveyors to be sent to Venezuela no later than May 1 to assist in its land expropriation program. Local branches of the Ministry must recruit land surveyors for this mission, with each province required to provide at least 300 men and two provinces required to provide 400 each, along with 1,000 agricultural specialists.
Cuba Buys Luxury Jet for Castro
Cuba is buying one of Russia’s most up-to-date airliners, specially crafted for Fidel Castro’s personal comfort. The presidential jet is one of the two new Ilyushin planes Cuba is purchasing from Russia. The total sum of the deal is $110 million.
To head off criticism that a new presidential jet is an expensive luxury in austere times, Cuba says the second of its new planes will be used to transport workers to and from Venezuela. To finance the deal, Cuba has paid 15 percent of the total sum up front, with the rest paid through a 10-year loan from a Russian bank.
Russian NTV Mir television said the designers at Ilyushin had worked hard to give Fidel Castro as smooth and secure journey as possible. “There is a sofa bed on which he can spend his hours of rest or read a book from his own library,” designer Alexander Kuchukhidze told the TV channel. “Beige colors were used throughout the plane,” another designer Anton Nikolayev said. “Business meetings and talks can be held here” The luxuries the president will have include drinks bar, DVD player, leather seats.
These are the first Russian civilian aircraft to have been exported in the last 15 years, Ilyushin finance director Alexander Rubtsov said to the channel. Russia and Cuba plan to sign another contract on 10 March for the supply of a further five airliners. Cuba has been a key customer of Soviet-built aircraft, both civilian Ilyushins and military MiGs. Even today, Cuban pilots are being trained in Russia.
Fidel Castro Gets a Limo
China’s Great Wall Motor Company (GWM) known for its cheap pickups and offroad vehicles has entered the Cuban market. To mark the occasion, GWM made a luxurious gift to Fidel Castro, a huge, 6.7 meter limosine with all possible options for comfortable travel. The exception is that he Chinese motor manufacturers did not equip the car with a powerful engine. The small four-cylinder 2.4 liter, 125 hp engine is too small for such a big car.
Cuba Announces More Embassies
The Cuban regime will open embassies in the Caribbean countries of Antigua, Dominica, Suriname, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, according to a source in Cuba’s Foreign Ministry. “This is a decision of our country to develop relations with all the neighboring countries,” said Alejandro Merchante Castellanos, Cuban Ambassador to the 15-member CARICOM. Cuba will open its diplomatic missions in all the countries of CARICOM, except British Montserrat, Merchante added.
The 37-year long history of Cuba’s diplomatic relations with the Caribbean Community started when the bloc’s four members, Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago, established diplomatic ties with the communist regime in Havana in 1972.
Young Cubans Fined for Selling Lobsters
The municipal authorities at Batabanó on the south coast arrested and fined two young people for the alleged illegalstoring and selling lobsters.
Over 100 pounds of lobsters were found during a search of their home. Leyania Martínez and her companion, whose name is not mentioned, were fined 5,000 pesos each (the equivalent of about one year’s salary) for selling illegally obtained lobsters. Over 30 people, mainly fishermen, were detained at Batabanó in the course of a government crackdown against private traders.
Illegal Trade in DVD Players Flourishes
Havana. DVD players seem to be the hottest item in Cuba’s underground economy.
DVD players, typically brought to the island by Cubans returning from their business trips to Venezuela, sell for $340 to $600 apiece. They are offered for sale by private traders outside the government-operated “dollar stores,” in which goods ranging from food to household electronic equipment are available only for hard currencies. The government runs these stores as a source of foreign exchange.
One woman offering a player for sale outside the dollar store on 70th Street in the Miramar district in Havana said the equipment belonged to a physician who needed extra income. She explained the average salary for a physician in Cuba is a little over $20 a month. The illegal trade in players benefits physicians, musicians, and others who are sent to Venezuela under an agreement between the governments of Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro.
Many Cubans resent the outrageous prices for these machines. The government has never explained the reason why DVD players and other video equipment are not sold in Cuba. Critics attribute this fact to inertia of Cuban officials or to government censorship.
Telephone Companies’ Repairmen Ordered to Dismantle Illegal TV Receptacles
Havana. Employees of the repair service of the Cuban telecommunications company ETECSA, a joint Italian-Cuban enterprise, have been ordered to report all illegal devices installed in households to receive TV signals from abroad if discovered while on a repair call.
The Communist party and the government have suffered defeat in their attempts to prevent people from installing self-made satellite dishes or picking up TV signals from the few companies, such as hotels and international firms, allowed to broadcast foreign TV programs. The ministry of communications has instructed ETECSA to obligate its employees to report all cases of illegal reception of TV signals. Earlier phone repairmen and installers had refused to comply saying that was not part of their service duties.
Surgical Facilities in Miserable State
Havana. The hospital at Güines, a suburb of Havana, closed its operating room in February for lack of needles and gloves and other medical items, according to its patients. The list of patients awaiting surgery in this and other hospitals in Havana is growing due to the shortage of surgical equipment and needles. The Juan Bruno Zayas Health and Human Rights Center, an independent organization led by dissident physician Dr. Darsi Ferrer, found that the health ministry had supplied other hospitals with latex rubber gloves banned elsewhere for not meeting the medical requirements.
Dental facilities have long been struggling with the shortage of latex gloves too. Dentists have to work barehanded or use old torn gloves, or deny medical assistance to AID’s patients.
“Even in the remotest parts of the world, Cuban surgeons have better working conditions than in Cuban hospitals,” a Cuban surgeon said on condition of anonymity.
A Dead Homeless Remains in the Street
Havana. A homeless man died on Sunday night, March 5, at the crossroads of Galiano and San Rafael Streets, and his body stayed there, surrounded by a curious mob, until it was picked up about four hours after he was found. The Vea cafe, outside which the man was seen before his death, opened for business as usual.
A policeman pronounced the man dead after taking his pulse. Nobody thought of calling for a doctor. Someone covered the body with flattened cardboard boxes. There are no sheets for the dead in Cuba; sometimes there are no sheets for the living. The body was surrounded by a crowd of onlookers and about 10 policemen. The coroner’s wagon did not arrive until four hours later. A fellow homeless man cried loudly, holding a plastic cup containing some liquor and saying, “He was my friend.”
Act of Police Brutality outside the Zanja Station
Havana. Twenty policemen beat a man outside the Zanja police station in Havana for trying to escape after he was stopped and had his arms twisted behind his back.
Two rights activists from the Cuban Liberal Movement, Rolando Aguirre and Yosniel Pied, reported that on February 23 a black man of about 35 years of age came out of the police station down front stairs in an apparent attempt to sneak into a nearby café. He was followed by police shouting “Don’t move!” They overtook, caught and handcuffed him. After that 20 or 25 policemen started beating the man who offered no resistance. After beating him, the police officers took off their uniform shirts so that nobody could identify them by their badges. One of the policemen remarked the victim must have suffered broken ribs.
New Women’s Prison under Construction in Havana
Havana. The workers are doing their best to complete the building of a new correctional institution for women in Calderón, the municipality of Alquízar, south of Havana. The prison will have a room for several thousand inmates and is scheduled to be opened in three months time, the authorities said.
There are another three prisons for women in Havana suburbs but they are overcrowded as a result of raids in recent months. Many of the prisoners are serving terms up to four years because they were found to be “dangerous” - a blurred sort of terminology often used to describe tendency to commit crimes. When applied to women, it means prostitution or suspicion of prostitution. A Cuban woman is always found “dangerous” when she is seen talking to foreigners or spotted in places frequented by foreign tourists.
“Facecutter,” Real Danger or Rumors?
Havana. In an attempt to squash a wave of rumors about the “Facecutter” (Cuba’s equivalent of Jack the Ripper), a maniac roaming some city’s areas in search of his victims, Cuban authorities came up with a clarifying memo which is being read to the members of local Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.
It claims that most of the information available until now is nothing but the rumors which are considerably exaggerated. In actual fact, this memo is the only mention made so far by the authorities of this “menace” as no mass media has breathed a word about this.
According to the memo, an unknown person nicknamed “Facecutter,” who is still at large, has struck only once while his two other potential victims managed to escape. All three episodes took place on one and the same day, February 19, in Arroyo Naranjo and Boyeros neighborhoods in Havana. The culprit, the memo says, is a black male, 35-40 years of age. His weapon is a modified machete. Street rumor has it that the maniac attacks people cutting their faces with a machete, hence, the nickname, and that four people are victims. People say there was an incident when a man was beaten by a crowd who took him for maniac the Facecutter.
The government-controlled press usually carries no reports on crime as officially there is no street crime in Cuba. Still people have no doubt that crime in actual fact is on the rise in this country.
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The Cuba Chronicle of Events is produced by the Prima News Agency in Russia in cooperation with the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe. Items are based on or reproduced with attribution from other news agencies. Please direct inquiries and comments to Editor, Cuba Chronicle of Events, Prima-News at [email protected] or to [email protected].