Cuba Chronicle of Events
Issue No. 15 • May 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 PRIMA News Agency, Bitacora Cubana, CubaNet, Puente Informativo Cuba Miami, Mezhdunarodnik.ru, Salut.MD, Deutsche Welle, APLO, TVTs, BBC, RIA Novosti, ANN, Radio Marti, EFE, RATAnews, NEWSru.com, REGIONS.RU.
Popular Interest for Independent Trade Union Magazine Increasing on the Isle of Pines
Nueva Gerona, Isle of Pines. Residents of the Isle of Pines have shown an increased interest for Lux magazine, published by the Federation of Workers of Electric, Gas, and Water in exile and secretly distributed throughout the island. The publication, a member of the Inter-American Press Society, has its correspondents on the Isle of Pines, in Havana City, Matanzas, Camaguey, Santiago de Cuba and Granma. It is banned by the Fidel Castro government
“Lux magazine is without doubt a mouthpiece of both the Cuban workers on the island and the entire Cuban people,” Aurelio Bachiller Álvarez, general secretary of the Independent National Federation of Cuban Workers, emphasized.
They Demand on the Isle of Pines Release of 11 Cuban Independent Librarians
Nueva Gerona. The Julio Tang Texier Independent Library Project held a vigil on the Isle of Pines to demand unconditional release of 11 independent librarians jailed for promoting reading without censure in Cuba. The civic action was held at Apartment 3, Staircase 2053, Street 8, between E and F in the Micro 70 neighborhood, in Nueva Gerona, the administrative center of the Isle of Pines. Many directors from the above mentioned project took part in it.
“We raise our voice from the Isle of Pines in solidarity with imprisoned journalists José Luis García Paneque, Ricardo González Alfonso, José Miguel Martínez Hernández, Blas Giraldo Rodríguez Reyes, Omar Pernet Hernández, Leonel Grave de Peralta, Hosé Ubaldo Izquierdo Hernández, Fidel Suárez Cruz, Luis Milán, Víctor Rolando Arroyo Carmona, Iván Hernández Carrillo,” said Sergio Santa Cruz de Oviedo, the project’s coordinator on the Isle of Pines.
The action took place in coordination with the Independent Library Project in Miami, Florida, the Plantados for Liberty and Democracy in Cuba group (Plantados Hasta La Libertad y la Democracia en Cuba), the Committee to Assist Dissidents, the 2506 Brigade, and the Cuban Democratic Directorate.
Posters Urging Change Appear in Southern Cuba
Matanzas. Posters with the word CHANGE in Spanish appeared on May 1 in the southern town of Caracusey. The posters, which measured 40 by 40 inches, were placed on a hillside leading into the town. As soon as the authorities became aware of the posters, they were removed. This was done when there were no passersby to see that. The word CAMBIO is often used in Cuba by those wishing a regime change.
Nobel Peace Prize to Ladies in White
Geneva. The Association of Cuban Exile Community in Geneva has proposed that the Ladies in White group be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. The Association will be gathering signatures in support of its candidacy on a central square in Geneva on May 20. The campaign will be carried out by Cuban women, who will dress in white. The campaign is aimed to secure more respect and protection for Ladies in White’s Sunday gatherings in Cuba. The Geneva campaigners hope their initiative will find enough support in Miami, Florida, Madrid, and other places with large Cuban communities to result in an avalanche of letters of support to the Nobel Prize Institute in Oslo.
Cuban Dissident Completes Third Month of Hunger Strike
Havana. It will be three months on April 30 since Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas has started a hunger strike. His condition is stable and he is determined not to take food and liquid unless forced, well-informed sources told EFE agency. Fariñas, who remains in the hospital in the city of Santa Clara, 280 km east of Havana, began his indefinite hunger strike on January 31 to press his demand to the Cuban authorities for unrestricted access to the Internet.
Alicia Hernández, mother of the dissident said that his condition had slightly improved in the last two days after two serious bouts of kidney failures and infection which caused a very high temperature. “His condition is stable and he is in good spirits,” she said, adding, however, that he is “very weak in his legs” and is losing weight. He now weighs 56 kg.
Fariñas, 43, is as firm to pursue his indefinite hunger strike as “on its first day,” his mother told EFE by phone from her house in Santa Clara. Fariñas, a psychologist and the director of Cubanacán Press independent news agency, has conducted 20 hunger strikes since 1995. The longest of them was in 2003. It lasted 14 months.
Opposition Activists in Pinar del Rio Denounce Repression
Pinar del Rio. Members of several opposition organizations held a meeting at the headquarters of the Melinda Gates Democratic Foundation to denounce the government’s aggression against peaceful dissidents and its organizing campaigns of physical and verbal abuse at their residences involving political police and pro-government thugs.
“These defenseless oppositionists have committed no crime. They have been carrying out their human rights work, trying day by day to defend their rights against the totalitarian Cuban regime,” said Abigail Ortega Beltrán, director of an independent library. The meeting was attended by members of the Movement for Racial Integration, the Independent Trade Union of Pedicabbies, the Independent Library Project, Latin American Federation of Rural Women (FLAMUR), and the Democratic Women’s Front.
Police Prevent Dissident from Attending Meeting
Pinar del Rio. Political police officers detained Roldeny Chávez Montesino, 24, and took him to the police station to prevent him from attending a meeting of the Melinda Gates Democratic Cuban Foundation, to which he has belonged for four years. “They detained me without any justification and questioned me about the meeting I was going to attend,” he said. “I was going to a course on Communication and Transition organized by the Melinda Gates Foundation.”
Mob Attacks Cuban Oppositionist
Havana. On April 25, a pro-Castro mob attacked the house of opposition activist Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello and beat her. She reported the incident to Radio Martí and other mass media in Miami, Florida, by phone. According to her statement, she was assaulted in her house by pro-government thugs who had been active outside her home since morning.
El Nuevo Herald reports the dissident saying that she was “severely beaten by the mob and then dragged back home.” The newspaper says the government goons wanted to prevent the activist from leaving her home to attend a video conference organized at the residence of Michael Parmley, head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, with the Chilean political scientist Pedro Isern, who directs the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin American (CADAL). “I took to bed with high blood pressure, a black eye, bruised arms, and pains from kicks in the abdomen, but I will not be frightened by this fascist gang which is the government’s repressive arm,” the 61-year-old Beatriz Roque said. “The international community should do something for us because we can no longer stand this humiliation, we can no longer tolerate lack of freedoms. It is a truly unbearable situation,” she told a Miami-based radio station by phone.
Opposition Activist’s Son Thrown into the River
Havana. An unidentified cyclist threw the five-year-old son of opposition activist Noelia Pedraza Jiménez into the river. Noelia Pedraza is chairman of the Martha Abreu Women’s Movement in Santa Clara. According to Noelia Pedraza, the incident occurred on May 1 when she and some of her neighbors were walking home with their children as there was no public transport on that day because of the official May Day celebrations.
The cyclist slowed down as he approached the group and then rode up to the children walking ahead of the adults. In Noelia’s account, he grabbed her son Dany Daniel Muro, threw him into the muddy river and fled away at high speed. Noelia reported the incident to the 4th police station. She blamed State Security agents for the attempt on her son’s life. She was received by a police detective who introduced himself as Jordany.
The boy was given medical aid at the Luis Miranda hospital. The doctors confirmed he had not suffered any injuries.
Cuban Political Prisoner Goes on Hunger Strike
Havana. The political prisoner Emilio Manuel Perez Soria, held at the Kilo 5 prison in Pinar del Rio, has been on a hunger strike since April 20 to protest against mistreatment by prison warders. Mario Echevarria Driggs, an independent journalist and Havana correspondent for the Cuba Miami News Bridge Bureau, cited Belinda Salas Tapanez, an oppositionist and member of the Plantados for the Liberty and Democracy in Cuba group, for this report. She is authorized to visit the prisoner in jail instead of his family, which has repudiated him on ideological grounds. She said that Manuel stripped himself of his clothing and was holding a hunger strike in a cell of Block 3 of the above mentioned prison. He is refusing any intervention from the prison authorities until they start to respect his rights and treat him as a human being. Emilio Manuel Perez Soria is one of the 14 dissidents imprisoned since July 2005 for participating in “public disorders.” The police have denied him a fair trial.
Prisoner of Conscience’s Health Causes Concern
Ciego de Avila. Melba Santana, wife of prisoner of conscience Alfredo Rodolfo Domínguez, expressed concern to the Cuban Human Rights Foundation over her husband’s deteriorating health. The imprisoned opposition activist suffers from liver problems, high blood pressure and rheumatic arthritis of his left hand. Santana said she had no chance to speak with Alfredo over phone and did not know whether he was receiving any medical help for his liver problems. She stated that when her husband entered the prison three years ago he was a fit and healthy young man and had never experienced such headaches.
Alfredo Rodolfo Domínguez, 44, is being held in Holguín prison, sentenced to 14 years in prison as a result of the government crackdown in March and April 2003 called “Black Spring.”
Prisoners’ Rights Violated in Combinado del Este Prison
Havana. Pedro Pablo Álvarez Ramos, general secretary of the Unitarian Council of Cuban Workers (CUTC), is reporting harsh treatment of him and other prisoners of Block 3 at the Combinado del Este prison. According to Álvarez, the prisoners are given filthy water to drink five times a day and causing the inmates intestinal diseases. Alvarez, one of the 75 dissidents convicted during the Black Spring 2003, says it is inconceivable that prison authorities have no means to provide prisoners with a daily supply of clean drinking water.
Putin, Castro Are Worst Enemies of Press Freedom
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Cuba’s leader Fidel Castro once again appeared on the list of 37 violators of world press freedom compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). In its annual survey released on the eve of World Press Freedom Day, May 3, RSF also mentions Tunisia’s President Ben Ali, Nepalese King Gyanendra, President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, and armed Islamist groups in Iraq and Afghanistan as violators of press freedoms. . . . On-line publications in China, Iran, Cuba, Tunisia, and Vietnam are heavily censored, with U.S. Internet giants Yahoo, Google Microsoft giving the authoritarian regimes a helping hand.
World Journalism Community Critical of Cuba’s Treatment of the Press
Mexico City, Mexico. Cuba ranks first in Latin America as the most repressive regime towards the independent press. It is the world’s second largest jailer of journalists, exceeded only to China, according to a report by Reporters Without Borders released on the U.N.-sponsored World Press Freedom Day on May 3.
An official crackdown against freedom of speech started in the spring of 2003 and has been going on ever since. At present, twenty-five journalists are incarcerated in Cuba. Independent media are unable to operate freely and subject to constant pressure by state security and police.
The Organization of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) sent petitions on Thursday to Cuban leader Fidel Castro urging him to release all imprisoned journalists. “The journalists, many of whom are serving terms of more than 25 years, suffer from physical mistreatment and severe punishment for non-compliance with the prison regime, lack of medical attention and poor food, restrictions on family visits and sharing cells with criminals,” the IAPA statement reads.
Fidel Castro Likely to Become World’s Richest Head of State in 5 Years
Forbes magazine estimated the fortune of Cuban leader Fidel Castro at $900 million this year, now far surpassing Queen Elizabeth II. The Communist leader is ranked seventh on the Forbes magazine list of wealthy heads of state and his wealth is comparable to that of many oligarchs and Arab sheikhs. At the top of the Forbes list is Saudi King Abdullah with an estimated $21 billion. If Castro keeps the same pace, in five years he will match the Saudi leader.
Russia, Cuba Sign Military–Technological Documents
Russia and Cuba have signed a number of documents to strengthen military-technological cooperation according to Rosobrooneksport’s assistant general director, Nikolai Shvets. Rosoboroneksport is Russia’s state arms-exporting monopoly. The Russian delegation to Cuba, which included Mikhail Kalashnikov, the legendary Russian designer of the assault rifle, had negotiations with various Cuban ministries and agencies and with top officials from the Cuban Defense Ministry. The visit of the Rosoboroneksport delegation lasted from April 17 to 26.
Shvets also said that Rosoboroneksport has been negotiating arms delivery deals to several Latin American countries. He mentioned a Russia-Venezuela deal for a large shipment of new Russian-made Kalashnikov AK-103 and AK-104 rifles. “The contract with Venezuela has shown that Kalashnikov rifles manufactured at the Izhmash Plant are of the highest quality. To execute this order, the manufacturers have purchased modern equipment and machinery,” Shvets said.
Moldova, Cuba to Sign Joint Agreement
Moldova and Cuba are expected to sign an intergovernmental agreement on trade and economic cooperation at the end of May, according to the Economics and Trade Ministry. Moldova’s vice minister Sergiu Sainchuk and Cuba’s Ambassador Julio Garmendia agreed to start negotiations soon on an agreement for encouraging and protecting mutual investments. The strengthening of the legal basis of cooperation between Moldova and Cuba will be followed by setting up an intergovernmental commission on trade and economic bilateral cooperation.
Chavez, Morales, Castro Sign a Pact
The leaders of Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba have signed a trilateral trade agreement to counter U.S. domination in Latin America. The pact was signed by presidents Evo Morales, Hugo Chaves and their host, Fidel Castro. The new trade agreement, known as the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), was initiated by Cuba and Venezuela. Morales, who shares leftist views of Castro and Chavez, joined in the deal after his election victory last December.
ALBA is considered to be a socialist alternative to the Washington-backed Pan-American project of a free trade zone. The agreement will allow the three countries to abolish or significantly reduce trade tariffs in the near future. Apart from this, this document is very unlike conventional trade agreements, PRIMA’s Havana correspondent reported. The parties have pledged to wipe out illiteracy and create more jobs for their people. Cuba has also promised to offer free eye surgery to needy people in Bolivia; Venezuela is going to supply oil to Bolivia at a preferential rate.
PRIMA’s correspondent noted that closer integration between oil-rich Venezuela and gas-rich Bolivia would give the pact added weight. The question now is who else could join the alliance. At the signing ceremony, Fidel Castro said, “Now, for the first time, there are three of us. I believe that, one day, all Latin American countries can be here.” On his arrival in Cuba, Morales called the meeting a “historic gathering of three generations and three revolutions.” Previously, Chavez has vowed to create economic and political unity in South America without the help of Washington. In early April, he took Venezuela out of the South American trade bloc known as the Andean Community of Nations, saying it was overly aligned with the United States.
Russia, Cuba to Take Up Syria’ and Nepal’s Human Rights Banner
Cuba, China, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Russia succeeded in their bid for seats on the new U.N. Human Rights Council. The international advocacy group Human Rights Watch underlined that each had a history of undermining the protection of human rights. Sixty-three candidates vied for forty-seven seats to the UN Human Rights Council. New members needed to get 96 votes in the General Assembly in a secret ballot. Russia, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Poland, Romania and Azerbaijan won election to the new council on a ticket from the group of countries called Eastern Europe.
The United States voted against the resolution setting up the council. Observers are concerned that the council will prove to be no more efficient than its predecessor, the UN Human Rights Commission, which had functioned since 1946 but had been discredited by including rights-violating members such as Sudan, Zimbabwe, Syria, Nepal, Eritrea, and Ethiopia, as well as the current members. The commission will officially cease to exist in June this year and the council will hold its first session on June 19.
Farmers Protest in Granma Province
Camaguey. One hundred-and-five farmers from the Emilio Herriman agricultural cooperative in Granma province most of whom are engaged in rice growing have lost over fifty-eight trainloads of rice because of the local agricultural authority’s decision to stop rice harvesting in the province. This measure has lead to the over ripening of the rice and crop loss.
In a letter published on April 18, authors described a number of violations in the province which have forced many farmers to consider selling their land plots. The letter said the government had delayed payment for harvested rice for over three months, and the government’s arrears to farmers in this province had reached 17 million pesos. The farmers complained that machinery sold to them by the government was extremely costly and never delivered on time, and tractors and harvesters were supplied without spare parts.
Situations like this are seen in many provinces of the country.
Cuba Expects 2.5 Million Tourists in 2006
Cuba’s tourism industry is expected to welcome about 2.5 million foreign tourists in 2006, an increase of 8 percent compared with the previous year. The most sizeable increase of vistitors is expected to come from Britain and Spain, Cuban tourism authorities said. Some 740,000 foreign visitors came to Cuba in the first quarter of 2006, despite decreased numbers from what has been considered Cuba’s number one market, Canada, and is expected to top one million by May. The authorities are also doing their best to reannimate the “French connection” as the number of tourists from France has fallen considerably during the last several years.
Women’s Organizations Denounce Violence against Women
Santiago de Cuba. Sixteen women were murdered and twenty others were wounded in 2005 in the municipality of Palma Soriano alone, a small municipality in eastern Cuba, according to a recent report by the Latin American Federation of Rural Women (FLAMUR). The report states that such murders are not exclusive to any one area, have increased steadily in the last few years, and are widespread throughout the island.
The report cited a typical case: twenty-one-year-old Lisbet Matos was murdered on September 10, 2005 by Yorlandis Torres. According to the criminal investigation, Torres stabbed Matos 27 times and wounded her son Ronald and her grandmother Isabel Hernández. On April 7, Torres was sentenced to 27 years in prison, but is eligible for release after serving half his sentence.
Energy Revolution Causes Ridicule of Ordinary Cubans
Ciego de Avila. Keiver Rodríguez Fernández, president of the Juan Pablo II Pacifist Movement, reported to the Cuban Human Rights Foundation that thousands of angry people from across the island were rushing to repair shops with faulty electrical cookers and pressure cookers recently sold to the population under the government’s energy-saving campaign.
Rodríguez added that these “more efficient” electrical devices did not run for more than a month and people were dubbing them “deodorants” because they were compelled to carry them under their arm all day long unable to leave them at the over-loaded and under-equipped repair shop. Most repair shops lack the spare parts for the devices. People had to bring them back home unfixed hoping that the repair shops would some day get the fuse switches and other required components.
What Defense Lawyers in Cuba Can and Can’t Do
Havana. Lawyers avoid and even refuse to defend those accused by the government, since they consider it useless and even dangerous for themselves to act as defense lawyers. Relatives of those arrested are reporting that they must run from one law office to another until they find a defense attorney who will accept any case involving “social threat” and, above all, political crimes.
As a result, there are increasing numbers of those prosecuted having no defense, not even a public defender, during trial. At the same time, defense attorneys accepting such cases say they cannot, as a rule, fulfill their assignment. The judges grant them only a few minutes to present their case.
In Cuba, attorneys cannot practice their profession independently. They may practice only in state offices called “people’s law firms.” The state appropriates the bulk of the legal fees, paid according to an officially established schedule. For each case handled, the attorney receives only 15 Cuban pesos.
Attorneys lack cars, time, respect, and civil rights for their defendants. Those charged are judged quickly and without procedural rights. Defense attorneys feel pressured not to go “too far” in their defense, something that is especially obvious when, in the enforcement of an order, massive round-ups of independent entrepreneurs or young people accused of posing a “social threat” take place. “The prosecution doesn’t have to prove the crime with clear evidence,” an attorney points out. “The word of a policeman is enough, which is based mainly on reports from the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, without corroboration of its veracity. The watchful eye of a male neighbor or the gossips of a female neighbor are enough to destroy a life.”
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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].