Cuba Chronicle of Events
Issue No. 22 • September 1-30, 2006
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, Dni.ru, AFP, BBCRussian.com, ITAR-TASS
Ladies in White March along Havana during Non-Aligned Movement Summit
The Ladies in White, a group of wives and mothers of Cuban political prisoners, took a silent march through downtown Havana on September 16, marking 42 months since the arrest of their relatives in March 2003. Every Sunday after Mass, these women, dressed in white, and each carrying a flower, walk in silence through Havana to demand the freeing of their relatives.
“We did not wish to disrupt the summit of the Non-Aligned Nations, but we wished to commemorate the date,” a member of the group told AFP. Another, Laura Pollán, wife of prisoner of conscience Héctor Maceda, told EFE news agency that they would always demand the release of jailed dissidents no matter whether a summit was being held or not and no matter who rules the country.
In 2005, the Ladies in White group was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament.
Oppositionists Urged Cuba for Openness and Transparency
Oppositionists in Cuba have demanded openness and respect of human rights from the communist regime, pointing out that the summit of the Non-Aligned Nations has camouflaged the true state of affairs on the island. Martha Beatriz Roqué Cabello from the Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Cuba said she believed the summit was meaningless, since it failed to address issues of freedom and democracy. Oswaldo Payá, president of the Christian Liberation Movement, criticized U.N. secretary General Kofi Annan for not meeting with members of the opposition and relatives of political prisoners.
Payá said discussions at the summit hid the harsh reality to which many citizens of non-aligned nations are subjected and are actually a form of conspiracy to justify the reality of oppression and permanent violation of human rights aimed at people living under tyrannical rule.
Cuban Police Arrest Independent Journalist in Havana
Ciego de Avila, Cuba. Ahmed Rodríguez Albacia, a 21-year-old independent Cuban journalist working for Jovenes sin Censura news agency, was arrested in Havana on the evening of September 15, according to his mother. He was arrested when he went of his own volition to the police station on Dragones street in Old Havana to inquire about the fate of his friend William Cepero. The arrest was made by two state security agents who followed him to the station.
Margarita Albacia, mother of the independent journalist and source of this information, told the Cuban Human Rights Foundation (FCDH) the police chief refused to let her see him, saying her son was being questioned and would remain in prison for several days. Mrs. Albacia also said that operatives of the political police and rapid response brigades had surrounded her house since early morning and had threatened to smash her head with baseball bats.
Inmates Fed Rotten Food
Holguín, Cuba. Political and criminal prisoners in the high-security Kilo 8 prison in the eastern city of Camagüey are voicing outrage that prison meals are cooked mostly from rotten food. A political inmate, Daniel Ferrer García, says this situation is ordinary and inmates can be heard making loud protests at every meal in the prison’s mess hall. The prison authorities continue to ignore daily protests and do nothing to change the situation. To force inmates into silence, prison wardens threaten them with harsher punishment.
There are many cases of bad food causing allergic reactions, diarrhea, and vomiting among prisoners, says Daniel Ferrer García, a member of the Christian Liberation Movement sentenced to 25 years during the March 2003 crackdown.
Oscar Mario González’s Health Worsens
Havana. Mirta Wong, wife of independent journalist Oscar Mario González who is being held in Prison 1580 in the Cuban capital, said his health is deteriorating and prison authorities are ignoring her husband’s condition.
Mirta Wong visited her husband on September 4. She said her husband had been suffering from a persistent cough for the last six months, symptomatic of a serious lung illness.
“The prison doctor insists my husband has no signs of pulmonary complications and there is no need to X-ray him, especially given that he is 62 years' old,” added Mrs. Wong. She is concerned about his frequent and severe fits of coughing and believes her husband “needs to be examined by an expert respiratory physician, but the prison authorities won’t do it.”
According to Mrs. Wong, blood was detected in her husband’s urine after a third course of antibiotic treatment, each time different, and so far the urinary tract infection has not abated.
Oscar Mario González, who has been held without charges since July 2005, has a number of chronic medical conditions, including high blood pressure, cervical arthrosis, arthritis, and kidney problems.
Castro Turned into Soap Opera Character
Video reports about Fidel Castro’s health are shown on state-run TV in Cuba with the frequency of a soap opera. A major role in these videos is played by the Commandant’s friend, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is often beside the main character of the national “series.” New footage released on September 14 showed the ailing Cuban leader on his feet for the first time since his surgery in a meeting with the Venezuelan leader. As Chavez told reporters later, the Cuban president “is walking about the room and even singing.” Viewers are also being told some details. They now know that the president lost 18.6 kg but is now putting weight back on.
Fidel Castro was the official head of the Cuban delegation to the 14th Non-Aligned Movement summit being held in the Cuban capital, says RIA Novosti. However, the Cuban leader is not able to attend the summit sessions and his brother, Raul Castro, acts in his stead at the summit.
Surveillance Equipment Installed in Old Havana
Havana, Cuba. A specialized agency of the Interior Ministry deployed 120 surveillance cameras through Old Havana on the eve of 14th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement. The cameras will remain in the area, frequently visited by foreign tourists to the island, after the summit.
Castro May Be Back at the Helm in December
Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who recently underwent intestinal surgery, will be fully at the helm by early December, assured Cuba’s foreign minister Felipe Perez Roqué while in New York on Thursday where he was attending the 61st session of the U.N. General Assembly.
Fidel Castro, who turned 80 on August 13 just at the time of his illness, is expected to celebrate his postponed birthday on December 2. The head of the Cuban foreign office said, “I have no questions in my mind that we will be able to celebrate his birthday in December as he deserves. I have no doubts that his recovery is coming along quite well, and that Fidel will be able to fully devote his time to his duties without any impediments whatsoever.”
FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE
Cuban Regime Restricts Religious Freedom, Says the U.S.
Cuba's communist government continues to impose restrictions on religious freedom, says the U.S. Department of State in its annual International Religious Freedom Report. The document, which covers the period between July 2005 and July 2006, states that some religious figures who criticized the totalitarian state in their sermons were subjected to intense harassment on the island. The report points out that Washington attempted to raise human rights issues, including religious discrimination and harassment with Cuban government officials, but that the communist government refused to discuss such matters. The report says that the United States continues to urge international pressure on the Cuban government to cease its repressive practices.
Cuban Woman Dies in an Attempt to Flee the Island
A Cuban woman died at sea in an attempt to flee the island with nine other migrants in a rickety vessel, reported the government of Honduras, where the group of survivors was taken by rescue vessel. Police officials identified the victim as Marisela Vásquez Abreu, 47. The Cuban migrants were transferred on a cargo vessel to Puerto Cortés on Honduras’ coast in the Caribbean. Police officials told the press that the group of rescued Cubans included eight men and one woman and that they had been drifting in open sea for 13 days after their boat collapsed. The Cuban migrants were taken to a hospital in Puerto Cortés to be treated for dehydration.
Dead Cuban Found in Florida Straits
The U.S. Coast Guard reported finding the body of a Cuban man at sea south off Florida, saying sixteen other Cubans trying to cross the Florida Straits on a rustic vessel with him were turned over to the U.S. Border Patrol for attempting illegal entry into the country. “This is an unnecessary tragedy and once again illustrates the inherent dangers of taking to the high seas to try and enter the U.S. illegally,” said Scott Buschmann, commander of the Coast Guard in Cayo Hueso. After being alerted by fishermen, the Coast Guard immediately launched an intensive sea-and- air rescue operation, as a result of which the body of a man in his 20s was recovered at sea, Coast Guard spokesman Luis Díaz told Radio Marti.
Cuba Takes Over Presidency in Non-Aligned Movement
International press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders urged UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to remind Cuba of the goals of the Non-Aligned Movement in relation to human rights and fundamental liberties as the country hosts its summit and takes over the Movement’s three-year rotating presidency.
Fifty heads of state and government and 3,000 delegates from 116 member countries are expected in Havana for the Movement’s 14th summit to be held September 11-16, in the presence of the UN Secretary General. Representatives from several observer countries, such as China are also expected to attend. The worldwide press freedom organization pointed out that several heads of state that hold press freedom and pluralism in contempt, such as Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf and Vietnam’s Nguyen Minh Triet, will be greeted in the Cuban capital by another violator of free expression in the person of Fidel Castro.
“This summit should not be a screen for governments for whom the imbalance between North and South justifies dictatorship, oppression, and the absence of a rule of law,” the organization stated. “The protection and promotion of human rights are among the objectives in the draft final document which will be submitted to member countries for approval during the summit.”
“We can unfortunately expect that countries such as Iran, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe, Libya and Belarus will sign a promise that they have no intention of honoring, not forgetting Cuba, which as president of the Movement, should see that it is respected. References to the UN Charter and international laws that these countries adorn themselves with logically obliges them vis-?-vis the UN and the international community. We hope that the Secretary General Kofi Annan will remind them of this,” stated the press release. The Cuban authorities have already shown signs of bad faith on the eve of the summit, of which it is doing its utmost to limit coverage, by expelling foreign journalists. Cuba is the second biggest prison in the world for journalists, after China. Twenty-three independent Cuban journalists are behind bars.
The Non-Aligned Movement was founded in Belgrade in September 1961 under the auspices of Yugoslav President Marshal Tito, whose objective at the time was to gather countries refusing to take either the U.S. or Soviet side in the Cold War.
Fidel Castro Misses Opening of Havana Summit
The leaders of more than 50 developing countries have gathered on Friday in Havana for a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, but the host president, Fidel Castro, did not show up at the opening ceremony. The meeting was opened by his younger brother Raul Castro, who denounced what he called U.S. plans for “imperial conquest.”
Fidel Castro is still recovering from stomach surgery, but has received a visit from U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, who is attending the summit. Others present include the leaders of Zimbabwe, Iran, and Venezuela. The summit gathers together representatives from two-thirds of the world's nations, or 116 total.
At the summit, Cuba took over the rotating three-year chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement. Handing over the chairmanship, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi expressed satisfaction that the movement “will once again be in Cuba’s very capable hands.”
“Comrade Fidel has asked that I transmit to you his most cordial greetings,” Raul Castro said addressing the forum as Cuba's acting president. According to Cuban officials, doctors have insisted that Fidel Castro continue to rest. Raul Castro accused Washington of seeking to change the regime on the Island of Freedom and to dismantle the existing social order in the country. He denounced U.S. actions in other regions of the world. “The risk of aggression and more wars of imperial conquest is more serious and more widespread than ever,” he said.
Meanwhile, U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez called for a referendum to let the Cuban people decide if they want democracy after 47 years under the Communist rule. The referendum could be similar to one held in Chile in 1988 that ended the rule of the Chilean junta. Gutierrez said the referendum could be held under the auspices of the Organization of American States.
Raul Castro expressed support to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was attending the NAM summit in Havana, for Iran's nuclear program in its dispute with the West. Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez pledged to defend Iran if it came under attack. “Venezuela will stand by Iran regardless of circumstances. Under any scenario we are with you just like we are with Cuba,” he said. “If the United States invades Cuba, blood will run,” Chavez threatened.
Kofi Annan Visits Ailing Fidel Castro
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, who arrived in Havana for the Non-Aligned Movement summit, visited Cuban leader Fidel Castro in the hospital. Photographs of the meeting were published by the Cuban daily Juventud Rebelde. Annan and Castro discussed the forthcoming summit, the situation in the Middle East, and current events in Africa. At the end of the meeting, Castro gave Annan an autographed copy of “100 Hours with Fidel” by Ignacio Ramonet.
Mariano Rajoy Regrets Spain’s Participation in Cuba-Hosted Summit
Chairman of the Spanish Popular Party Mariano Rajoy expressed regret over Foreign Affairs Secretary Bernardino Le?n’s decision to travel to Cuba to attend the Non-Aligned Movement summit, saying Spain should be with “normal states.” In a press conference in the city of Santiago de Compostela, Rajoy insisted that Madrid’s foreign policy should be close to Western and liberal democracies. Spain, in his view, should not keep company with countries like Cuba, Venezuela, and Iran, and others gathered in Havana for the summit but should be traveling hand in hand with the European Union, Canada, Anglo-Saxon nations and “normal states.”
Cuba’s Vice President Accuses Washington of Planning to Overthrow the Regime
Cuba’s Vice President Esteban Lazo Hernandez said at the 61st session of the U.N. General Assembly that the United States has been carrying out a new plan of unprecedented aggression against Cuba, aimed at overthrowing communist rule on the island. The Bush administration has stepped up its “brutally hostile measures against Cuba,” including new economic sanctions which further intensify the blockade against the Marxist regime in Havana, Lazo added.
Mexican President: Cuba Should Be a Democracy
Mexico’s President Vicente Fox believes Cuba should be a democracy with due electoral processes and abiding respect for human rights, said Rubén Aguilar, the president’s spokesperson. The president’s spokesman told the Mexican press Fox voiced this opinion at a meeting with the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, when asked to comment on the current events on the communist-ruled island. Fox said that everything that would happen in Cuba should be decided by the Cubans themselves. The Mexican president said that, according to his political beliefs, Cuba should have a democratic regime as other countries in Latin America, and respect and observe human rights, Aguilar added.
Bush, Annan Talk about Cuba’s Future
U.S. President George W. Bush and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan talked on September 19, 2006 about the possibility that Cuba could once again be a state with a free political system and a free economy, reported the White House. Mike Kozak, a senior officer in the National Security Council, said Annan briefed Bush on his encounter with Fidel Castro during his trip to Havana for the Non-Aligned Movement summit. Talking to the press in New York, Mr. Kozak explained “this was not a deep, analytical thing. . . .” There was some general discussion about the future of Cuba. There was no prediction on the health of Cuba's leader, who temporarily ceded power to his brother Raul Castro after undergoing intestinal surgery, he pointed out. Bush and Annan were discussing “if Cubans are able to make the kind of changes that they need to make, that it could once again be an economic tiger in the Caribbean,” said Kozak.
Rumors About Disease Rampant in the Face of Official Silence
Havana, Cuba. Some sources are reporting that dengue fever has claimed 700 lives across the island and that dozens have died in Havana alone. The government-controlled media has not acknowledged the spread of the disease but did admit to at least one case of the mosquito-borne illness, that of Carlos Campos, a 61-year-old physician who was director of the Luis de la Puente Uceda hospital, who died on September 11. Some say he died of heart disease, others claim dengue was the cause of death. Campos was the chief of the team of doctors performing medical tests on Cubans migrating to the United States
More than 1000 Cases of Dengue in Pediatric Hospital
Havana, Cuba. More than 1000 children have been admitted to the Dr. Ángel Arturo Aballí pediatric hospital in Havana, according to sources that wished to remain anonymous. The hospital has been put under quarantine, the sources said. Dengue patients from all areas of the city are being transferred to this hospital. On the average, fifty cases of the fever are registered every day. Twelve additional wards have been opened and there are beds in the hallways. About forty cases are reported to be in critical condition in intensive care wards. Most of the patients in the hospital come from the municipalities of Habana del Este, San Miguel del Padr?n, Cerro, Centro Habana, Habana Vieja, and Arroyo Naranjo. The municipalities outside the city but still in Havana province with the higher indices of dengue cases are Mariel, Guanajay, and Artemisa.
Radio and TV Marti Are Totally Independent, Claims Pedro Roig
Pedro V. Roig, director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, insisted Radio and TV Marti station is “totally independent of the tenant of the White House” and called an article in the Miami Herald about Florida journalists receiving monetary compensation from the U.S. government “infamy.” In an interview published in the Miami Herald on September 22, Roig called for a national debate to discuss the problem of conflict of interests faced by journalists from private media who freelance for U.S. federal government press agencies.
The director of TV Marti and Radio Marti believes the article carried by The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald on September 8 was aimed to demonize journalists who have conducted themselves impeccably. The company that publishes both newspapers has dismissed two journalists and a female employee for allegedly having received payments for reporting for Radio Marti and TV Marti. It said the reason for the dismissal was a conflict of interests. In a symposium, which includes the interview with Pedro V. Roig, the newspaper cited the head of the South Florida Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists who, on behalf of its organization, supported the decision to fire journalists for accepting payments from the government.
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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 reproduced with permission and 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].