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Cuba Chronicle of Events
Issue No. 26, November 15-December 15, 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, Directorio Democrático Cubano, ITAR-TASS, BBC, CNN, AMI-TASS, RIA-Novosti, MIGnews, Reuters, AFP, NEWSru.com, Defencetalk, REGNUM.


Independent News Agency Launched

Santa Clara, Cuba. Several independent journalists in Sancti Spíritus province announced they have organized themselves into a news agency they call Yayabo Press, which will provide all newsworthy items related to the province. The announcement was made on November 17. Journalist Ana Margarita Perdigón directs the agency and Elvis Gregorio Pérez is deputy. Other journalists affiliated with the agency are Osmany Borroto, and Raimundo Perdigón.


China, Cuba the World’s Biggest Prisons for Journalists

On November 23, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), based in France, will observe its 17th Annual Day of support for imprisoned journalists throughout the world, especially, in communist dictatorships such as China and Cuba that are described as the largest prisons for reporters. Reporters Without Borders has documented 131 cases of journalists imprisoned worldwide.

As part of an ongoing campaign, the orgnanization will raise funds for the benefit of jailed journalists by selling an album of black-and-white photographs of celebrities from the world of the arts and politics, wrote the Paris-based press freedom watchdog in its press release. RSF made note that one of four imprisoned journalists around the world is held in China and nearly one in five (18 percent) of all incarcerated journalists are in Cuban prisons.


One Independent Journalist Freed in Cuba

Independent Cuban journalist Oscar Mario González was released on November 20 from Havana’s Prison 1580 located in the San Miguel del Padron municipality. González, a journalist with the independent news agency Grupo de Trabajo Decoro, reported from the island that prison officers told him to sign release papers but he was not given copies of them. The reporter had spent 16 months behind bars after being arrested for causing a “public scandal” by writing about a government crackdown on peaceful oppositionists and independent journalists that began in summer 2005.

González said he spent his first month shuttling among several police lockups in Havana and then was put in Prison 1580. The first six months in jail were “just terrible,.” he confessed. “And it is doubly painful when you are not guilty and are imprisoned for exercising the right of free expression,” he added.

4 Oppositionists Released from Cuban Prison While Others Remain

Cuban dissident Santiago Valdeolla was released on November 20 without any explanation on the part of authorities following the release of three other dissidents who were part of a group of two dozen protesters arrested for demonstrating in support of Cuban political prisoners outside the French Embassy on July 22, 2005. Elizardo Sánchez, the head of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, told EFE news agency that Valdeollo was released along with Oscar Mario González on November 20 and Ricardo Medina and Francisco Moure, both released on October 25. Jesús Adolfo Reyes was released earlier in the year, while René Gómez Manzano, Julio César López, Raúl Martínez and Miguel López Santos are still in prison. All of them were detained without being charged or tried in a court.

At present, there are over 300 peaceful oppositionists being held in Cuban prisons, according to Sánchez.


November 28 to December 1 Set to Celebrate Fidel Castro’s 80th Birthday

Over 1,200 prominent figures from 64 countries of the world will take part in celebrations for the 80th birthday of Fidel Castro, from November 28 to December 1. This announcement was made on Thursday by representatives of the Guayasamin Foundation, an officially sponsored institution promoting a wide array of cultural events in the Cuban capital to mark the occasion.

The events to take place in Havana as part of the celebration will include a colloquium on the ideas of Fidel Castro; a major exhibition of paintings, and a big concert with participation of Latin American singers and musicians, said Saskia Guayasamin, vice president of the Foundation bearing the name of her farther, the famous Ecuadorian painter Oswaldo Guayasamin. Celebrities from the world of cinema, literature, and science and former and active politicians will attend the celebrations. A Russian delegation is also expected, she added.

The Guayasamin Foundation announced the initiative to celebrate Castro’s birthday anniversary a few months ago but had to postpone its plans because of Fidel’s intestinal surgery on July 31.
The Cuban leader, who marked his birthday on August 13 in his sick bed, pushed official festivities of his birthday to December 2. Though Fidel Castro is expected to appear in public on that day, there has been no official confirmation so far that he would attend the celebrations.

Over 1,500 Guests to Attend Fidel Castro’s Birthday Celebration

Cuba began celebrations for Fidel Castro’s 80th birthday on November 28.

RIA-Novosti said 1,500 guests from 76 countries are expected to attend the festivities according to Cuba’s embassy officials in Argentina. The celebrations for the Cuban revolutionary leader’s jubilee are sponsored by the Guayasamin Foundation bearing the name of the famous Ecuadorian painter Oswaldo Guayasamin. The celebrations will run from November 28 to December 1 and will include an art exhibition “Guayasamin Embraces Fidel”; a concert called “All the Voices Together”; and a colloquium on Castro’s place in history entitled “Memory and the Future: Cuba and Fidel.” The events will culminate in a military parade in Havana’s Revolution Square on December 2.

Celebrations were originally scheduled for Castro’s actual birthday, August 13. But due to emergency intestinal surgery on July 31, they were postponed until December 2, the 50th anniversary of the landing of the Granma yacht when 81 Cuban revolutionaries, including Fidel and Raul Castro, and “Che” Guevara, landed in eastern Cuba to start a guerilla war against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. It is considered the event beginning the Cuban Revolution. Of foreign heads of state, only Bolivian President Evo Morales has so far confirmed his attendance, while Venezuelan leader, Hugo Chavez, is not expected because of his presidential election on December 3. Castro’s appearance remains uncertain.

Fidel Castro Fails to Appear at His Birthday Bash

Fidel Castro missed the ceremony launching a series of events to celebrate his 80th birthday. In a special message to his supporters, Fidel Castro said he was not yet in condition to take part in the celebrations, which started in the Karl Marx Theater in the Cuban capital. The five-day celebratory events were originally planned for August but then postponed until December after Fidel Castro underwent intestinal surgery at the end of July and temporarily ceded the presidency to his brother Raul, Cuba’s defense minister.

Fidel Castro has not been seen in public since the time of his surgery, although Cuban state television has shown images of the “recovering president” taken in a hospital ward.  The latest video of Fidel Castro recuperating was shown in late October. In a message read out on his behalf, Fidel Castro expressed regret that he could not attend the festivities, saying his doctors believe he is not yet ready to face such a colossal encounter. Stephen Gibbs, a BBC correspondent in Cuba, said that his continued lack of appearance before the public will raise questions among Cubans whether Castro will ever return to power.

Fidel Castro Misses Military Parade to Mark the 50th Anniversary of Cuban Revolution

Fidel Castro, who did not appear at his inaugural 80th birthday celebration event, also failed to appear at a massive military parade and rally held today in the Cuban capital to mark the 50th anniversary of the launch of the Cuban Revolution. Raul Castro, Cuba’s interim leader, reviewed the troops at the parade’s beginning in Revolution Square in downtown Havana.

The parade and the mass rally are held to mark the 50th anniversary of the day the Granma yacht with Fidel Castro and a group of his fellow rebels on board landed in Cuba to launch a revolution against dictator Fulgencio Batista toppled in 1959.  Since undergoing intestinal surgery in late July, the Cuban leader has been out of public sight, reported NEWSru.com.

Cuban Vice-President Assures Castro Will Be Back to Govern the Country

Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who could not attend the festivities for his 80th birthday due to his health condition, is feeling better and will continue to govern the country, according to a statement made by Cuban Vice-President Carlos Lage. “Fidel is on the mend. He will soon be with us and return to govern,” he said.  Castro has not been seen in public since July 31 when he underwent intestinal surgery and turned power over to his brother Raul.

Castro to Resume Fight with Enemies of the Cuban Revolution

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque stated that Fidel Castro is recovering and will soon resume the fight against the enemies of the Communist Revolution. “What they [the enemies of the Revolution] still don’t understand is that Fidel is no longer just Fidel. He is his people. And the entire nation is ready to continue the fight for a brighter future,” he said. U.S. government experts have predicted Castro will not survive beyond the end of next year.

Cuba Upgrades Soviet-Era Weaponry

Cuba is undertaking mass modernization of its Soviet-era military equipment and weaponry. Living in political isolation and having no means for purchasing combat-ready assets abroad, Cuba has developed a number of independent projects for modernization of tanks, armored personnel carriers, air defense systems, and other military equipment of Soviet make.

The weaponry to be upgraded includes mobile launchers for C-75 air defense complexes,               self-propelled anti-tank guns mounted on BMP-1 chassis, modernized BTP-60 and BTP-70 armored personnel carriers outfitted with rapid-fire air defense devices or tank guns enclosed in armored turrets. This work is being done at Cuban defense plants along and is expected to extend the operating life of tanks and armored personnel carriers for 10-15 years.

Independent: Castro Is Dying

The Independent, a British newspaper, cites senior diplomatic officials as saying Cuban President Fidel Castro has terminal cancer and could be dead by Christmas. According to them, Castro is suffering from an aggressive form of stomach cancer and has refused radiation therapy or any other additional treatment. The newspaper says Castro’s death, when it comes, will have repercussions far beyond the shores of Cuba. It might trigger a mass exodus of Cubans to the United States. There are fears that hardline anti-Castro groups in south Florida will try to destabilize the situation in Cuba and will rush to the island in hope that Cubans will be prepared to rise up against the government.


RSF Hails Release of Oscar Mario González

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) today hailed the release of independent Cuban journalist Oscar Mario González and demanded the release of 23 other journalists still detained on the island. The Paris-based press freedom organization stated in its press release that González, who was freed on November 20, had been in jail since July 22, 2005, without being charged or put on trial. “His case is unfortunately typical of the absurd repressive methods used in Cuba. By freeing him, the authorities implicitly recognized they had no serious grounds for holding dissident journalists,” underlines RSF.  The press freedom group hopes this is the prelude to the release of 23 other journalists imprisoned by the Cuban communist regime.

CPJ Demands Release of Journalists Imprisoned in Cuba

While welcoming the release of Cuban journalist Oscar Mario González, the Committee to Protect Journalists has issued a statement urging Cuba to free all two dozen journalists incarcerated in Cuba. The New-York based organization said in its press release that González was freed on November 20 after spending 16 months in jail without trial. Cuba is the second largest jailer of journalists in the world, after China, the CPJ empasized. The organization is dedicated to the global defense of press freedom.

HRF Speaks Up For Release of Journalist in Cuba

Independent Cuban journalist Oscar Mario González has been freed from detention without trial after sixteen months as a result of international campaign mounted for his release, said the advocacy group Human Rights First. In mid-November the advocacy group launched a campaign for González’s release following reports from his wife that his health was drastically deteriorating in prison and that he was being denied medical care. More than 1,000 Human Rights First supporters sent e-mails and letters to Cuban authorities urging that González be freed, HRF said in its statement. While Human Rights First welcomed the release of the Grupo de Trabajo Decoro journalist, it called on the Cuban communist regime to free all prisoners of conscience. González was arrested in July 2005 along with 33 other dissidents and rights activists as they prepared to attend a demonstration in front of the French Embassy in Havana.

U.S. Congress Blames USAID for Poor Management of Programs to Promote Democracy in Cuba

The U.S. Congress’s Government Accountability Office charged the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) with failure to establish the proper functioning of U.S. democracy programs for Cuba.  Auditors claim that USAID out of tens of millions of dollars allotted to support Cuban dissidents through Cuban exile groups in Miami some has been used improperly for unjustified and questionable purchases.

The GAO report states that the exile groups, instead of mounting an effective mechanism of support,  sent  chocolate and knitted wear to Cuban dissidents. Analysts point out that the report is damaging for the reputation of Cuban-American organizations. Critics of the Bush administration charge the grants are aimed more at winning votes in Miami than at boosting political change in Cuba. According to the GAO report, in the past decade USAID awarded 40 democracy grants totaling $65 million and the State Department four grants worth $8 million to support democracy in Cuba. The report concludes that 30 percent of the exile groups receiving USAID funds failed to produce adequate financial records. The Bush administration has recently pledged to increase funds to advance democracy in Cuba but now some congressmen want inquiry on U.S. aid to dissidents.

Never Political Disagreements Between Armenia and Cuba

Yerevan, Armenia. At a meeting on Wednesday in Yerevan with the Chairman of the National Assembly of Armenia, Tigran Torosyan, the Ambassador of Cuba to Armenia said that his goal was to develop the commercial-industrial relations of the two countries and to encourage the establishment of joint enterprises. Ambassador Jorge Marti Martinez thanked Chairman Torosyan  for the support shown to Cuba in the discussions of the blockade issue in international organizations. He briefed Tigran Torosyan on the economic development of Cuba mentioning that tourism, pharmaceuticals, the production of nickel, the extraction of oil, and biotechnologies have today become the country’s priorities. According to an agreement reached with the Armenian Ministry of Trade and Economic Development, a group of Armenian entrepreneurs will visit Cuba to study production and market opportunities in these spheres. The Ambassador passed on to Torosyan an invitation to come to Cuba on an official visit, reported Novosti-Armenia news agency, citing the National Assembly’s public relations department.

Torosyan, in turn, noted that there had never been political disagreements between Armenia and Cuba. He said “our countries are far from each other only geographically, but in the modern world even this distance has become relative.” The two countries and nations have many historical and vital common interests, which are a good ground for the development of relations, he emphasized. He added that for decades the people of Cuba have been a symbol of liberty and courage. Torosyan said Armenia knows very well about economic blockades and that these issues have to be settled by internationally accepted standards and through negotiations. “The countries under blockade always find ways, but the people suffer, and the economic development slows down,” said Torosyan. At the end of the meeting, the Armenian Speaker wished health to the leader of Cuba,  Fidel Castro, and successes to the country and nation.

Fidel Castro’s Brother and Cuba’s Interim Leader Offers to Negotiate with the U.S.

Cuba is ready to settle the U.S.-Cuba disagreement at the “negotiating table” as long as the negotiation is based on the principles of mutual respect and non-interference in internal affairs, said Cuba’s acting head of state Raul Castro at the ceremony held in Revolution Square in Havana before a military parade and a rally. The ceremony marked the 50th anniversary of the start of the Cuban Revolution and was part of the 80th birthday celebrations for Fidel Castro.

“After nearly half a century Cuba is willing to wait patiently for the moment at which common sense prevails in Washington’s circles of power,” he said. However, he made it clear that in the meantime the Cuban government will continue to consolidate the military capability of the country for a possible aggression from outside. Speaking before more than 300,000 residents of Havana who took part in the ceremony, Raul Castro blasted the foreign policy of the present U.S. administration.

Fidel Castro, who is said to be recuperating after serious intestinal surgery, did not attend the event in the Cuban capital. Raul Castro did not explain the absence of his ailing brother. Fidel’s absence from such an event, says BBC, gives rise to speculations about his condition and political succession. However, the Cuban government continues to insist Fidel is on the mend and will soon resume his duties leading the country.

U.S. Has No Intention to Negotiate with Raul Castro

Washington, DC, USA. The United States has no intention to negotiate with Cuba’s acting president Raul Castro, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on December 4. “The dialogue that should be taking place is not between Raul Castro and any group outside or any country outside of Cuba. It’s the regime with the Cuban people, talking about a transition to a democratic form of governance in that country,” he stressed.

I don’t see any sign of a transition to democracy so far, McCormack pointed out. I don’t see how you can have dialogue with a dictator-in-waiting who wants to continue the form of governance that has really kept down the Cuban people for all these decades, said the spokesman of the U.S. Department of State.


Havana Residents to Ride on Buses from Minsk

The Minsk Automobile Plant (MAZ) intends to send to the Cuban capital, Havana, 50 low-floor MAZ-107 buses and 50 MAZ-105 buses with enhanced carrying capacity, Valentin Lopan, head of MAZ public relations, announced on December 5. The first batch of city buses will be delivered to Havana in December 2006, and the last one by June 2007. In October, the Minsk Automobile Plant also delivered to the island six crane trucks, two heavy trucks and components for them.


Cuban Authorities Blame “Insufficient Vigilence” of Citizens for Not Curbing Dengue Fever

Havana, Cuba. A wide-scale campaign in Cuba to eradicate the mosquito that carries dengue fever has yielded no results so far. Local authorities have to admit that colonies of dangerous insects continue to reappear in various areas of the island. Local officials blamed “insufficient vigilance” of the population for the failure of the campaign. Cubans, they said, do not comply with sanitation rules necessary to stop mosquito breeding.

The intensive campaign against the mosquito-borne virus has been going on in Cuba for several months. Vast areas in the country, including Havana, are sprayed with insecticides, and people’s homes are fumigated to destroy possible colonies of the dangerous insect. However, with the approaching of the cold weather season when the ranks of mosquitoes thin, anti-dengue measures have subsided, but teams of health workers continue to inspect Cubans’ homes for possible mosquito-breeding spots and for sick people with high temperature.

The Cuban authorities have so far given no count of the afflicted, but some sources claim there have been tens of thousands of dengue cases and at least 100 deaths nationwide. Cuba suffered its last major outbreak of dengue in 1981, when 10,000 dengue cases were recorded, and 158 Cubans died.


Families of Americans Executed in Cuba to Receive Compensation

The families of two men executed by Fidel Casro’s government will receive more than $90 million in damages against the Cuban government, ruled a U.S. federal court. Howard Anderson was arrested in April 1961 and sentenced to death by the Cuban government for smuggling guns to anti-Communist rebels. Thomas Ray was killed when Cuban troops shot down two B-26 bombers in southwestern Cuba.

Cuba Ranked as the Only Authoritarian Regime in Latin America

According to The Economist’s “The World in 2007,” Cuba is the only Latin American country that can be classified as an authoritarian regime.

After analyzing the level of democracy in 167 countries, authors of the report concluded that almost half the countries of the world could be considered democratic but only 28 as “full democracies.” The list of “full democracies” includes most developed nations with the exception of Italy, and Costa Rica, Uruguay, and Mauritius Island. Strangely enough, the United States and the United Kingdom share 23rd place in the category of “full democracies.”

Among the group of “flawed democracies” are India, South Africa, Brazil, Chile, Mexico,  Argentina, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. Countries like Venezuela, Turkey, Ecuador, Russia and Haiti are mentioned in the “hybrid democracy” group. The group of authoritarian regimes includes as full members Cuba, the only Latin American country in this category, and many Islamic countries, including Pakistan, Jordan, Morocco and Egypt.

Construction of First Russian Orthodox Church in Cuba in Full Swing

The construction of the first Russian Orthodox church in Cuba is is proceeding on schedule and there are no particular problems with the church construction, reports ITAR-TASS, citing Archpriest Vladimir Kluyev who is currently on a visit to Cuba. Kluyev is in charge of the maintenance section of the Moscow Patriarchate’s department for external relations. The construction is expected to be completed next November, and the church consecration is scheduled for December 2007, according to Kluyev. The Cuban side is maintaining contact with Moscow Patriarchate specialists who periodically check the progress of construction work with the approved project. The Russian Orthodox church is being built in the historic area of Havana, at the intersection of San Pedro and Santa Clara streets. The church will occupy a large space and be 21 meters high. The church is dedicated to the Kazan Icon of the Holy Mother. It will have five domes with belfries.

The consecration of the founding stone for the Russian Orthodox church in Havana was performed by Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad of the Moscow Patriarchate in November 2004. At that time, he said the church was not only a symbol of friendship between the two nations but also a foundation and stimulus for developing Russia-Cuba relations under new conditions. He expressed hope that the future church will become a place of spiritual activity of people closely bonded with the Russian Orthodox Church who temporarily or permanently reside in the Cuban republic.

Preparations for the consecration are already underway and Cuba National Assembly president Ricardo Alarcon, while visiting Russia, invited the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Alexy II for the consecration and opening of the church in Havana. According to official statistics, the Orthodox community in Cuba is estimated at some 2,000. The overwhelming majority of them are people from ex-Soviet republics who are now residing on the island and foreign diplomats and specialists.

Two New Cuban Films to Debut

Havana, Cuba. Two Cuban films will debut at the upcoming New Latin American Films Festival in December. Both films are first efforts for their respective directors. One, “The Morning” (Ma?ana) is the work of young filmmaker Alejandro Moya, and it is said to be the first independent film to be distributed by the Cuban Film Institute, ICAIC. The other film, “The Wall” (La Pared), is also a first film, by Alejandro Gil.

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The Review of Cuban 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, Review of Cuban Events, Prima-News at [email protected] or to [email protected].