Cuba Chronicle of Events
Issue No. 27, December 15-31, 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, The Czech Walker, Radio Liberty, ITAR-TASS, REGNUM, Prime-TASS, NEWSru.com, Grani.Ru, Mignews.com, The Czech Walker, RIA-Novosti, LPGABiznesInform, News from Christian World, Finmarket, Associated Press, Reuters.
Leader of Youth Wing of the Spanish People’s Party Meets with Dissidents in Havana
Pablo Casado, chairman of the Madrid chapter of New Generations (NNGG) affiliated with the People’s Party of Spain, met in Havana with leaders of the Cuban dissident movement to express solidarity of his youth organization with “their ever more heroic resistance to Castroite tyranny.”
Casado managed to meet with dissidents Oswaldo Paya, Elizardo Sánchez, Vladimiro Roca and representatives of the Ladies in White, a group comprising relatives of political prisoners.
In Cuba, said the NNGG leader, people experience a permanent state of siege in which any citizen can be jailed for differing with the official line of the dictatorial regime. He added that during his stay on the island the Cuban security services followed him, interrogated him, and threatened him on several occasions.
Independent Journalist Confined to House during Celebrations
Havana, Cuba. Independent journalist Ainí Martín Valero of the Agencia Cuba Verdad said State Security agents told her not to leave her home on December 2 and 10, days of national celebration.
Martín Valero, 34, said that she was warned that State Security had a file on her and that she ran the risk of being jailed if she disobeyed their orders to stay at home. December 2 marked the 50th anniversary of the arrival of Fidel Castro and his followers on the Granma yacht to launch the revolution against Fugelcio Butista, which is also the anniversary of the founding of the Revolutionary Armed Forces. December 10 is International Human Rights Day.
Independent Journalist Fired from His Job as Farm Worker
Santa Clara, Cuba. Bernardo Arévalo Padrón, who is director of the independent Línea Sur news agency, said he was fired from his job in the municipality of Aguada de Pasajeros in Cienfuegos because he refused to cease his journalist activities. According to Arévalo, Antonio García Agúero, president of the farm cooperative where the journalist worked, told him he had to submit a written statement that he was giving up independent journalism or be sacked. Arévalo said he refused and was fired. He worked there as a farm worker.
Home of Independent Journalist Attacked
Havana, Cuba. Independent journalist Ahmed Rodríguez Albacia said his home in Old Havana was stoned and that burning cardboard and paper were tossed on his roof on November 29.
Rodríguez Albacia, 21, and a member of the Jóvenes sin Censura agency, said his mother was threatened by members of so-called rapid response brigades. They said they planned to demonstrate in front of his house on December 2, the fiftieth anniversary of the landing of Fidel Castro and 81 other revolutionaries on Granma yacht. “Stock up on food because you won’t be leaving the house for week,” a paramilitary told his mother.
Independent Journalist Arrested
Havana, Cuba. On December 19 at six in the morning State Security agents arrested independent journalist Carlos Serpa Maceira, according to his wife Maria Elena Fernandez. Fernandez said she did not know where police took her husband. Maceira worked for Sindical Press agency and was director of the Bureau of the Information Bridge Cuba Miami.
Czechs Sending Christmas Cards to Political Prisoners
Czechs have sent more than 2,500 Christmas cards to political prisoners in Cuba, Burma, Belarus and some other countries. The campaign is being carried under the motto “Happy New Year in Freedom!” It has been organized by the People in Need non-profit society. The project is designed to support unjustly prosecuted people and assure them that people abroad are not indifferent to their fate. Christmas cards to political prisoners will be sent until mid-January.
U.S. Intelligence Sources: Castro Is Near Death
Cuban leader Fidel Castro is close to death, U.S. Intelligence chief John Negroponte said in an interview to the Washington Post, reports Reuters. “Everything we see indicates it will not be much longer. Castro has months, not years to live,” stated Negroponte. A source in the U.S. Department of Defense said on condition of anonymity in November that Castro was unlikely to survive through the end of next year.
There is still some mystery about Castro’s health. It is believed that the Cuban leader has terminal cancer of the stomach, colon, or pancreas. If it is the case, Castro may live up to 18 months with chemotherapy, said the Pentagon official. Without it, his chances for survival would drop to three months to eight months.
Fidel Castro was seen weakened and thinner in his recent photos. Pentagon officials do not reveal how they managed to establish Fidel’s diagnosis. However, the news agency says U.S. spy agencies include physicians who study pictures, video, public statements and other information about the ailing leader coming out of Cuba. The certainty of U.S. watchers that the comandante is close to death was reinforced last week when Cuba’s Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque backed away from his previous statement that Castro would return to power by early December. “It’s a subject on which I don’t want to speculate, he said.
Spanish Surgeon Goes to Cuba to Examine Fidel Castro
Prominent Spanish surgeon Jose Luis Garcia Sabrido traveled to Cuba to give his opinion on Fidel Castro’s treatment. Sabrido flew to Havana on December 21 on a Cuban government airplane with advanced medical equipment on board for possible additional surgery, according to the Spanish newspaper El Periodico de Catalunya. Sabrido will examine Castro and decide whether the ailing Cuban leader needs another operation, reports the newspaper.
Cuba’s National Assembly Session Opens without Fidel Castro
Cuba’s National Assembly of Popular Power (ANPP) opened its end-of-year session without the country’s leader, Fidel Castro. The session was instead attended by the Cuban interim leader, Raul Castro, Fidel’s younger brother, reported French mass media.
No message from Fidel was read out at the opening ceremony. National Assembly speaker Ricardo Alarcon opened the body’s key annual meeting with a brief speech. Typically, it was always Fidel Castro who addressed the gathering. It was only the second time that Fidel missed a session of the National Assembly. The first time he failed to attend was in 2002.
Cuba’s National Assembly comprises 609 deputies, most of them being members of the Cuban Communist Party. Economic issues are expected to dominate the session’s agenda.
Cuban Catholic Church Prays for Fidel Castro’s Health
Cuba’s Catholic Church offered Christmas prayers for social peace and calmness on the island during the new situation caused by Fidel Castro’s illness, reported Mexico’s news agency Notimex.
In his Christmas sermon, Havana cardinal Jaime Ortega spoke about Fidel Castro’s health, who underwent intestinal surgery at the end of July and ceded power to his younger brother Raul, and urged Cubans to ask God that “nothing happens to break social peace and stability on the island.” In August, when Cubans learned about Fidel Castro’s emergency surgery, the Cuban Catholic Church held a nationwide prayer service asking that “God accompany Fidel Castro in his illness and illuminate those responsible for the provisional government.”
Raul Castro Fights Corruption
Raul Castro, Cuba’s provisional leader, called on Saturday for greater honesty in dealing with chronic shortages of food, housing and public transport, reports Associated Press citing Cuban state media.
“Tell it as it is,” he told the National Assembly of Popular Power, Cuba’s parliament, in its first meeting since Raul’s brother Fidel Castro ceded power to him in July before undergoing emergency surgery. “Tell the truth, without justifications, because we are tired of justifications in this revolution,” Raul Castro urged members of parliament. He said he encouraged a series of recent newspaper articles criticizing bureaucracy and corruption. The one-day parliamentary session also discussed high food prices and deficiencies in housing and public transport, and Raul Castro criticized state inefficiency in the sphere of social services.
According to Cuban watchers, there are signs of political and economic changes taking place in the country since Raul Castro took over from his brother. He has eased state controls over the economy, called for a broader dialogue with the international community, and talked of the need for self-criticism to correct mistakes.
FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE
Cuban Pastor Not Involved in Trafficking in Humans
A court in Havana has found the Rev. Carlos Lamelas not guilty of “trafficking in humans” but convicted him on new, earlier unannounced charges of falsification of documents, reports TBN information agency, citing Compass Direct News. For the new charges, the court imposed a fine of 1,000 Cuban pesos (US $45) on the evangelical pastor, who is former national president of the Church of God in Cuba. “If a crime of falsification had truly been committed, that would make me an accomplice to ‘trafficking in humans,’ and I would not have been acquitted,” he said. “How can it be that I am innocent of the original crime, and nevertheless guilty of the one directly connected with it?”
The court did not inform Lamelas of its decision. Lamelas’s defense lawyer informed him by phone of the findings of the court. The new accusations involve an application filed for permission to leave Cuba by Lázaro Leonardo Laza. The court claimed that Lamelas signed a letter certifying that Laza was an accredited worker of the Church of God without attaching supporting documents.
25 Cuban Refugees Reach Florida
Twenty-five illegal migrants from Cuba came ashore in Florida, according to local police. They were immediately taken into custody by U.S. immigration officials, police said.
The Cuban refugees are likely not to be deported from the United States. U.S. policy normally allows Cubans to remain in the United States if they reach U.S. shores. If they are caught by U.S. Coast Guard while still at sea they are returned to Cuba.
Police Capture Home-Made Vessel and Its Crew
Havana, Cuba. Police in Batabano municipality, south of Havana, captured a rustic vessel and several of its would-be crewmen before they could get away from Cuban waters. Police said the men intended to sail to Mexico after their departure from the southern Cuban coast. The craft had two engines, supplies, and one bicycle on board.
One of the men, Roberquis Mongana, told police he wanted to leave the country because “he was denied employment and he had a pregnant wife.” Mongana had evidently been in prison for several years and was considered unreliable. Mongana and the others were held for three days at a police station. They were released after being fined 5000 pesos each.
U.S. Fears New Wave of Mass Migration from Cuba
U.S. officials are concerned that the death of the Cuban leader Fidel Castro, the perennial ruler of the island nation for forty-eight years, might trigger a mass migration from Cuba, writes Argentina’s La Naccion. It reports that the White House fears a real possibility that Castro’s death might spark a massive wave of migration to the United States or a spontaneous massive return of Cubans from Florida to their homeland.
Depending on developments, the U.S. government might completely seal its sea and air borders in South Florida, points out the newspaper. It reports that a large-scale exercise was held last week in the State of Florida with the participation of U.S. Coast Guard Forces, Homeland Security Task Force, police, and FBI.
Approximately 125,000 Cubans fled to Miami in 1980 on makeshift sea vessels in what was called the Mariel Boatlift. The U.S. government blamed Fidel Castro for the massive exodus and accused him of using the boatlift to purge the island nation of criminal elements and insane people. Another wave of mass movement of Cubans took place in 1994. Wishing to avoid a new chaotic flood of migrants, the Clinton administration announced a dramatic change in the U.S. policy towards Cuban refugees. It declared that Cubans spotted in U.S. territorial waters would be taken by patrol boats not to the U.S. territory but to bases outside the U.S, in Guantanamo or Panama, and only refugees who made it to dry land would earn the status of refugee. The U.S. imposed a regularized refugee process administered by the Interests Section, putting a ceiling at 20,000 annual refugees.
Cuba Lashes Out at Costa Rican Leader for Comparing Castro to Pinochet
The Cuban government slammed Costa Rica’s President Oscar Arias for comparing Cuba’s leader Fidel Castro to the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. A Cuban newspaper called Arias an “opportunistic clown,” who does the bidding of the U.S. government.
Bolivian Court Orders to Deport Cuban Dissident
A Bolivian court ruled on Wednesday to deport home Cuban dissident Amauris Samartino, who publicly criticized improved relations between La Paz and Havana after President Evo Morales took office in Bolivia. “This is a death sentence. Cuba is a country where people who have different points of view, like me, don’t have rights,” Samartino said after hearing the verdict.
Samartino, who arrived in Bolivia in 2000, was detained last Saturday for violating a Bolivian law forbidding immigrants to interfere in the country’s internal affairs. Earlier this week, Bolivian television showed Samartino protesting with other demonstrators against the government of President Evo Morales in the city of Santa Cruz.
Russia to Provide Guarantee in 2006 for Delivery of Russian Jets
The Russian government will provide a guarantee in 2006 for the delivery to Cuba of two Il-96-300 Russian passenger jets and three Tu-204 planes. A relevant executive order has already been signed by Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov. The government guarantee is provided to a syndicate of Russian state-controlled banks, which is providing a loan to Cuba’s Aviaimport S.A. for the purchase. The Russian government is providing a 14-year guarantee worth up to U.S.$325 million on condition that the Cuban government provides similar guarantees and the five jets are used as collateral on the loan.
Locals Praise Street Vendors
Ranchuelo, Cuba. Residents of Ranchuelo are praising street peddlers in the municipality for supplying potatoes to consumers where the official distribution system fails. Street vendors who are self-employed and therefore illegal bring the potatoes in from Cienfuegos and Havana. They sell the potatoes from push carts, in various package sizes for five, eight and ten pesos. The official food supply system has only offered for sale two pounds of potatoes per person since the beginning of the year.
Cuba’s Transportation on the Point of Collapse
Havana, Cuba. Speaking at a year-end meeting of the National Assembly, acting president Raul Castro said the island’s public transportation was on the point of collapse. He said there was no excuse for most of the problems faced by the communist country. “In this Revolution we are tired of excuses,” he stressed. He said buying hundreds of new buses would not solve the island’s transportation problems.
According to the BBC, excerpts from Raul Castro’s speech were made public by Cuban state media. After almost five months in power, it has become clear that Raul Castro has significantly changed the country’s leadership style. Parliamentary meetings that were typically dominated by Fidel Castro’s hours-long speeches are now finished in one day. Reports say Raul Castro also urged the totally state controlled press that it should give more space to debates and criticism of the aspects of the communist system that are not working.
Verdict Reached in Cuban Spy Case
A psychology professor and his wife were found guilty of spying for the Cuban communist regime. Carlos Alvarez, 61, and his 56-year-old wife, Elsa Alvarez, had been gathering information for Cuban intelligence officials for decades. Carlos was accused of conspiracy to become an unregistered foreign agent, while his wife was tried for knowing about her husband’s illegal activities but failing to report them to authorities. Carlos Alvarez faces up to five years in prison and his wife to three years.
The Cuban agent taught psychology at Florida International University. Using his connections, he spied on Cuban-American exile groups in the United States. His wife, also a university employee, helped him gather information.
Tourists Robbed in Broad Daylight
Havana, Cuba. Two Spanish tourists were robbed at three in the afternoon on December 12 in downtown Havana. The tourists, apparently husband and wife, were exchanging currency in a government-operated exchange point in central Havana when two youths jumped at them and took the money. The exchange point employees were able to capture one of the assailants, while the other got away with the money.
Police Confiscate Farmer’s Home-Built Tractor
Santa Clara, Cuba. A farmer who had built a tractor from spare parts had it confiscated after police stopped him on November 22. Ricardo Betancourt was driving into Aguada de Pasajeros in Cienfuegos province when officer Raul Gonzalo stopped him, searched him, and took him and his tractor to the police station.Once there, authorities informed Betancourt that the tractor would be confiscated since he couldn’t produce papers to justify his ownership.Betancourt said he couldn’t have had papers because he had built the tractor out of parts scavenged from abandoned vehicles.
Fire on Santa Clara-Cienfuegos Train
Santa Clara, Cuba. Several fire engines were rushed to the railway station in Cienfuegos to fight a fire that broke out on December 8 on a Santa Clara-Cienfuegos train. A night guard at a railway hotel noticed a flame in the station yard at approximately three in the morning and gave the alarm. Fed by a strong wind, the flame quickly spread. It seriously damaged one carriage and threatened to destroy the carriage next to it.
Cuban state-controlled media did not report the incident but locals believe it was not started by accident recalling that a month ago a group of unidentified persons hailed stones at a railway carriage smashing all its windows.
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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].