Cuba Chronicle of Events
Issue No. 29 • January 16-31, 2007
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 Maiami, Martí Noticias, Reuters, Ukraine Daily, Lenta.Ru, Associated Press, Gazeta.Ru, Directorio Democrático Cubano, RIA Novosti, ITAR-TASS.
Cuban Dissidents See No Change on the Island
Cuban dissidents don’t perceive any noticeable changes on the island since Communist dictator Fidel Castro handed over the reins to his brother Raúl on July 31, 2006.
Marta Beatriz Roque, president of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Cuba, said in an interview with Agence France Presse that the current Cuban régime was a continuation of the same totalitarian régime under Fidel. Former prisoners of conscience Héctor Palacios and Vladimiro Roca from the All Together (Todos Unidos) movement also said that not a single thing had changed in Cuba.
While Manuel Cuesta Morúa, belonging to a coalition of dissident groups known as Progressive Arc, told the French news agency that there had been a slight easing of repression on the island, Elizardo Sánchez, president of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, asserted that so far Raúl Castro had done nothing to improve fundamental rights and things would get worse unless “a real political miracle were to happen.”
Cuban Writers and Artists Protest Reappearance of Reactionaries
The Communist Party daily newspaper Granma published an open letter of the National Union of Writers and Artists protesting the recent TV reappearance of officials blamed for severe crackdowns against Cuban intellectuals in the 1970s. Prior to this letter, a group of Cuban intellectuals had expressed indignation over the resurfacing of the hard-line officials but no apology from the Cuban minister of culture had been forthcoming. Raúl Castro, who took over the reins of power after his brother Fidel’s stomach surgery, has urged Cubans to engage in open critical debate within the confines of the island’s communist system.
Young Liberal Convicted
Santa Clara, Cuba. On January 23, the municipal criminal court in Santa Clara sentenced Yaney Ruiz, a 24-year-old member of the Liberal Party of Cuba (PLC), for one year in prison for so-called pre-delinquent social dangerousness. Under Cuban criminal law, a citizen over 21 years of age who does not work or study could be found culpable for a crime defined as criminal propensity. The provision is frequently used against dissidents
According to Bernardo Luis Ascanio, the PLC representative in Villa Clara, large numbers of police were present at the trial led by State Security Major Fulgencio Bagué. Only three peaceful oppositionists had been able to attend after sneaking into the court building a few hours before the court session. Yunieski García, who was present at the trial, told the agency, “The trial was a farce. The court did not take into account witness testimony of Hilda Elsa Moya Marrero, the director of the Jerardo Abrey Center for Youth Education, who testified that Yaney Ruiz studied there and received a monthly stipend of 80 Cuban pesos.”
Political Prisoner Charges Medical Negligence
Ciego de Avial, Cuba. Political prisoner María de los Ángeles Borrego, who is serving a four-year sentence in the Manto Negro women’s prison in Havana, claims prison authorities have neglected her repeated appeals for medical attention. Borrego, 46, has complained of a toothache for a month now and has not been allowed to see a dentist. A human rights activist, Borrego was sentenced in December 2005 for “pre-delinquent social dangerousness.”
Prisoner of Conscience’s Sentence Increased 15 Years
Havana, Cuba. Reina Tamayo Danger reports that her son, prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo, has been given an additional 15 years' sentence for his alleged involvement in penitentiary riots, disobedience, and other crimes, she said. Tamayo was punished with five criminals protesting against severe beatings by prison guards, added his mother. Three of them, Ramón Acosta Moreno, Miguel Rodríguez Jordán, and Michel Juanegui Pérez had five years added to their sentences, Enrique González Silva nine years, and Jesús García Hernández ten.
Orlando Zapata Tamayo, originally sentenced to 25 years 6 months, was arrested and convicted during the “Black Spring” crackdown in 2003 for dissident activities with the Alternative Republican Movements. On January 15, on a visit to her 39-year-old son in Taco-Taco prison in Pinar del Río province, the mother learned he is suffering from a kidney infection.
Political Prisoner Denied Parole
Ranchuelo, Cuba. The Ministry of Justice has turned down a request for parole from political prisoner José Ramón Falcón in Santa Clara. Honoria Gómez, mother of the prisoner, learned of the decision from a letter sent to her by the ministry. Falcón is serving a 20-year sentence at the La Pendiente prison in the provincial capital of Santa Clara.
“I believe that denying parole to my son is an act of revenge. Parole laws are quite explicit about eligibility for early conditional release. My son has served more than half of his sentence and did so with good behavior,” she said. José Ramón Falcón and five other members of an armed group from Florida were captured by the government forces when they landed on the island in 1994 to carry out sabotage. During this unsuccessful operation, a fisherman from Caibarién was accidentally killed. Falcón was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
One Cuban Ambassador Expresses Doubt Over Fidel Castro’s Return
For the first time in six months since Fidel Castro’s illness, a top Cuban government official has acknowledged the possibility of Fidel’s permanent departure from his posts in the party and the government. Juan Astiasarán Ceballo, Cuba’s ambassador in the Dominican Republic said publicly that it is very unlikely that Fidel Castro will return to the nation’s presidency given his medical condition and age. Castro is 80 years old.
But according to the Cuban diplomat, the revolution and socialism are able to exist and develop on the Caribbean island nation with or without Castro’s physical presence. Speaking on local television on Monday, he dismissed as groundless hopes of certain political circles inside and outside Cuba that Castro’s disappearance from politics would lead to the formation of political parties different from the communist organization that rules in Cuba today. “At the moment most of the provincial and municipal ministers and officials are younger people not over 40 years of age. They are the people in charge of giving continuity to this process headed by our commander Fidel Castro,” said the Cuban ambassador.
Cuba’s Secret Services Plan for Evacuation of Fidel Castro’s Family Abroad
Cuban secret services have had a secret plan in place for a long time to move Fidel Castro’s family to Chile in case of a “political emergency” on the island, reported the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio on Sunday. The newspaper cited as its source a former Cuban counterintelligence officer named Delfin Fernandez, whose code name it said was “Agent Otto. The former agent said he had personally participated in devising an action plan for the emergency evacuation of Castro’s family abroad, according to ITAR-TASS, which reprinted the story.
A secret contingency plan, including emergency evacuation of the families of Fidel and Raúl Castro should the political situation in Cuba drastically change, has been in place for the last six years, said “Agent Otto.” According to him, relatives of the Cuban leader have been living in Chile for a long time. He claimed Fidel’s elder son Diaz-Balart Castro met with the family members last week during a brief visit to Chile.
“The visit of Fidel’s elder son to Chile was likely aimed at checking the readiness for action,” said Fernandez. Argentina and Spain were also considered by Fidel’s family members as possible shelter destinations. The Castro family has large property holdings in Spain and some of them hold Spanish citizenship, he claimed.
Fidel Castro Shown on Cuban TV for the First Time in Three Months
Cuban state television showed a video of Fidel Castro on Tuesday night having a meeting with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Havana. Castro looked frail, reported Reuters. The Cuban leader stood greeting the Venezuelan president, whose visit was not previously announced.
“This is far from being a lost battle,” Castro said of his current health condition. In the latest images, Castro still looks thin and frail, but engaged in animated conversation and gesticulating, reports ITAR-TASS. The 10-minute video clip is the first image of the ailing Cuban leader shown in three months. According to Reuters, it was shot on January 29.
Standing next to Castro, who wore a track suit, Chavez addressed the audience, saying that during the two-hour meeting with the comandante they discussed results of the recent presidential elections in Venezuela, issues of regional integration, and major international problems, including energy, ecology, and the “threat to the world coming from the evil empire,” meaning the United States. Fidel was in good spirits and as always showed clarity in his ideas and analysis, underlined the Venezuelan president, who maintains close contact with the leader of the Cuban revolution. “Fidel said his recovery was far from being a lost battle. I would say Castro has already won the battle to recover his health,” said Chavez.
Cuban television showed both video and photos taken during their meeting. The most recent previous video of the Cuban leader was shown to the public on October 28, 2006. On that video, Castro categorically dismissed speculations about his imminent death and assured Cubans he was in constant contact with his “party comrades and members of the government.”
Corruption in Cuba under Scrutiny
Cuban American researcher Sergio Díaz-Briquet believes corruption would dominate any possible process of transformation in Cuba but adds the price would be justified if it smoothed the process of reconciliation and non-violent changes on the island. Speaking to EFE news agency, Díaz-Briquet said there was a major probability that Cuba would find itself in a situation similar to Nicaragua, where Sandinista-era corrupt officials plundered the poor country, or to that of the former Soviet Union, where communist functionaries misappropriated state funds. The expert presented his analysis during the public launching of his book Corruption in Cuba: Castro and Beyond, held in Miami. The book was co-authored by economist Jorge Pérez López. Díaz-Briquet concluded people were pessimistic about eliminating corruption on the island, which he described as pervasive in all segments of society.
U.S. Coast Guard Returns 91 Cuban Migrants to Their Homeland
Miami, FL. A Coast Guard cutter returned 91 Cuban migrants caught at sea to their homeland at Bahia de Cabanas around 2 p.m. on Monday. In a press release, the Coast Guard said the Cubans were picked up in seven separate incidents from January 5 to 8.
On January 5, nine Cuban migrants were picked up approximately three miles south of the Marquesas islands off Key West. Also on January 5, a civilian boat spotted a "rustic vessel" --- the phrase for a raft or homemade boat --- on water 85 miles southwest of Grand Cayman, Bahamas. The boater contacted the Coast Guard and brought all migrants on board. They were later transferred to the cutter Decisive.
On January 6, the cutter Tornado spotted another "rustic vessel" 55 miles south of the Dry Tortugas with 15 Cubans on board. On January 7, the Coast Guard cutter Sawfish intercepted a speed boat 15 miles southeast of Islamorada. Once a boarding team from the Sawfish boarded the boat, they found 29 migrants. Also on January 7, the crew of the cutter Tornado located an inflatable raft with seven migrants aboard approximately 12 miles southwest of the Marquesas. Three of the migrants had serious self-inflicted wounds and were transported to Lower Keys Memorial Hospital in Key West for further treatment.
On January 8, the crew of an HC-130 aircraft located a “rustic vessel” with 10 migrants on board about 18 miles south of Key West. The cutter Dauntless was sent to pick up the migrants. Also on January 8, a boater located a homemade vessel with eight migrants 18 miles northeast of the Dry Tortugas. The Coast Guard cutter Marlin was dispatched to pick up the migrants.
“Throughout 2007, we will continue to maintain our robust presence in the Florida Straits and Caribbean with our assets as needed,” Cmdr. Howard White, assistant chief of law enforcement for the Seventh Coast Guard District, said in the press release detailing these events.
Cuban Champion Boxers Escape from National Team
Former Olympic champion boxers Yan Bartelemi (light flyweight), Yuriorguis Gamboa (lightweight), and Odlanier Solis (heavyweight) escaped from the national Cuban boxing team while training in Venezuela for the Pan-American Games. The defection occurred on January 17 but their whereabouts remain unknown so far.
The three defectors are expected to turn professional, reports Fightnews.com. Of the three, the most prominent is heavyweight boxer Odlanier Solis. The Gold medalist in the super heavyweight category at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, he is also a three-time amateur world champion. There have been previous high-profile departures from the national Cuban boxing team, including Diobelis Urtado, Jorge Luis Gonzales, Ramon Garbi, Joel Casamayor, Juan Carlos Gomez. All of them chose to escape to start a career as professional boxers, with Casamayor and Gomez later becoming world champions.
Cuban Salsa Star Defects
Cuba’s most popular salsa bandleader Issac Delgado has defected to the United States, Raúl Escalona confirmed in Havana. The forty-four-year-old Delgado abandoned his eleven-member band during a trip abroad with his family at the end of 2006. The Cuban salsero moved with his family to Tampa, Florida, where his father-in-law, Miguel Valdes, a former coach of Cuba’s national baseball team, has been living since defecting in Mexico in 2002. The son of a tailor and a dancer, Delgado took cello lessons at the Conservatory of Havana and then tried his luck as a football player. In Cuba, the singer enjoyed certain privileges — he frequently toured outside Cuba, lived comfortably in the Miramar residential district, and drove a Mercedes-Benz.
U.S. Businessmen Hope for Relaxation of Sanctions against Cuba
U.S. lawmakers calling for engagement with Cuba hope the newly elected Congress will allow the easing of sanctions against Cuba. Members of a newly launched bipartisan alliance of Democrats and Republicans have started a campaign for softening the embargo. They are backed by a group of influential businessmen who want to expand food exports to Cuba. Last December, a delegation of ten U.S. lawmakers visited the island nation and expressed hope for the speedy normalization of relations between the two countries. This report came from www.Tiwy.com.
While the Clinton Administration (1993-2001) noticeably expanded its relations with Cuba, especially in education and tourism, President George W. Bush adopted the opposite policy and opposes any attempts to improve U.S.-Cuba relations and threatens to veto all similar initiatives. Each time Congress has debated lifting the travel restrictions to allow people to travel to Cuba more frequently than once in three years (especially those who have relatives living on the island) the proposal has failed to gain a required majority of votes. At the end of the Clinton presidency, more than 100,000 people legally traveled to Cuba every year. Under the current administration, this figure is hardly 3,000.
In 2002, the U.S. Congress allowed agricultural export shipments to Cuba, which increased the export volume to $750 million in 2004. But then Bush imposed more restrictions, forbidding U.S. banks to participate in export operations with Cuba and putting barriers in the work of their foreign subsidiaries. As a result, exports dropped significantly though, as experts say, the United States could have supplied to Cuba an additional $1 billion worth of goods. The frustration of American businessmen is understandable as others seize market opportunities. China, for example, has significantly increased its presence on the Cuban market.
Venezuela, Cuba Sign 16 Accords on Expanding Economic Cooperation
Caracas, Venezuela. Venezuela and Cuba have signed 16 new agreements on expanding trade and economic cooperation between the countries. Speaking at the signing ceremony in Caracas, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called the new phase in Venezuela-Cuba relations a “symbol of genuine integration based on the principles of mutual assistance and complementarity.” The agreements include the possibility of joint exploration for oil in Cuba’s part of the Gulf of Mexico and other parts of the country; building an underwater cable link and satellite system between the two countries; and setting up production of stainless steel and ferrous nickel on the island using Cuba’s rich nickel deposits.
AI Concern Over Cuba
Amnesty International has expressed concern over human rights violations in Cuba but said it was also troubled about the negative impact of the U.S. economic embargo on the ability of Cubans to fully enjoy their human rights. In a press release issued by its headquarters in London, Amnesty International spoke about various violations committed by the Cuban government, in particular the imprisonment of political dissidents and journalists as a result of severe restrictions on the freedom of expression, freedom of association, and assembly. The human rights organization also expressed regret that during 2006 there was an increase in the public harassment and intimidation of dissidents by paramilitary groups in so-called acts of repudiation.
Amnesty International indicates that at least 67 political prisoners are currently held in prisons across Cuba and that their trials failed to uphold international standards. Speaking about the situation of journalists in Cuba, Amnesty International points out that all print and broadcast media on the island are under state control and access to the Internet is severely limited outside governmental offices and educational institutions.
Handicapped Street Peddler Fined, Threatened
Ciego de Avila, Cuba. A police captain known as Claudio imposed a 400 pesos fine — almost two months’ salary — on a wheel-chair-bound street peddler. Maikel Marrero said police confiscated all his merchandise, consisting of knick-knacks that he sells in Buenaventura, Holguín province, to earn a living. Street peddling is illegal in Cuba. Marrero also said the captain threatened to impose a fine of 1,000 pesos if he continued selling from his wheel chair.
Castro Allows Chuppah Ceremony
Over twenty couples took their marriage vows in a Jewish ritual in mid-January in Havana, and over 70 Cubans converted to Judaism. It was the largest wedding ceremony that Cuba’s depleted Jewish community can remember. The mass nuptials took place at the recently restored Beth Shalom synagogue, the largest of three in Havana, and were preceded by 70 conversions, including whole families and dozens of young Cubans.
When Castro took power in 1959, there were 15,000 Jews in Cuba. Within a few years, as the new government nationalized businesses and steered Cuba toward communism, 90 percent of the community left for the United States, Mexico, Venezuela, and Israel. Cuba became an atheist state and synagogues were emptied. In 1974, Castro broke off diplomatic ties with Israel following the Yom Kippur War.
Dead and Injured in Road Accident in Cuba
At least four Nicaraguan and Cuban students have died and over twenty have been injured in a road accident in the western province of Pinar del Río in Cuba, according to diplomatic sources stationed in Cuba. The students, aged 18 to 23, studied medicine at the school sponsored by the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) in Pinar del Río.
Luis Cabrera, the representative of the Sandinist National Liberation Front in Cuba, said the accident occurred when a bus carrying 24 Nicaraguan students and five school employees overturned while trying to avoid a collision with a bicycle. He added that two Nicaraguan students were at the Abel Santamaría hospital in Pinar del Río in critical condition, and the two Cubans who were killed were school cooks. The rest of the 29 passengers on the ill-fated bus suffered wounds and injuries of various gravity.
Radio Jammers Off for One Day
Palma Soriano, Cuba. On January 20, residents of Palma Soriano in eastern Cuba were able to tune their radios to foreign broadcasts after the antenna the government uses to jam their signals went out of service for a day.
That day, a Sunday, word spread mouth-to-mouth that foreign broadcasts were coming in clearly. People said they were able to tune in to U.S. broadcasted Radio Martí, Spanish National Radio, and the BBC. Residents were able to receive the broadcasts until Monday evening, when the jamming was restored. The antenna is located in a military installation on the road to El Cobre.
Miami Plans to Celebrate Castro’s Death
The city of Miami is making plans to celebrate the death of the ailing Cuban dictator — whenever that may be — and the end of the Red Plague on the Island of Freedom. Miami officials have already decided on the Orange Bowl stadium as the venue since it is where John F. Kennedy spoke in 1961 promising to free Cuba. In 1980, the landmark stadium served as a camp for refugees from the island of flourishing socialism.
City Commissioner Tomás Regalado, a Cuban American, has set up a special commission that would decide what prints to make on commemorative T-shirts, which musicians would perform, and how long the event would last. “[Castro] represents everything bad that has happened to the people of Cuba for 48 years,” Regalado told the Miami Herald, speaking of Castro. “[His death] is something to celebrate, regardless of what happens next.”
The plan to celebrate Castro’s demise has drawn criticism from some people who complain Miami is dictating to Cuban Americans how to mark this dramatic moment of their life, according to the Associated Press. Critics say Cuban Americans should be given opportunity to mark the occasion as they think fit, perhaps, gathering spontaneously in Miami’s district inhabited by Cuban exiles and called Little Havana. But Regaldo said “This is not a mandatory site. The Orange Bowl stadium is just a place for people to gather.”
Ramón Saúl Sánchez, leader of the Miami-based Democracy Movement organization, worries about how the celebration of a man’s death would be perceived by those outside the exile community. Sanchez believes that after Castro dies its communist government will still retain power. “I think a big party is yet premature,” he says. “Although everybody will be very happy that the dictator cannot continue to oppress us himself, I think everybody is still very sad because there are still prisons full of prisoners, many people executed, and families divided.”
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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].