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Cuba Chronicle of Events
Issue No. 30 • February 1-15, 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.


European Parliament Urged to Support Ladies in White

Outlining his priorities, the newly elected European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering said that defending human rights would be the basis of the parliament’s everyday political actions. This means giving support to all those who are fighting peacefully for freedom and democracy, such as the Ladies in White in Cuba and the Belarus opposition, the German Christian Democrat said. Ladies in White, made up of wives and mothers of imprisoned Cuban dissidents, received the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2005.


Police Confiscate Toys from Free Library

Santa Clara, Cuba. The police have confiscated a number of toys that members of an independent library planned to distribute to children. Yoel Espinosa received a visit at the José Julian Martí library on January 27 from State Security captain Pedro Pérez and Lieutenant Yuniesky, who threatened to imprison him if he persisted in distributing toys to the children. Espinosa tried to move the toys to a safe place later that night but was intercepted by police.

Assembly Demands End of the Persecution of Dissidents

The Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Cuba has called on the communist government to stop harassment of dissidents following several detentions reported in the first days of February. The dissident coalition, led by Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, issued a press release to announce that two of its leading members were arrested on February 9.

Roque stated that altogether six senior members of the coalition had been arrested between February 5 and 11 and had their personal belongings seized. The press release said that Roque went to the State Security headquarters to demand the return of a bag belonging to her that was seized. Police brought it back to her home three days later. The Assembly to Promote the Civil Society has called on the Cuban military régime to end the persecution of oppositionists.


Chicken Pox Outbreak in Havana Prison

Havana, Cuba. Several prisoners in a Havana prison have been transferred to solitary cells after getting chicken pox. Political prisoner Lazaro Alonso told visiting priest Santiago Medina that inmates infected with chicken pox were moved to solitary cells by order of a prison officer known as William. According to available reports, the sick inmates receive no medical aid, and potable water in the prison is, probably, contaminated. The prison is located at Melena del Sur, Havana province. The first cases of chicken pox in the prison were reported in December 2006.

Cuban Prisoners of Conscience Released After 20 Months in Jail without Charge

Cuban prisoners of conscience Julio César López Rodríguez and Raúl Martínez Prieto were freed from jail on February 3. Dissident Marta Beatriz Roque said the two were brought home after spending 20 months in jail without charges or a trial. López Rodríguez was held in the Canaleta prison, Matanzas province, and Martínez Prieto in La Pendiente, Villa Clara province. The two were arrested in Havana on July 22, 2005 with a group of 30 protesters just before a planned protest in front of the French embassy in Havana to demand freedom for political prisoners.

Cuban Dissident René Gómez Manzano Released

Cuban dissident René Gómez Manzano, a coordinator for the Assembly for the Promotion of a Civil Society, has been released from jail. Gómez Manzano, 61, was arrested at his house in Havana on July 22, 2005 and jailed without formal charges. He was accused of planning to participate in an anti-government protest that day outside the French embassy in Havana. The protest, however, never took place. Gómez Manzano, a dissident lawyer, went on hunger strike and declared himself a political prisoner while at the Nieves Morejón prison in Sancti Spíritus.


Fidel Castro Is Now Eating

Havana, Cuba. The Cuban leader is eating again, reports Reuters, citing Venezuela’s Ambassador to Cuba Ali Rodriguez. “Fidel is improving progressively. The problem is that originally he could not intake food but now he is taking foods, which has improved his health significantly,” Ambassador Rodriguez said.

Raúl  Castro Makes Surprise Visit to Havana’s Book Fair

Defense Minister Raúl  Castro, to whom his brother Fidel Castro ceded power before intestinal surgery in August 2006, made a surprise public appearance on Thursday at the opening of Havana’s annual international book fair, an event his brother Fidel had regularly attended in past years. To honor the occasion, the 75-year-old minister came in a gray jacket and blue trousers instead of his usual general’s uniform. The younger Castro arrived in a minibus accompanied by Culture Minister Abel Prieto. The opening was attended by many other top Cuban government officials.


First Woman Bishop Appears in Cuba

For the first time in Cuba, the Episcopal Church has named a woman as bishop. Nerva Cot Aguilera, 69, will be consecrated on June 10 at a ceremony in Havana. She will also be the first woman bishop in the entire Caribbean region.


Cuban Defectors Seek Asylum in the U.S.

A group of Cuban doctors and medical personnel stranded in Colombia has requested the United States to grant them permission to enter the country. Most defected from a humanitarian mission in Venezuela sponsored by the Cuban government.

Cuban Volunteers Paying Off Fidel Castro’s Debt in Venezuela Defect to Colombia

Forty-five Cuban “volunteers” sent to Venezuela to pay off Fidel Castro’s debt for cheap oil provided by ally Hugo Chavez have defected to Colombia to seek entry to the United States. The Chavez régime has been supplying Cuba with heavily subsidized oil. In return, Cuba has sent to Venezuela a 20,000-strong contingent of medical doctors, sports coaches, and unskilled youth performing jobs that Venezuelans are reluctant to do. According to opposition sources, a large group of Cuban state security advisers oversee the “volunteers.” The Cubans provide medical aid in poor urban and rural areas of the country, teach street kids to play baseball and basketball, and carry out the campaign “Mission: Energy Revolution,” which seeks to replace incandescent light bulbs with energy-saving fluorescent ones. In Cuba, which is totally dependent on imported energy, obsolete and inefficient bulbs are still widespread reports the Spanish daily El Pais.


Cuban Authorities Deport Colombian Drug Lord

Cuban authorities on Thursday deported the head of a powerful Colombian drug cartel to Bogota, reports AFP. Luis Hernando Gomez Bustamante, also known as “Scratch” (Rasguno), was turned over to Colombian state security police in Havana without incident. Gomez is the boss of Norte del Valle, one of the most powerful Colombian drug cartels. The United States, which is actively involved in the fight against Colombian drug trafficking, has been seeking his extradition from Havana for several years.

Nicaragua, Cuba Restore Diplomatic Relations

After 17 years of low-profile limited contacts at the level of chargé d’affaires, Nicaragua and Cuba have upgraded their relations to ambassadorial level, Nicaragua’s news agency Notifax reported on Wednesday.

During a decade of rule by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSNL) in the 1980s, Nicaragua and Cuba had close friendly relations. The Sandinista government enjoyed Cuba’s economic, social, and military support, a relationship nourished by FSNL leader Daniel Ortega’s friendship with Fidel Castro. After Violetta Barrios de Chamorro was elected president in 1990, Nicaragua-Cuba relations were downgraded. After he won presidential elections on January 10, 2007, among Daniel Ortega’s first major foreign policy steps was restoring full diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Cuba Buys $1.5 Billion Worth of Food in the U.S.

Cuba has bought $1.5 billion worth of agricultural products from American farmers in the last five years despite a decades-old U.S. trade embargo, according to a report released Wednesday by the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council headquartered in New York City. The provision of the law allowing American companies to sell food products and humanitarian supplies to Cuba was enacted in 2000. The law requires that Cuba pay cash before products can be sent.

Spain Upholds Close Ties with Cuban Regime

Trinidad Jiménez, Spanish Secretary of State for Ibero-American Affairs, has called for closer ties between Spain and the communist régime in Cuba, claiming that there are changes taking place on the island. In an interview to Spain’s National Radio, Jiménez said that changes she sees happening on the island are pushing Madrid to keep up a constant dialogue with Havana to know what might happen there in the future. The Socialist government official said she was planning to visit Cuba within what she called a reasonable time.

European Bulletin on Cuban Civil Society

The latest issue of the Cuba-Europe Dialogues (CED) bulletin published by the Czech organization People in Need analyzes the development of the civil society and transition to democracy on the island.

The bulletin points out that in the past year Cuban society’s discussion on the topic of democratization grew steadily within the country. It presents various articles on views and plans regarding transition.

The first part of the bulletin sums up the results of the project “All Cubans.” Fredo Arias King writes, for example, that Cubans are keen on studying the achievements and failures of Central European countries. A former member of the Czech Constitutional Court looks at Cuba’s Constitution, and Cuban journalist Carlos Alberto Montaner compares the Cuban path with that taken by Spain.


Police Target Street Peddlers

Santa Clara, Cuba. Police and inspectors from the commerce department targeted street peddlers in Santa Clara on January 30, imposing fines as high as 70,000 pesos and confiscating merchandise. The largest number of peddlers was found on the front stoops of houses in the streets in the vicinity of the San Miguel market. Among other goods, police confiscated eggs, garlic, onions, tomato paste, canned goods, candy, bicycle parts and vegetables.

No Milk Sold in Santiago

Santiago de Cuba, Cuba. Government outlets did not have milk to sell under the rationing quota between January 25 and 30, claiming that there was no milk in the province. Milk is only sold at controlled prices for children 7 and under, the elderly, and those having a prescription from a doctor. Milk is available at so called dollar stores selling goods for hard currency. A kilogram (2.2 pounds) of powdered milk goes for $5.20, about half of the average monthly salary.

Film on Prostitution in Cuba

In an interview to Neuvo Herald daily, a Cuban filmmaker who recently shot a documentary about red-light districts and marginal quarters in Havana said the government-sponsored crackdown against “jineteras” (Cuban slang for prostitutes) in tourist areas had only strengthened prostitution in local markets.

Producer Jean Michel Jomolca recently brought the documentary to Miami. It has been shown secretly in Cuba for the last two years. The 54-minute-long documentary, “Early Morning Make-Up,” was made in 2006 in partnership with Gerardo Frómeta, an actor living in Cuba. The camera wanders through Old Havana and peeps into inner city vice districts that the Fidel Castro régime claimed to have “cleaned up” as far back as 1963.

Jomolca, 29, said in the interview that Cuba was a society engaged in prostitution from top to bottom. The filmmaker fled Cuba last month together with his wife, actress María Karla Rivero, the daughter of dissident poet Raúl Rivero. The poet had emigrated earlier and lives in Spain.


Police Target Foreign Broadcast Antennas

Havana, Cuba. Police and telephone company employees are combing the streets looking for signs of home-made antennas designed to receive TV programs broadcast from abroad and distributed by satellite. Specifically, the dragnet is directed against Direct TV signals, from the United States.
Two residents of Luyanó neighborhood, Rafael Carlos Núñez and Nelson Herrera, described one such raid: “Two police cars and a dozen ETECSA (telephone company) employees were walking down Pérez Street and whenever they saw a suspicious cable they cut it,” they said. Residents in other areas of the capital reported similar activities in their neighborhoods.

The Direct TV signal is only allowed in Cuba in certain hotels open exclusively for foreign visitors. Even there, the signal is cut off in the evenings during the Cuban TV broadcast of “Round Table,” a program with heavy pro-government ideological content.

Many people here claim the dragnet was prompted by the U.S. government’s announcement that TV Martí broadcasts are to be relayed in the future by satellite and thus would become available to those who have home-made antennas.

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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].