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Cuba Chronicle of Events
Issue No. 31 • February 16-28, 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.


Raúl  Castro’s Interim Regime Shows No Signs of Progress

Raúl  Castro’s interim government shows no signs of benefiting the Cuban people, the Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco) group stated in Havana. The Ladies in White movement, which consists of wives and other close female relatives of imprisoned Cubans, sent its appraisal of the current situation in Cuba in a letter to new European Parliament president Hans-Gert Poettering, who recently voiced his support for Cuban dissidents (see Chronicle of Cuban Events, no. 30).

Cuba was given a historic chance on July 31, 2006, the Ladies in White wrote, but since then there has been no progress toward democratization and respect of human rights. They argue that Raúl Castro’s handover should have started this process with immediate and unconditional release of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.

The women’s group, which was named by the European Parliament a winner of the 2005 Sakharov Freedom of Thought Prize, reminded the EP president that it was four years this March since Fidel Castro ordered the lockup of 75 dissidents and Cuban intellectuals. Fifty-nine remain in prison, held together with hardened criminals in harsh conditions, with deteriorating health.

Victims of Castro's Regime Honored

The Cuban Memorial, a symbolic cemetery with over 10,000 makeshift crosses to honor victims of Fidel Castro’s communist régime, was opened on February 16 in Tamiami Park, near Florida International University, in Miami, Florida. Among those who attended were relatives of those executed or tortured to death in Cuban prisons and denied proper burial as well as the mothers of the pilots Mario de la Peña and Carlos Costa, who were shot down over international waters by the Cuban military on February 24, 1996 flying for the exile group Brothers to the Rescue.
Launched five years ago, the Cuban Memorial will be open to the public for three days so that people may remember their loved ones. The Flame of Grief will be burning at the entrance to the Memorial until closing day. The event is also being used for updating the Cuba Archive, a truth recovery project started in 1998 by Cuban exiles María Werlau and Armando Lagos to document the cost of the Cuban Revolution in human lives.


Independent Journalist Fired from His Job

Santa Clara, Cuba. Independent journalist Alain Ramón Gómez said he was fired from his job as a mechanic for refusing to contribute a day’s pay to the government.

Gómez said that on February 9 he had an argument with the general secretary of the official trade union, Rosa Alonso, who was asking him to contribute a day’s pay to the Territorial Militia Troops. Four days after refusing the request, which he called an order, Gómez said he was called to the offices of the automotive repair shop where he worked as a mechanic. Gómez is not allowed to practice his profession as a journalist.

Once in the office, the shop manager, Rogelio Alfonso, flanked by the general secretaries of the Party and the union, told him that after an evaluation, the Ministry of Internal Commerce had declared him “politically unreliable” and ordered him to be sacked from his job.


CPJ Concerned Over Fate of Alfredo Pulido López

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is concerned about the deteriorating health of Cuban independent journalist Alfredo Pulido López, who has been imprisoned for almost four years. López, 46, is suffering from lung and stomach ailments and is not receiving adequate medical aid. The living conditions in the Kilo 7 prison in Camagüey are horrific. López shares a cell with at least 100 criminals, some of them dangerous, his wife Rebeca Rodríguez Souto said.

Pulido López, director of the Camagüey-based independent news agency El Mayor, was arrested during a massive crackdown against the Cuban independent press in March 2003. He was tried under Article 91 of the Cuban penal code and sentenced in April 2003 to 14 years in prison. Article 91, which outlaws actions “against the state,” was used against many of the 75 Black Spring prisoners arrested and sentenced in 2003.

Rodríguez Souto has repeatedly requested the release of her husband on medical parole but has yet to receive a response from authorities. CPJ writes that the Cuban régime responsible for the welfare of Pulido López and urges it to release him along with all other prisoners of conscience.


Raúl  Castro Vows to Open the Way for New Generation of Cuban Revolutionaries

Acting Cuban President Raúl Castro promised on Friday to lay the groundwork for a new generation of revolutionary leaders. Addressing a gathering of communist youth on February 22, broadcast on state television next evening, Castro said “our duty, that of our generation, is to open the way for new generations, new leaders. . . .But I am referring to true leaders, not assembly line products,” he added.


Defecting Cuban Boxers Denied U.S. Entry

Three Cuban boxers who won gold medals in the Olympic Games 2004 in Athens and recently defected from Cuba have been refused entry to the United States. Odlanier Solis, Yan Bhartelemy, and Yuriorkis Gamboa hoped to have made their professional debuts at boxing matches in Miami on Friday, February 23, but instead had to stay in Colombia.

The boxers have signed seven-figure contracts with a German promoter, First Artist and Arena Box, and were planning to fly to Hamburg, Germany after their first fights to Miami, reports Associated Press. But the U.S. embassy in Bogota would not grant them U.S. visas because they lack German visas.

“The State Department still sees it as them wanting to stay in the States, which at this point would be career suicide for them,” said their manager Antonio Gonzalez. “They have bank accounts in Hamburg, Germany. They have an actual address in Hamburg where they’ll be living,” Gonzalez said. According to initial reports, the fights in Miami were postponed for a week. Heavyweight Odlanier Solis would like to make his pro debut in the heavyweight category (over 90.7 kg), Yan Barthelemy in the flyweight category (up to 50.2 kg), and Yuriorkis Gamboa in the featherweight category (up to 57.2 kg). Normally, the U.S. authorities are quite willing to allow defecting Cuban athletes to perform in the United States.


Russia’s State Duma to Speak Up for the Cuban Five

Moscow, Russia. The Russian Federation State Duma is planning to request the U.S. Congress to intervene in the case of five Cubans, known as the Cuban Five, currently held in U.S. jails on espionage charges. The proposal, sponsored by the United Russia Party, will be discussed at a State Duma plenary session on February 21, reports RosBalt agency, citing the party’s press service.

The document reads, “There is a growing concern in the international community over the legality and validity of the verdict” delivered on the Cuban Five, who, it adds, are “victims of flagrant injustice and political bias.” Russian lawmakers, believing the Five were not engaged in spying activities threatening U.S. security, are urging U.S. congressmen “to use every opportunity to have their sentences reviewed and a fair judgment awarded.” This will show the U.S. commitment to democratic and humanitarian values, its respect for the world public opinion, and the ability to see which terror threats are real and which are imaginary.

The five Cubans —Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González, aka Ruben Campa,  Rene González, Gerardo Hernández, and Ramón Labañino — were arrested in Florida and convicted of conspiring to penetrate U.S. military facilities and infiltrate Cuban exile groups in the United States. In June 2001, a U.S. federal court in Miami sentenced three of the group to life in prison, and the other two to lengthy prison terms. The Cuban side has steadfastly claimed the five citizens of Cuba had no intention to compromise the security of the United State and were only trying to spy on Cuban exiles in order to avert terrorist attacks on the island.

Reporters Without Borders Criticizes Cuba for Controlling Online Access

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has criticized the communist government in Cuba for controlling access to the Internet, banning private Internet connections, and even forbidding Cubans to buy computers. The press freedom organization made its statement in response to comments by Cuban Communications Minister Ramiro Valdes’s at the opening of a conference in Havana on communication technologies. In his speech, he described the Internet as a “tool for global extermination” that paradoxically “is needed for development.”

The Paris-based press freedom watchdog stated that it was hardly surprising that a country with no independent radio, TV station, or newspaper allowed unrestricted access to the Internet.
The minister announced the building of a better Internet connection via Venezuela. RSF stated its hope that the government will then finally allow its citizen’s access to an uncensored Internet.

Canada Prepared to Act as Bridge between U.S. and Cuba in Post-Castro Era

The government of Canada is prepared to draw on its long relationship with Cuba to act as a “bridge” between Washington and Havana in the post-Castro era, the Canadian ambassador to the United States stated in Washington.

Canada’s diplomat Michael Wilson said in an interview to the Toronto Star daily he was acting on a mandate from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who wants Ottawa to become more active diplomatically in the Western Hemisphere. Ambassador Wilson said Canada has developed relations not only with officials in Fidel Castro’s government, but also members of the island’s opposition groups and Ottawa has pushed Havana to release political prisoners and open its economy.

McCarry Says Transition to Democracy Underway

In an article published in La Nación in Buenos Aires, the U.S. State Department’s Cuba transition coordinator writes that the process of transition in Cuba has begun and Argentina could have an important role to play in democratization of the island. Caleb McCarry stated that Cubans are experiencing a historic moment in their lives and there are now noticeable signs of change on the island.

Nevertheless, the U.S. government official believes that, even with Fidel Castro’s departure from power, the United States should continue to put pressure on the communist régime. There is a series of events ongoing on the island that nobody, including the Cuban government, knows where they will lead. The time has come for us to stand with brave Cubans who are subject to state repression and who want Cuba to open up for democracy and to enable them to have free and fair elections in Cuba, McCarry points out in the article.

The U.S. official pointed out that Cuba is a Western Hemisphere country and nations of the hemisphere should adhere to democratic principles enshrined in the Inter-American Democratic Charter

U.S. to Help Cuba Achieve Democracy through Peaceful Means

The United States has no military intentions to occupy the island when Fidel Castro dies, stated U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez at a seminar “Post-Fidel Castro Cuba.” Gutierrez and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice co-chair the high-level government Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba. “Our president has no imperialist intentions. We have no military intentions to occupy the island,” said Gutierrez, a Cuban American. He also said that the Bush administration will not “confiscate property or support any arbitrary claims for property.” The United States wishes to “help the Cuban people achieve their freedom through democratic change,” he stressed and stating that the U.S. is ready to assist Cuba during its transition by supplying emergency food, water, fuel and medical equipment, helping maintain stable power supply, and other such actions. But President George Bush has also said we will not forge relations with a government that is a foe of the United States and rejects the values it holds sacred, Gutierrez remarked.


“Only Foreigners Can Fish Our Waters”

Holguín, Cuba. Residents of a small fishing village in Holguín province complain that increasingly stern restrictions are being placed on their traditional occupation that in effect mean only foreign tourists can fish their waters.

“Before 1959, most residents of Puerto de Vita fished for a living. Now only foreigners can fish in our waters,” said human rights activist Vicente Hidalgo, who complained that severe restrictions directed at fishermen became harsher after the government established a recreational fishing center nearby. “Recently,” he said, “two fishermen were fined 1,500 pesos each because they didn’t have a fishing permit, which has to be obtained daily from the port authority and is very hard to get.”


Cuba Buried Fake Remains of Che Guevara

The skeletal remains that the Cuban communist régime claimed were Ernesto Che Guevara’s and were laid to rest in a mausoleum specially built in his honor in the city of Santa Clara are not those of the Argentine-born revolutionary and guerrilla leader, claim journalists Maite Rico and Bertrand de La Grange, Latin American correspondents for El País (Madrid) and Le Monde (Paris) respectively. They report on recent findings that claim the fake remains were part of a Castro propaganda campaign aimed at distracting the Cuban people from crisis conditions.

In 1997, a Cuban search team, Argentine forensic experts and a Bolivian special commission announced that they found the long-missing remains of Che Guevara, who led an invasion in Bolivia and was captured and executed there in 1967. A new report challenging Cuba’s claims has recently been published in The Letras Libres magazine headed by Mexican author and historian Enrique Krauze and reprinted by EFE news agency and El Neuvo Herald daily.

The article points to several facts showing that the remains could not be those of Che Guevara. It asserted that the Cuban government did not carry out a DNA test on the body which is the crucial key for identifying a person.

Cuba's First Search Engine Allows to Track Fidel Castro Speeches

Cuban developers have built an Internet search engine that allows users to trawl through speeches by Fidel Castro and other Cuban government sites, reports Reuters. Cubans cannot buy computers and have to line up for hours to send e-mail on post-office terminals. Internet access is limited and passwords are sold on the black market allowing Internet use for limited hours.

Cuba’s first search engine can search any subject, but only on Cuban servers, or the Cuban intranet, including government sites and the state-run media. It has a special function key on the homepage to browse through thousands of Fidel Castro’s speeches since the day of the 1959 revolution. “The aim is to search Cuban Web sites without having to rely on foreign engines,” said its creator, Leandro Silva.

Critics, such as Amnesty International, say Cuba restricts Internet usage to curb freedom of expression. Cuba, in turn, claims Internet access is not available because the United States is blocking connection to fiber optic cables running undersea off Cuba’s shore. As a result, Cuba is forced to use a costly satellite channel with the downloading capacity of only 124 Mbit.

Cuba has decided to lay a new 1500-km undersea fiber optic cable from Cuban shores to Venezuela, its main ally and close neighbor. Cuba’s Communications Minister Ramiro Valdes said the high-speed link would dramatically expand Cuba’s Internet capacity and reduce the cost.

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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].