Cuba Chronicle of Events
Issue No. 33 • April 1-15, 2007
The Cuba Chronicle of Events is produced by the Prima News Agency in Russia in cooperation with the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe. This edition is based on reports from PRIMA-News, Bitacora Cubana, CubaNet, Puente Informativo Cuba Miami, Martí Noticias, Directorio Democrático Cubano, BBCRussian.com, AFP.
Catholic Magazine Vitral Announces Suspension; States Cuba Is at Crucial Point
The Roman Catholic magazine Vitral, published by the Diocese of the city of Pinar del Rio, states in its most recent editorial that there is an historic moment of great opportunity for Cuba to leave behind the anachronisms of authoritarian rule and to achieve democracy and respect for human rights. In the same March-April issue, the editors announced that the magazine would cease publication for lack of resources and bid farewell to its readers.
The magazine’s last editorial, titled “Cuba: A Time for Opportunity,” underlines the need to do away with the anachronisms of a time past, one that represents a social system that does not work, outdated ideologies, and antiquated styles of work. At this crucial time, it states, Cubans should do away with authoritarianism and paternalism and become mature citizens embarking on a path towards democracy. This will require persevering, efficient, transparent, and manifold efforts. Vitral notes that it is time to choose truth without hatred, without retribution, without violence, and without revenge. “It’s time to leave behind the mistakes and errors [of the past], and to reconcile,” it states. Each Cuban should use his or her own brain and to act without hypocrisy to put an end to anachronisms that make life on the island difficult. Vitral concludes that for Cuba to open up and meet its historic challenge will require political purposefulness, active participation in public life, and civil responsibility.
Vitral, one of the few independently circulated publications on the island until its cessation, encouraged giving Cuban intellectuals and cultural figures an opportunity for open discussion and giving Cuban churches a chance to function openly. Every group of Cubans should learn to self-organize peacefully, it argues, so that no one can restrict their right to freedom of association. It states that it is past time for Cuba to respect human rights of all Cubans and to bury anachronistic ideas, such as restrictions on private property rights, isolating the country from the world, and banning Cubans’ freedom of movement. It expressed faith and hope that the Cuban people could and would be key players in the making of their own history
New Project for Political Settlement of Differences Among Dissidents Launched in Cuba
In Havana, the Democratic Solidarity Party and Progressive Arc have launched the Dialogue for Rights Coalition, a project aimed at advancing human rights on the island. The coalition of social democratic and moderate opposition groups emerged from the agreement of the Spanish and Cuban governments to create a new mechanism for dialogue on human rights, signed during Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos’s visit to Cuba. The two governments agreed to begin regular bilateral political consultations. Manuel Cuesta Morúa, spokesman for Progressive Arc, said that Cuba’s agreement to the creation of such a mechanism is positive. He believes it could legalize human rights activity on the island and that the time for human rights was coming to Cuba. The initiative runs counter to the negative attitude that most oppositionists expressed toward Moratinos’s visit to Havana.
Oliviero Toscani’s Photo Exhibition on Repression in Cuba Opens in the EP
Brussels. An exhibit by top Italian photographer Olivier Toscani, sponsored by the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, opened yesterday at the European Parliament headquarters. The exhibition, entitled “Forbidden to Think: The Faces of Cuban Repression.” was an initiative of EP deputies Marco Cappato and Marco Pannella, who hoped to stir up debate about the effectiveness of a new European policy of dialogue with the communist-run government.
Of 75 activists arrested in Cuba in March 2003 and sentenced to extremely harsh penalties up to 28 years, only 14 were granted conditional release for health reasons, while the rest remain jailed. According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, there are a total of 306 prisoners of conscience in Cuba, most of whom were convicted on vague charges of “disseminating enemy propaganda” or “social dangerousness.”
Cuban dissident Osvaldo Alfonso, now in exile, took part in the opening ceremony of the exhibit. He stated that the exhibit helps focus attention and understanding on Cuba’s continuing human rights abuses and whether the EU dialogue policy can positively influence the situation or not.
AI Demands to Raise Issue of Cuban Prisoners’ Release
Amnesty International has urged the Spanish government to raise the issue of the immediate release of 65 Cuban prisoners of conscience with the Cuban authorities. Esteban Beltrán, director of Amnesty International Spain, told Europa Press his organization has delivered to Spain’s Secretary of State for Latin America, Trinidad Jiménez, information about each of the 65 political prisoners.
Trinidad Jiménez and the Secretary of State for International Cooperation, Leire Pajin will accompany Spain’s Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos during his visit to the island nation scheduled to begin on April 2. Amnesty International strongly believes there are no reasons for these people — some of whom have spent 13 years in jail — to remain behind bars.
The human rights watchdog has also expressed to Jiménez their concern about the harassment and intimidation of prisoners’ families in Cuba in 2006 through use of government-organized acts of repudiation or protests in fronts of their homes and work places, Beltrán said.
Symbolic Prison Cell Built in Prague in Solidarity with Cuban Political Prisoners
On March 15, People in Need (PIN) commemorated the fourth anniversary of a brutal crackdown on the democratic opposition in Cuba by erecting a Cuban prison cell in Wenceslas Square, Prague’s most prominent location. PIN also held a demonstration outside the Cuban embassy on Sibiøské námìstí (Siberian Square).
About one hundred people gathered in front of the embassy and called for the release of Cuban political prisoners and for democratic change in Cuba. Former dissidents expressed their support to those who suffer in the same way as they did under communist rule in Czechoslovakia. “It is a shame that Cuba still imprisons people for their opinions, but one day freedom will triumph on this beautiful island because freedom is part of human nature,” said Jan Ruml, a major contributor to Czechoslovakia’s transition to democracy. At Wenceslas Square, prominent Czech public figures, symbolically dressed in prisoner’s garb and “served time” for each of the sixty-one Cuban political prisoners still held from the infamous round-up of Cuban dissidents. In March 2003, the Castro regime imprisoned 75 political activists and sentenced them to long terms up to 28 years in prison. PIN has organized protests each of the last four years on the anniversary of what is called Black Spring.
PEN American Center Honors Jailed Cuban Journalist
The PEN American Center named Normando Hernández González, a Cuban journalist arrested in March 2003, as the recipient of its 2007 Freedom to Write Award. The Freedom to Write Award honors international literary figures who have fought against persecution and defended the right to freedom of expression. It will be presented at PEN’s annual congress on April 30, 2007 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
When announcing the award, Freedom to Write Program Director Larry Siems said that Hernández’s life is in danger because of the conditions of his detention. He praised the integrity and courage of Hernández, the youngest journalist among the 75 Cuban intellectuals detained in the Black Spring crackdown in 2003. Normando Hernández González, now 38 years old, was arrested for his work as director of Camagüey College of Independent Journalists. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison for distributing outside of official channels critical reports on the government’s management of such industries as tourism, agriculture, cultural affairs and fishing.
Returned Rafter Threatened by Policeman
Havana, Cuba. The returned Cuban rafter Yolanda Sánchez said a police officer questioned and threatened her while she walked in Havana’s Lenin Park. Sánchez, 34, said the policeman came out of a bar where he had been drinking to question her. He chastised her for her relationship with the independent press. Sánchez said State Security officers have repeatedly harassed her since being returned to Cuba by the U. S. Coast Guard after her failed attempt to leave the island
United States: Federal Prosecutors Oppose Release of Castro’s Foe
A Texas judge’s decision to free Luis Posada Carriles, the 79-year-old foe of Fidel Castro, on bail was immediately protested and appealed by U.S. federal prosecutors, so he remains in jail.
Posada, who is wanted in Cuba and Venezuela on terrorism charges, was arrested in May 2005 near Miami for illegally entering the United States. He was tried in El Paso, Texas, where a jury convicted him of making false statements to U.S. federal authorities, a criminal offense in the U.S., in his bid to become a U.S. citizen. He told U.S. immigration authorities he secretly crossed the Mexican border; the prosecution claims Posada got into the United States by sea.
The Cuban and Venezuelan governments accuse Posada of plotting the deadly 1976 bombing of a Cuban jet that killed 73 people. Posada denies the charges and refuses to make any comment when asked about his role in hotel bombings in Havana in 1997 that killed one Italian tourist. Posada was convicted in Panama of plotting to kill Castro with three Cuban anti-communists during his visit to Panama in 2000. Posada later received a presidential pardon and moved to Guatemala, then to Mexico, and finally by stealth to the United States, where he was arrested.
Posada’s involvement in the failed Bay of Pigs operation to oust Castro in 1962 and other plots made him a legend among the local Cuban exile community. But U.S. authorities do not share Cuban Americans’ admiration for Posada and refuse to grant him political asylum. At the same time, they refuse to extradite him to Cuba or Venezuela on the grounds that he could not get a fair trial or due process in these countries. The U.S. has failed to find a third country willing to accept him.
Texas Judge Kathleen Cardone’s decision to order Posada’s release on $350,000 bail pending trial was a surprise for federal prosecutors. Explaining her ruling, the judge said, “He is old, infirm. and has strong ties to the community.” Though prosecutors have managed to block his release, Posada’s attorney Felipe D.J. Milan told Reuters he hoped to get Posada out of jail by the end of next week.
Cuban Doctor Seeks Asylum in France
Libreville, Gabon. A Cuban doctor who refused to return home after working in Gabon and who was forced to fly back to Cuba via Paris is seeking asylum in France, said one of his lawyers. Maulio Garcia Perez was flown out of Gabon on the evening of April 5 weeks after he was due to leave the country, the Gabonese foreign ministry spokesman Jean-Claude Mendome told Agence France Presse. A Cuban diplomat had picked him up from his home and took him to Libreville airport with the help of the Gabonese police, one of Perez’s lawyers confirmed. When he arrived in Paris, he asked for asylum, the lawyer, Jules Obiang, told AFP.
Perez arrived in Gabon in March 2005 with a group of 20 colleagues as part of a cooperation agreement between Libreville and Havana. He worked in the public hospital in Port-Gentil, in the southwest of Gabon, and should have returned to Cuba on March 13 this year. Instead, he fled towards the border with Cameroon where he was arrested by Gabonese immigration officers. Obiang said the doctor feared repression if he returned to Cuba. “He applied for asylum in Gabon on March 28. His deportation was due to be suspended until his case was considered, but they went ahead with it. I don’t know where that decision came from,” the lawyer added.
Spanish Public Urges Foreign Minister for Tougher Talk with Cuban Government
On the eve of Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos’s official visit to Havana, several Spanish political parties, rights groups, and Cuban émigré associations have urged Moratinos to speak toughly with the Cuban government to secure the release of Cuban dissidents and to push Havana for a shift to democracy. The Spanish foreign minister will be accompanied by two deputies, the Secretary of State for Latin America, Trinidad Jimenez, and the Secretary of State for International Cooperation, Leire Pajin.
Spain’s major opposition party, the conservative People’s Party, the Catalonian Liberal party “Convergence and Unity,” Amnesty International’s Spanish Section, and Reporters Without Borders all assailed Moratinos’s visit. During Cuban foreign minister Felipe Perez Roque’s recent visit to Spain, the parties noted a high level of economic relations between the two countries, especially Spain’s investment in Cuba’s tourism industry and hotel business.
Moratinos is the first European Union foreign minister to travel to Cuba since the EU decision to impose sanctions on Cuba in 2003 in response to the Black Spring arrests of 75 Cuban dissidents. The sanctions included shunning high-level talks and cultural ties with Cuba. In 2005, Spain pushed the EU to temporarily lift the sanctions. The EU must decide whether to resume or permanently lift the sanctions in two months’ time.
Every year tens of thousands of Spanish tourists travel to Cuba, which was a colony of Spain until the end of the 19th century.
Cuba, Spain to Renew Cooperation and Political Dialogue despite EU Restrictions
Cuba and Spain agreed to renew economic cooperation and political dialogue despite a restrictive EU policy towards Havana.
Cuba’s Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque and his Spanish counterpart Miguel Angel Moratinos signed agreements to re-launch economic cooperation, to explore ways to protect their common investments, and to re-examine Cuba’s debt to Spain estimated at $1 billion. In addition, the parties agreed to reopen a Spanish cultural center in Havana. A document creating a forum for political consultations implies the discussion of human rights problems on the island and holding regular high-level political talks. The forum is scheduled to begin in May 2005.
The European Union decided to minimize European contact with the Cuban government and to limit cultural exchanges with Havana in 2003 following the Black Spring round up and conviction of 75 Cuban dissidents. Sixty-one of the dissidents remain in jail serving prison terms up to 28 years. During his visit, the Spanish foreign minister met with Cuba’s acting President Raul Castro and handed him a letter written by Spain’s King Juan Carlos to Fidel Castro.
Spanish Socialist Pursue Catastrophic Policy on Cuba
Spain’s former prime minister José María Aznar described the Spanish socialist government’s policy towards Cuba as a catastrophe after hearing that Spain’s foreign minister had refused to meet with Cuban dissidents during his recent visit to Havana. Speaking at a conference at Georgetown University in Washington, Aznar said Cuban dissidents justifiably feel that the Spanish government has abandoned them and was no longer concerned about human rights and freedoms of Cubans.
Aznar called upon his fellow countrymen to show support for Cuban oppositionists because they are doing invaluable things for the future of democracy on the island. To support Cuban dissidents is a political and moral responsibility, to ignore them is the most serious moral and political mistake, concluded Aznar.
Idaho Governor Arrives in Cuba
Idaho Governor Butch Otter, who previously visited Cuba three times as a U.S. congressman, arrived in Havana for a fourth visit. He is heading a 35-member group of Idaho businessmen on a trade mission to sell agricultural and dairy products to communist-run Cuba. While the U.S. trade and travel embargo against Cuba’s communist regime remain in force, the government does allow some travel and the sale of food and medicine to Cuba. Otter was optimistic about the chances of Idaho signing contracts with Havana, stating that Nebraska has recently struck a $30 million deal with Cuba.
Speaking in Havana, Otter said the U.S. embargo against Castro’s regime should be eased. “Chances of changing this policy are now greater than ever before as some of my fellow Republicans in the U.S. Congress are inclined that we do need to allow travel to Cuba, while Democrats normally support easing restrictions,” he told EFE agency.
OAS Spotlights Human Rights Abuses in Cuba
The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Organization of American States (OAS) said multiple arrests, threats, beatings, and convictions of independent journalists were recorded in Cuba in 2006.
Among those targeted were Armando Betancourt, Luis Felipe Rojas, Guillermo Enrique Martínez and Carlos Serpa Maceira, as well as Raimundo Perdigón Brito, who was sentenced to four years in prison for founding an independent news agency in Sancti Spíritus. Obstacles for carrying out journalistic work are a cause for concern, said Special Rapporteur Ignacio J. Alvarez, urging OAS member-states to take action to stop this practice and to ensure justice is served in all case of killing, attacks and threats against journalists.
Workers Complain They Don’t Get Paid
Havana, Cuba. Employees of a Ministry of Communications subsidiary that does construction and maintenance complain that they don’t get their salaries or get paid late making it hard for them to even get to work. “They owe us our salary for October and November. We have brought this matter up in meetings with the director, and we have not had a satisfactory response. They say whoever was supposed to deposit the money hasn’t done so, and that there is a great deal of money and construction materials missing, up to 38,000 dollars,” said César de Jesús Guerra, a worker.
Hospital Operating Room Has Been Closed for Two Years
Havana, Cuba. Two years ago, health authorities shut down the operating room at the San José de las Lajas hospital after the ceiling started falling down. Residents say the ceiling deteriorated as a result of bats living in the attic. Materials for making repairs were finally delivered to the hospital in San Jose de las Lajas, a town south of Havana, but they were “re-assigned” to repair the theater in the town. The residents speculate there has been a shift in priority because the theater is used for political meetings.
Authorities Want to Evict Family after 18 Years of Residence
Havana, Cuba. A family that has been living in an Old Havana house for 18 years says authorities now want to evict them. Juan Alberto Parra accused officials from the local housing authority, the police, and the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) of threatening to evict his family in order to award the house to the son of the CDR’s chief. Parra said he was resettled in the house 18 years ago after the building in Central Havana where he previously lived collapsed. Parra said he has approached several government offices having jurisdiction over the issue to appeal for permanent resettlement, but to no avail. Parra, 38, said he suffers from brain cancer. He has three minor daughters, all of whom are diabetics.
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