Cuba Chronicle of Events
Issue No. 34 • April 15-30, 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, Reuters, K2Kapital, Radio Liberty.
Members of Cuban Opposition Issue Joint Statement
Some of the leading figures of the anti-Castro opposition inside Cuba have issued an appeal to the Cuban people. The leaders reiterate their belief that to achieve change is a task for Cubans and only Cubans.
The appeal, called Unity for Liberty, asserts that only Cubans should define and decide the future of Cuba, as an independent and sovereign country, without foreign intervention. The leaders called for the solidarity of the peoples and governments of the world for human rights and democratic changes in Cuba. They reject any recognition and respect for the rights of Cubans that are conditional upon arrangements and agreements with other governments, the statement emphasizes. The document concludes that the radical demand for democratic changes is based on the Cubans’ rights to all freedoms that all human beings are entitled to.
The unity declaration was signed by Oswaldo Payá from the Christian Liberation Movement, Martha Beatriz Roque from the Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Cuba, Elizardo Sánchez from the Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission, Vladimiro Roca from the Todos Unidos dissident group, members of the Ladies in White, and other prominent dissidents such as Oscar Espinosa Chepe, Miriam Leiva, and Héctor Palacios Ruiz.
Cuban Democratic Directorate Lauds Unity for Liberty Declaration
The Cuban Democratic Directorate has applauded the Unity for Liberty declaration signed on April 16 by some of the prominent members of the Cuban peaceful opposition.
While the communist regime in Havana is orchestrating its campaign for succession of power and suppression of the Cuban opposition, the Cuban Democratic Directorate stated, the voices of those who fight for democracy inside the country are rising, full of dignity and courage. This is the historic moment of great opportunity for Cubans, giving them a chance, a window of opportunity, to achieve changes necessary for a transition toward democracy, the group added.
More Cubans Join Unity for Liberty Declaration
More of the Cuban opposition has joined the declaration of unity, calling for respect of human rights and democracy in Cuba. The dissident coalition For Dialogue and Reconciliation, a group calling for conciliation that groups the Democratic Solidarity Party and the Progressive Arc, announced on April 19 its decision to sign the Unity for Liberty statement and its readiness to work together for achieving the proclaimed goals.
The declaration issued on April 15 shows Cuban democrats are united in their view on a better future for their country based on tolerance, respect, and pluralism, stated a press release issued by Fernando Sánchez López on behalf of the coalition.
Antúnez Committed to Continue Struggle after Release
Having been released from prison after serving one month more than his full 17-year term for the pro-democracy struggle, Cuban oppositionist Jorge Luis García Pérez, also known as Antúnez, vowed to continue his dissident activity.
The Cuban dissident was arrested on March 15, 1990, in Placetas, Las Villas, while shouting critical remarks against Fidel Castro’s dictatorship in a public place. During his incarceration, he went through various maximum-security prisons and held several hunger strikes to protest against ill treatment by police agents of Cuba’s communist regime. Speaking by phone to EFE news agency from his home in Placetas, Antúnez said he had been harassed by prison authorities. He said they tried to stir up hatred among prisoners towards him but that political prisoners enjoyed sympathy in the general population.
The Cuban dissident is ready to continue support for the Pedro Luis Boitel National Civic Resistance Movement in Cuba, launched by his sister Berta Antúnez. He said he would not leave Cuba but instead work for the ongoing transformation of the Cuban people. Antúnez said he would search for new forms of struggle. “I have no wish to return to prison,” he said, but that no person or thing could buy his silence.
Antúnez described the opposition in Cuba as pluralistic, but not united. Transition toward freedom and democracy is the goal they have in common, he said. In 1995, while serving his sentence at the maximum-security Kilo 8 prison, he founded the Pedro Luis Boitel Political Presidium, a movement designed to provide information about the conditions of political prisoners in Cuban jails.
Independent Cuban Journalist Sentenced to 4 Years
On April 13, independent journalist Oscar Sánchez Mádan was sentenced to four years in prison on the charge of “pre-criminal social dangerousness.” The trial took place in Unión de Reyes, Matanzas province, where the journalist lives, according to the Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission. The trial was held behind closed doors and without a defense attorney or family members present.
Sanchez Madan, 44, was a regular contributor to Cubanet, the independent news agency. He was arrested in his native province on the morning of April 13 and convicted a few hours later. He was then sent to Combinado del Sur prison. His imprisonment brings the number of independent journalists currently jailed in Cuba to 25.
Cuban Attorney Sentenced to 12 Years
Cuban dissident attorney Rolando Jimenez Posada, 36 years old, was sentenced to 12 years in prison in a secret trial in Havana.
He was initially arrested on March 25, 2003 and tried for divulging state security secrets and showing disrespect toward Fidel Castro, according to the Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission. The Commission reports that in less than one month two similar trials were held behind closed doors, without independent defense attorneys or relatives present.
Elizardo Sánchez Santacruz, chairman of the Commission, believes these trials are a sign that the communist regime in Cuba is increasing pressure on the opposition.
According to Sanchez, the Cuban authorities denied the defendant’s request to represent himself in court. Sanchez is considered a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.
Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello Receives Death Threats
Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, head of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Cuba, reported from Havana about death threats received on April 17 from a man who called himself a state security agent. Speaking to Radio Martí, the leader of the Cuban opposition said that she had received a threatening phone call from an unknown man while awaiting a visit from foreign journalists accredited on the island.
The leader of the Assembly managed to tape part of the call. In the tape, the male voice calls himself a state security agent and says, “Martha, you are putting your life in danger, you are going to prison again. Would you like me to put you in a solitary cell? Yes, you will fall into that. You heard me, Martha, be careful.”
Martha Beatriz Roque was sentenced to 20 years in prison during the notorious Black Spring crackdown on dissent in 2003, but was released on medical parole. During her imprisonment, the pro-democracy leader was repeatedly put in solitary confinement for punishment.
Cuba Is the Biggest Jailor for Journalists in the Americas
Cuba is the biggest jailor of journalists in the Americas states the International Press Institute (IPI) in its 2006 World Press Freedom Review. It reports that 25 journalists were imprisoned in Cuba last year.
With Fidel Castro’s ceding power to his brother Raul in July last year, Cuba’s communist regime and security services have not eased their control of the media, underlines the Vienna-based press advocacy group. At the end of 2006, 22 out of 28 journalists jailed during a massive crackdown on dissent in 2003 were still in prison. During the year 2006, Cuban authorities released three reporters, but arrested another three, reports IPI in a paragraph on Cuba.
Cuban Oppositionists Released after Completing Sentences
At least six dissidents were set free on April 25 after serving prison terms of almost two years for “public disorder,” “social dangerousness” and “disrespect toward authorities,” dissident sources told EFE and AFP. Elizardo Sánchez Santacruz, head of the Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, confirmed the releases of Manuel Pérez Soria, 55; Lázaro Alonso Román, 32; and Emilio Leiva, 42.
Another dissident group, the National Coordinator for Former and Current Political Prisoners, confirmed the releases and said three more dissidents, Duylián Ramírez, Elio Chávez and José Díaz Silva, were also freed.
The first three were arrested in July 2005 during a demonstration to commemorate the sinking of the “13 of March” tugboat by the Cuban communist regime. Forty-one people fleeing the island died, including a six-month baby.
Release of Dissidents Is No Gesture of Goodwill by Cuban Government
The release from Cuban prisons of several dissidents, including Jorge Luis García Pérez, a.k.a. Antúnez, is no act of goodwill by the government, say Cuban dissidents. Recent summary and closed trials show that government repression persists.
Two days after Antúnez, one of Cuba’s longest-serving political prisoners, had left prison in Villa Clara after completing his 17-year term, at least six more dissidents were set free on April 24 after serving prison terms of almost 24 months.
“They release those who completed their sentences,” Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz, head of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, told France Presse. Castro’s oppression goes on, he added. Miriam Leiva of the Ladies in White group told AFP that other prisoners who are held in deplorable conditions as well as a new wave of arrests and persecution cannot be forgotten.
Political Prisoner Tells About Abuses at Kilo 5½ Prison
Havana, Cuba. Political prisoner Lázaro Alejandro García Fara has reported the abuses at Kilo 5½ prison in Pinar del Rio province, said his mother Gladis Fara. The prison is overrun with cockroaches, she said, but prison authorities don’t care. Her son is sleeping with his ears plugged for fear that one would crawl into his ear. Telephone privileges are routinely interrupted.
Lázaro Alejandro García Fara, 39, born in Mariano municipality in the city of Havana was arrested in 1994 and sentenced to 25 years in prison for an attempt to hijack a boat. In 2006, he had his term extended by 4 years for showing disrespect for Fidel Castro.
Fidel Castro Meets Top Chinese Official
Cuban leader Fidel Castro met with Wu Guanzheng, a member of the Standing Committee of China’s Communist Party Politburo for one hour in Havana on April 20, 2007, Cuban television said. Wu handed Castro a letter from Chinese President Hu Jintao that expressed the “excellent ties” that have been developed between the two nations and their ruling Communist parties, state television said in its evening newscast. Later, Wu met with Cuba’s acting president and Defense Minister, Raul Castro, who has been formally running Cuba since his brother had to undergo intestinal surgery.
Castro to Skip ALBA Summit in Venezuela
Cuban leader Fidel Castro is recuperating but won’t not be able to attend a meeting of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on April 22. The high-level gathering of four-nation cooperation group which includes Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua will take place in Venezuela at the end of this week. It was earlier expected, at least by Castro’s Bolivian ally Evo Morales, that the Cuban leader would make his triumphant comeback during the summit. However, Chavez said Castro would not attend the meeting, but would delegate one of his deputies instead.
Paraguay’s ABC Compares Castro to Stroessner
In an editorial, Paraguay’s leading newspaper ABC expresses concern over repression in Cuba and compares Fidel Castro’s dictatorship to that of Alfredo Stroessner.
Speaking about the press in Cuba, the newspaper notes that Castro has a clan of reporters and entire journalistic associations who praise and shout “hurrah” to him, just like the ex-dictator of Paraguay had.
Both regimes, the newspaper says, are known for persecution and imprisonment of independent journalists. But, according to ABC, Castro’s regime is much worse than Stroessner’s in this respect. The military dictator of Paraguay tolerated at least some of the independent press, while the Castro regime is more radical and does not allow any mass media outlets other than newspapers, radio and television approved and run by the Communist party.
Cuba’s Homophobia and Machismo in the 1960s-1970s Wrong, Admits Fidel Castro
Sexologist Mariella Castro, the Cuban leader’s niece, recently told El Pais that Fidel Castro had admitted that his attitude to homosexuality in the 1960s and 1970s was wrong. “He says they couldn’t understand everything that was happening around. They were all too young, machos and homophobes. They could not see their attitude to the gay community was wrong, silly and cruel,” she told the Spanish newspaper. Mariella Castro is director of the National Center for Sex Education.
“In the 1960s and 1970s there were many intolerable people who believed drunks and vagabonds must be sent to these units to help them integrate into society, and become strong and manly,” said Fidel’s niece describing this period in Cuba’s history. “The same goes for homosexuals. In those days people thought them queer and sick. Not only in Cuba, all over the world. . . .” In the 1960s, people were sent to armed labor units for being homosexual. However, Mariella Castro denied gays were abused and tortured there.
In 1979, homosexuality was legalized in Cuba, and in 2006, Fidel Castro literally said the following, “Being gay is natural.” However, the country has no anti-discrimination laws on sexual orientation, and it still bans gay organizations.
Havana Doesn’t Confirm Fidel’s Return to Power
The Cuban government would neither confirm nor deny speculation Fidel Castro would show up at the annual May Day festivities in Havana. As Cuban Economy Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez said, “If it is possible, he’ll be here, and if it is not, he won’t. We all wish for Fidel Castro to recover as soon as possible so he may be with us again.” Earlier, Bolivian President Evo Morales said Fidel would resume power during May Day celebrations.
FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE
Bishop Serpa Denies Intention to Close Vitral
Monsignor Jorge Enrique Serpa Pérez, the new Bishop of the western Diocese of Pinar del Río, stated on April 17 he had never said he would close Vitral magazine.
In a press release issued by the general secretariat of the Cuban Conference of Catholic Bishops, Monsignor Perez commented on reports and comments in the media about the demise of the magazine published by the Center for Civic and Religious Education of the Diocese of Pinar del Río. “It was never said that we would close or end Vitral magazine or the Center for Civic and Religious Education,” the statement said.
In its last issue, Vitral’s editorial board announced that, for lack of resources, it would no longer guarantee publication of the Catholic Church’s magazine, which has gained national and international acclaim. The editorial in Vitral’s last edition read that at this crucial time for Cuba, Cubans should do away with anachronisms of authoritarian rule to achieve democracy and respect for human rights.
20 Cuban Refugees Land on U.S. Coast near Miami
Twenty Cuban refugees reached the U.S. shore in Miami on April 16 where they received immediate medical aid desperately needed after battling icy winds and dangerous waves during their trip, reported a U.S. Coast Guard official. The group includes nine women, one teenager boy, and ten men. All of them are said to be well. They fled the native island on April 13.
After providing the refugees with medical aid, the Coast Guard transferred them to an immigration facility at Pembroke Pines pending a decision on their case.
Cuban Medics Enslaved in Namibia
Cuban physicians working in Namibia are slaves deprived of any personal liberty, according to an interview published by Namibia’s Repulikein. Juan Castro Rodríguez and Margarita Pérez Pérez told the newspaper about ill treatment they faced in Namibia. They said the country showed no respect toward Cuban medical personnel, but refused to let them emigrate to another place. The doctors arrived in Africa in June last year on a medical mission in accordance with a 1990 agreement. As soon as they landed in Namibia, the Cuban embassy confiscated their passports and dispatched them to work in the worst possible living conditions. According to Republikein, Rodríguez, Pérez and another Cuban medic have applied for permission to leave Namibia for the United States. If returned to Cuba, they will be put in jail, Rodríguez warned.
U.S. Wants to Know Why Moratinos Neglected Cuban Dissidents
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Colleen Graffy said her country wanted to know why Spain’s Socialist Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos had not met with Cuban dissidents during his recent official trip to the island. Graffy was in Madrid to attend the Fourth International Conference on America and Europe sponsored by the Spanish newspaper ABC.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department stated that the United States wanted to know the motives that prevented the Spanish foreign minister from meeting with Cuban dissidents. Speaking to the press, Colleen Graffy praised the Czech Republic for its concern for those countries, which like Cuba, live under totalitarian communist regimes.
European Parliament Deputies Welcome United for Liberty Declaration
Marco Pannella and Marco Cappato, European Parliament members from the Transnational Radical Party (Italy) welcomed the “United for Liberty” declaration signed recently by members of the Cuban opposition in Havana. They described the document of the democratic opposition inside Cuba as an unprecedented positive action.
Panella and Cappato believe the unity declaration signals a new phase in the opposition movement not only because it was signed by prominent members of the internal opposition, but because it calls upon Cubans to struggle for peaceful transition toward democracy and respect of human rights in Cuba. They said that every person of good will, particularly at institutions of EU member-states, should support and promote the document in every possible way so that the Cuban communist regime cannot hush it up and that other Cubans can learn about it.
Among those who signed the United for Liberty declaration are Vladimiro Roca, Oswaldo Payá, Martha Beatriz Roque, René Gómez Manzano, Elizardo Sánchez, Laura Pollán, Berta Soler, and Miriam Leiva.
Cuba’s Transition to Democracy Discussed in Berlin
Participants in the international conference “Democracy in Cuba: Seeking Common Initiatives” held in Berlin called for a peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba and expressed readiness to cooperate with Fidel Castro’s successor as well as dissidents to achieve democracy in Cuba.
Opening the Berlin Conference, Czech ex-president Vaclav Havel urged the international community to support Cuban dissidents and underlined the importance of efforts to promote democracy and freedom on the island. Jorge Moragas, in charge of foreign affairs in the Spanish Popular Party, stated that world democracies will not accept a hereditary dictatorship in Cuba similar to North Korea’s, but Markus Meckel from the German Social Democratic Party argued that it would not be wise to shun an opportunity of dialogue with the dictatorship. Luis Alberto Lacalle, ex-president of Uruguay, said a true democracy would win in Cuba when its citizens can exercise their right to vote.
U.S. Welcomes United for Liberty Declaration
The government of the United States welcomed the United for Liberty declaration signed recently by opposition groups in Cuba. In the document, Cuban dissident groups say they are united by their common aspiration for peaceful changes aimed at achieving democracy, freedom, social justice and human rights for all Cubans. To achieve these changes in society is a task for Cubans and only Cubans, the document reads.
U.S. transition coordinator for Cuba Caleb McCarry reported to the U.S. State Department’s information service that the document was an important message to both the island nation and the whole world, strengthening the right of Cubans to decide on a democratic future of their country. Meanwhile, Michael Parmly, the chief of Mission of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, restated Washington’s policy to give priority to the Cuban people in the right to define the future of their country.
The unity declaration, he added, reflects a position shared by the great majority of Cubans who have long been seeking changes for democracy and human rights on the island.
Zyuganov Awards Fidel Castro
During his visit to Cuba, Gennady Zyuganov, leader of Russia’s Communist Party awarded Fidel Castro a medal commemorating the 90th anniversary of the “Great October Socialist Revolution.” Fidel Castro is the first recipient of this non-state award.
Zyuganov said the decision was made because of Fidel Castro’s tremendous achievements in the struggle for socialism and his strong commitment to ideals of the Great October. He handed over the medal to Cuba’s Vice President Carlos Lage. For his part, Lage gave Fidel’s best regards to the delegation of the Russian Communist Party. He said Castro considered it a great honor to receive the award. Zyuganov wished Fidel a speedy recovery “and good health for the benefit of all working people and nations of the world.”
During his trip to Cuba, the delegation also met with members of Cuba’s Union of Young Communists and student and pioneer organizations. Russian communists will fly to Venezuela on April 26 where they will meet with Hugo Chavez.
Cuba to Turn into Oil Exporter
Import-dependent Cuba has announced its plans to become an oil exporter. Thanks to Venezuelan investments, Cuba has modernized an oil refinery in Cienfuegos that will be able to meet the island nation’s own demands and earmark 9,000 barrels of gasoline a day for export, report Cuban mass media. At present, due to friendly relations between Fidel Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Cuba receives crude oil from Venezuela at preferential prices.
Havana, Cuba. Over a dozen Cuban families were evicted from their homes in the Cotorro municipality in the city of Havana and forcibly returned to provinces they had come from before relocating to the capital. El Globo, a poor and very thinly populated neighborhood on the edge of Cotorro, was packed with police and municipal authorities on the early morning of April 7. The police concentration marked the start of an eviction campaign of several families for “illegally staying” in Havana.
Two trucks were sent to take possessions of the families targeted for eviction, and two buses from a Havana provincial transport company to carry the families, one for men and the other for women. While they were pushed into the buses, a bulldozer was razing the empty shabby houses, which gave shelter to more than a dozen families from eastern parts of the country.
Residents Frustrated by Lack of Medical Personnel
Santa Clara, Cuba. People living at the premises of a sugar refinery at Jiquí in the municipality of Santo Domingo in Villa Clara are frustrated that there have been no medical personnel there since last February.
According to María García Pérez, her 250 neighbors cannot receive medical aid at the outpatient clinic, the only one in the locality, as the doctor and the nurse who worked there were dispatched by the government to Venezuela on a medical mission. “My cousin has nearly died. He had strong abdominal pains, and there was no one to give him medical help. Luckily, we managed to get a car and reach the hospital in Santa Clara just in time for an emergency operation for appendicitis,” said García Pérez.
Pregnant women are also worried about the lack of medical personnel to provide services for them.
Mario Vargas Llosa Blames Intellectuals for Longevity of Castro’s Regime
Mexico City, Mexico. Speaking at a seminar on Latin America’s integration hosted by Mexico City, Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, the winner of many accolades, including Spain’s Cervantes Prize, pointed to efforts by European intellectuals to give a rosy picture of Latin America, which only prop up Fidel Castro’s military regime.
Vargas Llosa claimed the Cuban communist regime would not exist for so long were it not for a Utopian legend that has nothing to do with actual things that happen on the island, a legend built stone by stone by so many Europeans who pledge to view Cuba only as a place in paradise.
The author of La ciudad y los perros (in English called The Time of the Hero) said the magic sense of faith in Latin America continues to spread among Europeans who associate the Cuban Revolution with the idea of global salvation and refuse to see that the Cuban regime as one based on a cult of personality without a future for it as a political system. Some people, Vargas Llosa added further, continue to glamorize the oldest dictatorship in Latin America, which none of them would tolerate in their own countries.
Huge Wildfire in Cuba
A huge wildfire has burned up 740 hectares of grassland in a tropical forest in central Cuba — the biggest in the Caribbean —declared a UN biosphere reserve. Foresters are trying to control the blaze in the biosphere reserve outside the town of Ciénaga de Zapata, 98 km southeast of Havana.
According to forestry officials, a lot of combustible material like tree branches, time of the year, wind direction, and drought make it difficult to contain the fire. There was a similar disaster, the cause of which remains unknown, which hit this area five years ago.
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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].