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Cuba Chronicle of Events
No. 36 • May 16–31, 2007

Cuba Chronicle of Events is produced by the Prima News Agency, based in Moscow, Russia, in cooperation with the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe, based in Washington, D.C. This edition is based on reports from PRIMA-News, Bitacora Cubana, CubaNet, Puente Informativo Cuba Miami, Martí Noticias, Directorio Democrático Cubano, RadicalParty.org, Associated Press, Gazeta.Ru, RIA Novosti, MIGnews.com.


People’s Party Urges Spanish Parliament to Invite Cuban Dissidents to Spanish Embassy

The People’s Party of Spain has recommended that the Parliament obligate the government of Spain to invite Cuban dissidents to national celebrations held at the Spanish Embassy in Havana. In a draft resolution, the People’s Party has also urged the government to make arrangements that Spanish official delegations to Cuba could meet with representatives of the pro-democracy opposition. Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos had not met with leading Cuban dissidents during his trip to Havana in April this year.

Cuban Opposition Praises AI Report

Cuban opposition activists lauded Amnesty International’s annual global report for its concern over persistent repression on the island (see below). Dissident Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello said the document described the real situation in the country in which innocent people are arbitrarily arrested, tried, and jailed for criticizing the Castro regime. She added that Amnesty  International’s enormous prestige could help make the world aware of how people live in Cuba with complete lack of freedom.

Marcelo López Bacobre, a prisoner of conscience who has been granted conditional release, said the report Amnesty International circulated on May 23 offered huge moral support and had enormous meaning for jailed Cuban dissidents.

Cuban Opposition Watches Closely Cuba-Spain Dialogue

Cuba’s internal opposition is keeping a close watch on the first session of the Cuba-Spain political consultations being held in Havana, including on the issue of human rights. Economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a former prisoner of conscience, told Agence France Presse that there was one major subject that could not be avoided during the talks, namely the issue of political prisoners, and especially those political prisoners convicted in the “black spring” of 2003.

Martha Beatriz Roque from the Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Cuba and Vladimir Roca from the Todos Unidos stated that they were skeptical about the agreement of Cuba and Spain to establish a formal mechanism for political dialogue. Roca recalled that similar agreements signed between Cuba and Canada in 1996 had yielded no positive results because Cuba persistently denied holding political prisoners.


Recently Released Dissident to Face Another Trial

Lázaro Alonso, a Cuban opposition activist released from prison on April 24 after completing a two-year term, was re-arrested on May 19 and, although released on May 21, he was informed by police he would undergo a new trial.

Alonso was re-arrested outside his house in Havana and charged with resisting the police. He is to stand trial on May 23, according to human rights activist Elizardo Sánchez. Marta Beatriz Roque of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Cuba called his arrest another case of harassment. She also noted that it was not by chance that the re-arrest coincided with the 105th anniversary of Cuba’s independence, May 20, a holiday rejected by Fidel Castro’s regime.

Alonso was convicted after participating in a July 2005 tribute to the victims of the 1994 13 of March tugboat massacre. The Cuban Navy sank the vessel, which was seeking to leave the island, resulting in the death of 41 people, including men, women and children.

Amnesty International: Severe Restrictions on Freedoms Persist in Cuba

Amnesty International released its annual report, saying freedom of expression, association, and movement continued to be severely restricted in Cuba and dissidents, independent journalists and rights activists continued to be harassed.

The international organization noted that at the end of 2006, sixty-nine prisoners of conscience were held behind bars, while twelve others continued to serve their sentences outside prison because of health condition. Amnesty International also confirmed reports there was an increase in the public harassment and intimidation of human rights activists and political dissidents under Raul Castro’s interim leadership. It also pointed to increased numbers of arrests on charges of “pre-criminal dangerousness” and continued severe limitations on access to the Internet outside governmental offices and educational institutions.

The international rights organization expressed regret that the Cuban government continued to deny the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Cuba access to the country. AI also stated political opposition parties and activities were not tolerated on the island.

Another Cuban Dissident Arrested

Holguín, Cuba. Antonio Moné Borrego, president of the Miguel Valdés Tamayo Movement for Human Rights, was arrested in Baracoa on May 20. His colleague, Queiber Rodríguez Fernández, told the independent Holguín Press agency Moné Borrego was being held at the local headquarters of the State Security with no contact with anyone from the outside world. It is not yet known what he is accused of.


Jailed Journalist Denied Out-of-Cell Walks

Imprisoned journalist Normando Hernández González has been denied medically needed daily walks by prison authorities since April 23, according to Reporters Without Borders. The press freedom watchdog writes that the ban on outdoor exercises is a form of additional punishment for his continuing to work as a journalist from prison. Medical doctors have advised Hernández González that he should walk every day because of tuberculosis and other medical conditions he is suffering from.

Hernández was arrested along with the group of 75 journalists, intellectuals and dissidents during the 2003 government crackdown called the Black Spring. He is sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Cuban Journalist Remains Jailed Without Trial

Cuban independent journalist Armando Betancourt has been jailed for a year without any court judgement, said Reporters Without Borders (RSF), reiterating its call for his release. Betancourt, a contributor to the Nueva Prensa Cubana web site and founder of El Camagüeyano magazine, was arrested on May 23, 2006. “Betancourt’s only offense was to work as a journalist. There are no serious grounds for holding him and even the judges have acknowledged inconsistencies in the testimony about the circumstances of his arrest,” the Paris-based press freedom group underlined. Given the element of doubt and absence of any charge, Betancourt should be freed, said the group in its statement.

With 25 reporters behind bars, Cuba remains the world’s leading jailer of journalists, noted Reporters Without Borders.


Fidel Castro Writes Article about His Health

In a published article, Cuban leader Fidel Castro revealed on May 23 some details about his health condition, reports Reuters. Castro writes that he had not just one intestinal surgery but several in 2006 and that initially there was no success. This, the Comandante explained, resulted in a prolonged and difficult period of recovery. But Castro informed readers that doctors have taken him off IV feeding and that now he receives all food orally and already has gained weight.

The only danger he faced now, he wrote, was that related to aging and consequences of the irresponsible attitude he took toward his health in his younger years. The Cuban leader added the heavy schedule of his rehabilitation exercises did not leave time right for videos or pictures requiring him to dress up and fix his hair, beard, and mustache.

Castro’s illness was announced in July 2006, at which time he temporarily ceded power to his brother Raul. Since then the condition and exact ailment of the 80-year-old politician have been kept state secrets.


Fiesta in Managua

Havana, Cuba. Hundreds of people took part in a procession carrying icons of Saint Isidro and the Healing Virgin in Managua municipality in Havana on May 15. The procession was held to celebrate the patron saints of this locality. The Vatican’s representative, Papal Nuncio Msgr. Luigi Bonazzi was present at the festivities and remarked in his speech that the past century was filled by deceptions brought on by certain ideologies, including extreme capitalism and Marxism.


Twenty Six Cubans Landed in Miami Bay

A group of 26 Cuban migrants came ashore in Miami, Florida, on May 21 in what appears to be a new wave of human smuggling, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. The group of 26 Cubans, including ten women, ten men and six children, are being processed at a detention center in Pembroke Pines, a U.S. Coast Guard official told EFE agency.

Under the U.S. government’s wet foot/dry foot policy, Cubans who make it to American soil are allowed to stay in the country and receive U.S. citizenship within one year. Those caught at sea, no matter how close to U.S. land, are sent back home under an fixed immigration agreement forged between Havana and Washington that allows 20,000 Cubans to receive visas each year.

Two Volleyball Players Defect from Cuba’s National Team

The Cuban men’s volleyball national team, which is to compete against Russia in Group C of the World League in 2007, has lost two of its athletes. Romero Poey and Yasser Portuondo left the training camp in Varna, Bulgaria, for an unknown destination. According to the Russian newspaper Sport-Express, the two defectors resurfaced in Italy on May 25 where they have reportedly sought political asylum.

A similar incident occurred in 2001 during a Christmas tournament in Antwerp, Belgium, when six Cuban volleyball players abandoned the national team. Almost all of them later successfully played for Italian clubs in Series A1. Poye and Portuondo, who played for Russian clubs in the 2004/05 season, are likely seeking to also stay in the Appenines.


Foreign Ministries of Cuba, Japan Start Bilateral Talks

Japan and Cuba have begun talks at the level of foreign ministries in Havana. They will address reforms of the UN Security Council, the situation in North Korea, and bilateral relations, according to the countries’ official sources. Japan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Midori Matsushima told the press that during their discussions on North Korea, he intended to speak about the human rights situation in this communist-run Asian nation,.

Cuba, Spain to Discuss Issue of Political Prisoners

Spain and Cuba will discuss the question of political prisoners during their first meeting on human rights in Havana scheduled for My 28 and 29, according to the Spanish Foreign Ministry. The Spanish delegation will be headed by Rafael Dezcállar, Director-General for Foreign Policy of the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

The two governments agreed to establish a formal mechanism for political dialogue during Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos’s official visit to Cuba in April. Moratinos and his Cuban counterpart, Perez Roque, have also outlined the principles guiding the relations and talks between the two countries, which include respect for each country’s sovereignty and non-interference in the other country’s internal affairs. According to official sources, the agenda has been approved and will include the subject of political prisoners.

In a recent interview with the Madrid newspaper El Mundo, Perez Roque praised the Spanish Socialist government for its attitude toward Cuba and denied there are political prisoners on the communist-run island. Addressing the lower house on April 25, Moratinos, in turn, assured “nothing would be excluded” from the agenda a priori, including the issue of over 250 dissidents currently imprisoned in Cuba.
The human rights forum between Spain and Cuba is the first of its kind ever established by the dictatorship in Havana with a European Union member country. The meeting in the Cuban capital will be held on the eve of the UN Human Rights Council session to take place from June 11 to June 15 in Geneva.

Rome Hosts International Conference on Cuban Labor Rights

The Third International Conference on Cuban Labor Rights and Social Corporate Responsibility was held at the headquarters of the Transnational Radical Party in Rome, Italy. Participants in the conference have urged the government, trade unions, and business community of Italy, and  particularly the Italian embassy in Havana, to join a campaign for human rights in Cuba. The conference also discussed involvement of Telecom Italia in the Cuban state phone monopoly ETECSA, which is used by Cuba’s security services for surveillance, including tapping phones of Cuban dissidents, and restricting the right to freedom of information.

Influx of Cuban Medics to Overseas Countries Poses Problem

The World Medical Association (WMA) has agreed to prepare a guidance document on social responsibility of physicians active in the public sector and also passed a resolution expressing concern about an influx of Cuban doctors offering free care in overseas countries. The Association voiced serious concern about Cuban doctors’ accreditation in the assigned countries, especially after the Medical Board of Bolivia complained that Cubans were taking jobs away from local doctors and that as a result the quality of medical services was worsening.

The Medical Board claimed the government of Bolivia has bypassed the agency established to verify physicians’ credentials and competence, including thousands of Cuban medics dispatched to Bolivia. According to the Medical Board, Cuba and Bolivia have a bilateral agreement requiring medical credentialing of foreign persons engaged in medical practice.

U.S. Congressmen Offer Cuba Multi-million Dollar Contracts

Five U.S. lawmakers made an unannounced visit to Havana on May 28 to explore agricultural trade opportunities in Fidel Castro’s procommunist Cuba. At a meeting with Cuban officials, the U.S. delegation discussed contracts to sell up to $150 million worth of American goods to Cuba. The U.S. delegation, led by Connecticut Democrat Rosa De Lauro, plans to meet with at least one top Cuban government official, said Sarah Stephens, the director of the Washington-based Center for Democracy in the Americas. The Center opposes the U.S. embargo against Cuba and helped organize the trip. “We are a diverse group geographically and in our politics toward Cuba,” De Lauro said. “But we view this as an opportunity to learn, to create dialogue about issues of mutual concern.” The delegation included Democratic Reps. Marion Berry of Arkansas and Bob Etheridge of North Carolina, as well as Republican lawmakers Rodney Alexander of Louisiana and Jack Kingston of Georgia.


U.S. Businessmen Asking to Ease Trade with Cuba

U.S. government officials met on May 1 with a group of American businessmen seeking an easing of trade rules with Cuba. The country, they argue, could become an important market for U.S. agricultural and food products.

While the U.S. economic embargo against communist-run Cuba prohibits general trade between the two countries, the U.S. government allows the sale of certain agricultural commodities to the island requiring that Cuba pay cash for purchases before they can leave U.S. ports.

Gary Martin, chairman of the U.S. Grain Export Association stated that the United States could use market opportunities in Cuba more efficiently. But John Kavulich from the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council disagreed, saying that the Cuban economy is not ready for a significant increase in the import of agricultural products or in foreign tourism.

Cuban Authorities to Spend $185 million to Boost Tourism to the Island

Cuba announced that it will spend $185 million to develop its tourism sector, upgrading more than 200 resorts, golf courses, yacht clubs, theme parks, and hotels to attract tourists. The government said the number of visitors to the island dropped by 100,000 last year to 2.2 million. To remedy the situation, Cuba is going to build 50 boutique inns around the country and to improve its network of roads linking tourist zones and administrative centers. Tourism is a major source of income in Cuba, reports Associated Press.

Cuba to Buy $1.6 Billion in Food This Year

Compared to 2002, Cuba will spend $600 million more on food imports this year, said Pedro Alvarez, head of the state importing monopoly Alimport. He said Cuban officials would meet in the next few days in Havana with U.S. agribusiness representatives to negotiate $500 million worth of food imports to reach Cuba by the end of this year. U.S. agricultural imports will include flour, wheat, corn, rice, soybean cooking oil and poultry meat.

According to him, 95 percent  of imported food and farm goods will be distributed among 11.2 million Cubans through Cuba’s food ration system at discount prices and 5 percent will go to state-run dollar-only stores. Alimport’s official data reports that Cuba has imported 7.8 million tons of food products worth $2.335 billion from the United States since Washington authorized food exports to the island in 2001. Today, Cuba imports the bulk of its agricultural products from member countries of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), Canada, the European Union, China and Vietnam.


Water Shortage in Isla de la Juventud

Havana, Cuba. The collapse of wells, equipment failure and damage of the municipal piping system disrupted the potable water supply in Nueva Gerona, central town of the special municipality of Isla de la Juventud, south-west of Havana. Water supply problems also hit some other towns on the island, which many Cubans blame on governmental inefficiency and poor management.

At the time of this report, water pipe workers were digging a well in the El Abra mine to replace the faulty one, which supplied 45 liters of water per second to Nueva Gerona where now some 50,000 people live. It was confirmed that the collapse of wells, damaged equipment, and the dilapidated piping systems also caused water shortages in the towns of Delio Chacón, Mella Cítrico, and El Tronco.

Teacher Crisis

Havana, Cuba. Parents of students from José Martí Technological Institute in Boyeros municipality in Havana are complaining about a shortage of teachers at this college. Mercedes González, whose daughter is doing a course in library science there, told Cuba Verdad agency that the head of the college announced on May 17 that he did not have enough teachers to fill the needs, and, this would be the last time they offer the course.


Ad Insulting to Cuban Women Removed from Internet

The Spanish airline Iberia has removed from its web site an advertisement promoting travel to Cuba after the Consumers in Action Federation complained that the ad denigrates Cuban women.

In its official press release of May 21, the Madrid-based consumer group announced Iberia has pulled the controversial ad following the complaint issued on May 14. The Federation said the animated cartoon video showed black Cuban women in bikinis at the service of tourists 24 hours a day, dancing, massaging, feeding, and fanning for them.

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The Cuba Chronicle of Events is produced by the Prima News Agency, based  in Moscow, Russia, in cooperation with the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe, based in Washington, D.C. Items are reproduced with attribution from other news agencies. Please direct inquiries and comments to Editor, Cuba Chronicle of Events, Prima-News at [email protected] or  [email protected].