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Cuba Chronicle of Events
Issue No. 39 • September 1-15, 2007

Cuba Chronicle of Events is produced by the Prima News Agency in Moscow  in cooperation with the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe, based in Washington, DC. This edition, which also includes items from August,  is based on reports from PRIMA-News, Bitacora Cubana, CubaNet, Puente Informativo Cuba Miami, Martí Noticias, Directorio Democrático Cubano, Izvestia, RIA Novosti, Radio Liberty, Kommersant, Radio Mayak, EuroNews, Associated Press, Gazeta.ru, ITAR-TASS, The New York Times, Novy Region, Oreanda, and Reuters.


Estonian MP Threatened with Expulsion from Cuba

Estonian lawmaker Andres Herkel from the Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica has returned from Cuba where he met with representatives of the Cuban opposition. He was threatened by Cuban authorities with deportation if he continued contacts with political dissidents. Herkel traveled to Cuba with Council of Europe colleagues from Hungary and Holland on tourist visas. As a result, they received official warnings. However, on August 4, the group’s translator was formally arrested and expelled from the country (see International Relations below).

On his arrival in Paris on the afternoon of August 6, Herkel said he had traveled to Cuba to have as many meetings with the Cuban opposition as possible and to express European solidarity. Herkel said that in spite of tough police surveillance the European lawmakers had met with opposition leaders Oswaldo Paya, Vladimiro Roca, and Marta Beatriz Roque. He said his colleagues and he participated in a protest action held in Havana on August 5 by the Ladies in White, made up of wives of political prisoners.


Cuban Dissident Francisco Chaviano Gonzales Freed from Prison

Cuba has released dissident Francisco Chaviano Gonzales, reported the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation. Chaviano spent 13 years in jail for “divulging state secrets.” Rights group Amnesty International said his trial fell short of international standards and listed him as political prisoner (prisoner of conscience).

Another Dissident Released

Lazaro Gonzales Adan, a dissident jailed for anti-communist propaganda, was also released. He spent three years in prison for painting quotes from national hero Jose Marti that were critical of the current communist government.

Concern over Repression in Cuban Prisons

The Pedro Luis Boitel National Movement for Civil Resistance has denounced an escalation of repression against Cuban political prisoners. Its member Jorge Luis García Pérez, also known as Antúnez, said prison conditions were cruel and the situation of rights activists serving wrongful sentences in Cuban jails was critical. According to Antúnez, the situation has dramatically worsened in recent weeks.


Cuba Launches Copper Scrap Collection

Cuba has launched a massive public campaign for collecting copper scrap to be used for making monuments in commemoration of Cuba’s struggle for “national liberation.” The driving force behind this project is Cuba’s Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, or CDRs, with a claimed membership of 8 million activists out of a total population of 11 million. “We are urging all Cubans to participate according to their possibilities in collecting copper scrap for erecting monuments to commemorate major events in our struggle for national independence,” said Ileana Urrusuno, a member of the coordination body of the neighborhood watch groups. She said the non-ferrous scrap metal could be delivered to any local CDR. These committees are almost on every city block and considered to be the “eyes and ears” of the Cuban revolution.

U.S. Sees No Signs of Fidel Castro’s Soon Demise

U.S. authorities have no reasons to believe in wild rumors of Fidel Castro’s quick demise that are now rife among Cuban exiles living in the United States, particularly in Miami. U.S. intelligence has no indication of activity in Havana or among Cuban officials relating to Castro’s impending death, a high-placed U.S. government source told NBC. Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque also dismissed rumors that Castro is at death’s door.

Cuba Won’t Participate in World Boxing Championship

The Cuban Boxing Federation announced that Cuba’s national team would skip the AIBA World Boxing Championship to be held in Chicago from October 18 to November 3, reports Reuters. “We will not expose anew a Cuban boxing team to the abuses and provocations that in this case will be present in Chicago, American territory, the perfect location for marketers and traffickers to act freely and with the total complicity of U.S. authorities,” the Federation said in a statement.

The Federation was referring to an incident during the Pan-American Games in Brazil in July when Cuba’s star boxers, Guillermo Rigondeaux, two-time bantamweight Olympic champion, and amateur welterweight world champion Erislandy Lara, abandoned their team. They attempted to move to Germany but were arrested by Brazilian police and deported back to Cuba (see below). Fidel Castro accused the United States of stealing Cuba’s top athletes and said the two boxers would not box again for Cuba. In December, Cuba lost three other Olympic boxing champions, Yan Barthelemy, Yuriolkis Gamboa and Odlanier Solis, who are now boxing professionally in Germany.

The competition in Chicago is one of three qualifying tournaments for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China. The Federation, however, said it was optimistic that it will qualify its boxing team for the 2008 Olympic Games.

Fidel Castro: Cuban Boxers May Skip 2008 Olympics

Cuba may not send its boxers to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Cuban leader Fidel Castro wrote in the state-run Granma newspaper on August 8. The Cuban government is considering this measure to prevent attempted defections like those that occurred at the end of July.

Guillermo Rigondeaux, Cuba’s Olympic boxing champion, and Erislandy Lara, a world welterweight boxing champion, failed to show up for their weigh-in before the first round of competition at the Pan American Games in Brazil and vanished for about two weeks. The two boxers were later arrested for overstaying their visas and sent back to Cuba, arriving there last Sunday. However, the German sports promotion company Arena said it had signed a contract with the boxers, according to the Associated Press. (See Refugees story below.)

“It is now time to put together the list of Cuban boxers who will participate in the Beijing Olympics, about one year in advance,” stated Fidel Castro in his Reflections on the matter. Castro, however, stressed that sport authorities were analyzing all possible alternatives, “including changing the list of boxers or not sending a delegation at all, despite the penalties that follow.” Castro added: “there is one thing we should warn them about: we are not eager to make home deliveries. Cuba will not sacrifice one bit of honor or ideas for Olympic gold medals; the morale and patriotism of its athletes shall prevail above all else.”

Rigondeaux and Lara are not the first Cuban athletes to have abandoned Pan American Games. Earlier, Cuban star handball player Rafael Dacosta has deserted his teammates. At the start of this year, three Olympic gold medalist boxers Yan Barthelemy, Yuriolkis Gamboa and Odlanier Solis defected while training in Venezuela. All three are said to have signed contracts with foreign promoters. Cuba is the world’s leader in amateur boxing. Cuban boxers clinched eight Olympic medals at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, including five gold, two silver, and one bronze.


Fugitive Cuban Boxers Deported Back to Cuba

Two Cuban boxers Guillermo Rigondeaux and Erislandy Lara, who abandoned their team during the Pan American Games in Brazil two weeks ago, have been deported back to Cuba. The two athletes were arrested by the Brazilian police on August 2 and were sent back home on August 5, according to the Associated Press.

Rigondeaux, two-time bantamweight Olympic champion, and Lara, the welterweight world champion  had deserted their team before the quarter-finals of the Pan American Games. Shortly afterwards they signed contracts with the German promoter, Arena TV, and planned to move to Germany. But on August 2, the boxers were detained in Cabo Frio, a resort town near Rio de Janeiro.

According to the Brazilian police, Rigondeaux and Lara said they wanted to go home. Cuban President Fidel Castro said in his writings published by Juventud Rebelde the boxers had repented, and promised not to harshly punish them. It was reported earlier that Castro has confiscated houses and cars which were given to the star boxers for their achievements. The Cuban leader also said Rigondeaux, 25, and Lara, 24, “will be offered good jobs in sports in line with their knowledge and experience.” In the past, top Cuban baseball players suspected of wishing to defect were immediately expelled from the national team and given minor jobs in sports.

Earlier this year, in March, three boxers who won gold at the Athens Olympic Games defected from the Cuban national team. Yan Barthelemy, Yuriolkis Gamboa and Odlanier Solis deserted while training in Venezuela for the Pan-American Games, moving later to Columbia. From there, the athletes went to Germany where they signed contracts with Arena TV.

Russia’s Court Sentences Two Cuban Refugees

On August 6, the regional court of Pskov sentenced two Cubans, Yagneris Peña Diebra, 35, and Jose Montero Ortega, 40, for trying to emigrate to the United States through Russia using false documents. In May this year, they were removed from a train on the border with Latvia. “We were fleeing from the Fidel Castro regime,” they told investigators. The Cubans arrived legally in Russia on May 6 by air.

After a man at a Moscow market provided them with false Mexican passports for $2,000, they went to St. Petersburg where they took the train to Riga. During the border check in Pskov, their passports caused suspicion, and the passengers were arrested. On Monday, the Russian court sentenced them to three months in a colony settlement for using false documents and attempting to cross the border illegally. After the sentence expires, the Cubans will be released, handed over to the Migration Service, and then, most likely, deported back to Cuba, said Viktor Popov, the lawyer for the two Cubans.

A similar incident occurred in early March in the city of Nizhny Novgorod in central Russia. Two women and a man were taken off the plane for attempting to leave this country disguised as Mexican nationals.

HRW Asks Brazil to Probe the Case of Cuban Boxers

A leading international human rights group requested Brazil to investigate the case of two Cuban boxers who disappeared in Rio de Janeiro. According to Reuters, Human Rights Watch sent an open letter to Brazil’s Justice Minister Tarso Genro asking to fully investigate the case and track how the deported athletes are treated by the Cuban government. The Cuban boxers disappeared in Rio de Janeiro during the Pan American Games in July. They were later located by police and sent back to Cuba. Brazilian lawmakers have announced their plans to investigate why the boxers were returned so quickly instead of being granted political asylum.

Hungary Agrees to Take in 29 Cubans, Havana Bristles

Havana blasted Hungary over its decision to grant refugee status to 29 Cuban migrants. The Cuban press and television branded Hungary a “servile footman” of the United States. A Cuban TV news announcer said Hungary “should concern itself with treating its Romany (gypsy) minority as human beings instead of granting political asylum to illegal Cuban émigrés.” Hungary’s Foreign Ministry responded by saying the country acted out of compassion and did not mean to interfere in domestic affairs of sovereign Cuba.

Those given Hungarian visas were among 44 Cubans picked up at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard and held at the Guantánamo Bay naval base for several years because U.S. authorities deemed them at risk of persecution if repatriated and sought a third country to take them. Seventeen of the Cubans staged a hunger strike to protest conditions there, ending it only after Budapest announced it would take 29 migrants. One of the remaining Cubans at the Guantánamo base chose to return home and five other were approved to go to the United States.

Six Cuban Migrants Arrive in Cayman Islands

Six Cuban migrants arrived in the Cayman Islands’ territorial waters on August 24 after their  boat’s engine failed. The British dependency’s government said that five men and one woman were spotted off the coast of Cayman Brac island early Friday. They are now awaiting transfer to a detention center on the main Grand Cayman island. The Cayman government typically sends illegal Cuban migrants back home after a short stay at the detention facility. If they do not land, they are monitored but are permitted to continue their journey. The Cayman Islands are small Caribbean islands located about 300 km south of central Cuba.

Peru Grants Asylum to Cuban Medics

The government of Peru has granted political asylum to two Cuban doctors who arrived there from Bolivia where they provided free health care to the needy as part of the Bolivian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA). The Foreign Ministry’s press service confirmed the information and said Peru was now examining asylum requests from another two Cuban doctors. Peru’s Foreign Minister José García Belaunde explained that the group crossed the border and asked to stay in Peru after working just several weeks in Bolivia. The identities of the four Cubans have not been disclosed.


U.S. State Department: Administration Policy Unlikely to Change in Near Future

Washington. U.S. policy on Cuba is unlikely to change in the near future, said State Department Spokesman Gonzazlo Gallegos at a daily press briefing on August 21. “This Administration’s policy on Cuba is well known, has not changed, and I don’t believe it’s going to be changing in the near future,” said the U.S. diplomat when asked to comment on Senator Barack Obama’s call to ease the embargo on Cuba.

Senator Obama, a Democratic presidential candidate, urged the U.S. to ease restrictions for Cuban-Americans who want to visit their relatives on the island and ease limits on the amount of money they can send to their families. In response to Obama’s suggestion, the State Department spokesman said the Castro regime “has a tremendous capacity to take U.S. dollars and other funds that enter into Cuba to strip it away from the people who live in Cuba and then to use it to maintain their totalitarian regime.”  “And we don’t see a willingness to open the society and therefore don’t see a reason to be changing the policy there,” Gallegos added.

Russian Government Submits Cuban Debt Agreement for Ratification

The Russian government has submitted an intergovernmental agreement for ratification to the State Duma to settle Cuba’s post-Soviet debt to Russia for being granted credit facilities. The ratification will eliminate barriers to trade and economic cooperation and encourage state support for exporting Russia’s goods and services to Cuba.

Cuba Owes US $555 Million to Mexico

Mexico has signaled a new positive dynamic in its relations with Cuba despite the unresolved problem of a Cuban debt of US $500 million to Mexico’s National Foreign Trade Bank. Mexico’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Latin America and the Caribbean Gerónimo Gutiérrez announced the government’s decision to advance mutual agendas not only politically but also in human rights, bilateral cooperation, migration, and trade.

He acknowledged that the major issues to be settled include Cuba’s debt of US $555 million to Mexico that it has maintained since 1989. Gutiérrez said that there were also differences in approaches between Mexico and the governments of Cuba and Venezuela. But his country was genuinely interested in focusing on issues they could work together on, calling this a process of rapprochement and renewal.


Cuba Pays for Venezuelan Oil in Services

Cuba pays for its Venezuelan oil in social services provided by specialists from doctors to sports trainers, the Associated Press reported on August 3.

“More than 50 percent of the bill is paid in this manner,” said Cuban Ambassador to Venezuela German Sanchez Otero. Venezuela ships more than 90,000 barrels of crude oil per day to Cuba. Cuba in turn has sent thousands of doctors and nurses who treat needy Venezuelans for free at neighborhood clinics. Sports trainers also have come to the South American nation under the program in exchange for oil.

Cuban officials say they pay the same price for Venezuelan crude as other countries.

Cuba Earns US $2 Billion a Year from Tourism

According to Cuba’s National Statistics Office, foreign tourists brought in $2.4 billion (Euro1.742 billion) to Cuba in 2006, the highest earnings since Cuba’s return to the tourism industry. Tourism revenues in the last six years generated $12 billion (Euro8.699 billion), making it possible to upgrade Cuban hotels. In 2001, Cuba had 39,264 hotel rooms, and at the end of last year it had 48,103.

The most arrivals are from Canada, Great Britain, Spain, Italy, Germany, France, and Mexico. Russians are also frequent visitors to the island. With 40,000 visitors a year, Russia ranks tenth on the list of Cuba’s foreign tourists. Cuba turned to tourism again as its best way to prop up the ailing economy in the early 1990s when it was forced to change its development strategy. It was then that tourism was declared to be an important source of revenues and the basis of economic development.


Russian Women Live in Poverty in Cuba

About 1,300 women from the former Soviet Union who came to Cuba in hope of finding “true socialism” live there in poverty, struggling to make ends meet.

When they came to Cuba they were young women romantically drawn to Fidel Castro’s revolution. But when the Soviet Union collapsed, they were cut off from home and stranded in poverty as the Cuban economy has been plunged into decline. They are desperately trying to make ends meet on their $10 monthly pension   “It was a migration of love, a part of our shattered utopia,” said Gustavo Crus, director of a Cuban documentary “They Were All Going to Be Queens.”


Hands-Off Picket Staged Outside U.S. Embassy in Kiev

The Ukraine-Cuba Friendship Association organized a demonstration of 30 picketers outside the U.S. Embassy in Kiev, Ukraine, to demand the release of the Cuban Five, five men serving terms in the United States on espionage charges. The protest marked nine years since the five Cuban state security officers were arrested in the United States on September 12, 1998.

Castro Says Cuba Saved Reagan’s Life

Cuban leader Fidel Castro said Havana once saved U.S. President Ronald Reagan from an assassination attempt. In his column today, Castro made it clear that Cuba had cooperated with the United States in the past. According to his writing, a Cuban official stationed in the United States told the U.S. security service about an extreme right-wing group that was plotting to kill Reagan during a planned trip to North Carolina in 1984.

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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].