Cuba Chronicle of Events
Issue No. 40 • September 16-30, 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 is based on reports from PRIMA-News, Bitacora Cubana, CubaNet, Puente Informativo Cuba Miami, Martí Noticias, Directorio Democrático Cubano, NEWSru.com, RBC, and Lenta.Ru.
Cuban Activists Participate in Human Rights Forum
Cuban human rights activists from inside and outside Cuba took part in a rights forum in the Palace of Nations in Geneva where the sixth session of the UN Human Rights Council is now taking place. Speaking by phone from Havana, former prisoner of conscience Jorge Luis García Pérez (also known as Antúnez), told the forum that the Cuban judiciary was a tool of the totalitarian system and that he doubted a scheduled visit of a UN special rapporteur to the island would be effective.
Christian Liberation Movement’s National Coordinator Forbidden to Travel to Rome; Centrist Democrat International Expresses Support for Cuban Democrats
The Centrist Democrat International, an international association of political parties associated with Christian Democracy, said the Cuban regime had prevented Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, a leading member of the Cuban opposition and the national coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement, from attending its congress to be held on September 20 in Rome. Antonio López-Istúriz, a member of the European Parliament, expressed the CDI’s regret over the decision taken by Cuba in a message delivered to the Cuban Embassy in Rome.
At the Congress, the international association adopted a strong resolution condemning the Cuban dictatorship and supporting “dissidents, democrats, and all those who dare to defy the communist regime in Cuba.” The resolution also demanded the release of Cuban political prisoners and condemned the deplorable and inhumane conditions they are subjected to, including routine torture and humiliation. In addition, the delegates expressed regret that Cuba continued to deny its people freedom of expression and freedom of association.
The chairman of the Spanish People’s Party, Mariano Rajoy, who participated in the congress, stressed the importance of the document adopted by the CDI. Many prominent politicians attended the event, including Mexico’s ex-President Vicente Fox, Italy’s former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and former Colombian President Andrés Pastrana.
Spanish People’s Party Honors Payá Sardiñas
The youth wing of the Spanish People’s Party in the southern region of Estremadura honored Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, a Cuban opposition member, with its annual award, the Liberty Oak prize. The dissident’s brother, Carlos Alberto Payá Sardiñas, received the award on his behalf in a ceremony in the city of Badajoz. New Generations has chosen to honor Payá for his struggle for democracy and human rights. Speaking from Havana on Radio Martí, Payá used the occasion to urge the Spanish government to include the issue of political prisoners in forthcoming talks with Cuba on human rights.
Cuban Authorities Break Up Protest, Arrest Dissidents
Several Cuban dissidents were detained on September 27 in Havana outside the Justice Ministry in an action to demand better conditions for Cuban political prisoners organized by opposition members Martha Beatriz Roque and Jorge Luis García Pérez (a.k.a. Antúnez).
Roque told Radio Martí that over 200 activists came to protest. Some, she said, were arrested and others were said to be missing. Among those taken into custody were José Díaz Silva, Georgina Noa Morales, Arturo Montgomery, and Roberto Vega Pérez, she added. Among the missing was the well known former political prisoner Antúnez, whom Roque feared has also been arrested. He failed to join Roque at her home after the protest, as planned.
Roque and Antúnez planned to hand over a letter during the protest that they had written to Justice Minister María Esther Reus. Despite the police actions against the protest, Roque asserted that the participants had fulfilled their goal of showing support to political prisoners and that she had managed to hand the letter to the ministry. It said, “We are demanding that the political prisoners be treated with dignity because they are human beings, and besides, innocent.”
Roque Cabello Recounts Harassment by Cuban Authorities
In an official statement circulated to international media on September 10 in Havana, Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, the 62-year-old co-chairman of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society, described a campaign of police harassment, including round-the-clock surveillance, threats made by plain-clothes agents, and intimidating visitors by taking down the license numbers of all cars parked nearby her house. The opposition economist reported new incidents of harassment and warned about the possibility of a new attack instigated by the regime. She said the Castro regime should be held responsible for any act of repression she might be subjected to in future.
Cabello served almost three years in prison from July 1997 to May 2000 for her involvement in the Internal Dissidents’ Working Group for the Analysis of the Cuban Socio-Economic Situation, known as The Group of Four. In 2003, Cabello was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment as part of the campaign of repression called “Black Spring” in which 75 opposition activists were arrested and sentenced to a total of 1,200 years’ imprisonment. In July 2004, Cabello was released from prison on medical grounds, but has been subjected to a continuing campaign of harassment.
Cuban Dissidents Express Solidarity with Prisoner of Conscience
Members of the peaceful Cuban opposition have expressed their support for prisoner of conscience Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, who is being held in Kilo 8 prison in Camagüey without medical treatment, despite various ailments. In a statement of solidarity, human rights activists told the international community about the harassment and humiliation that Herrera Acosta is being subjected to by his jailers.
In the document, read aloud on Radio Martí, former political prisoner Jorge Luis García Pérez, known as Antúnez, writes that Herrera Acosta, who is suffering from significant skin and heart problems, is being refused appropriate medical treatment.
Those signing the document say they will launch a series of protests near Kilo-8 prison should the repression against the prisoner continue. Besides Antúnez, Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello, and Idania Yánez Contreras have signed the document.
Cuban Political Prisoner Normando Hernandez Gonzalez Is In Critical Condition
Yaraí Reyes Marín, the wife of Cuban prisoner of conscience Normando Hernández González, told Radio Martí that her husband is in critical condition following her visit to the Carlos J. Finlay military hospital in Havana. She said Hernández was suffering from ten chronic medical conditions, was very weak, and had severe abdominal pains. She added that her husband has no faith in the medical treatment he receives, since everything is controlled by the Cuban security services. Hernández González was arrested in the 2003 Black Spring crackdown and sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment. He is serving the sentence in Kilo 7 prison in Camagüey.
Ladies in White Demand Release of Political Prisoners
The Ladies in White, wives, mothers, and sisters of Cuban political prisoners, gathered together at a church in Old Havana on the day of the Virgin Mercedes (The Virgin of Blessings), who is the patron saint of prisoners, in order to pray for the release of their imprisoned loved ones.
Dressed in white, each carrying a pink gladiolus, thirty six women held a vigil on the night of September 23 and on Monday morning marched to the Merced Church in Old Havana, which was packed with thousands of people throughout the day. One of the members of Ladies in White, Laura Pollán, said they prayed to the Virgin Mercedes for the release of their men.
The Ladies in White group was formed to seek the release of their 75 jailed relatives, arrested and sentenced in the spring of 2003 to terms of up to 28 years in prison. Of them, sixteen men have been released on medical grounds and one died.
OAS to Analyze Biscet and Other Prisoners’ Conditions in Cuba
On October 10, The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), an autonomous organ of the Organization of American States (OAS), will consider the cases of Oscar Elías Biscet and other Cuban dissidents jailed for political reasons.
The OAS has recently published the agenda of its 130th regular session, which will take place at its headquarters in Washington, D.C., from October 8 to 19. The hearing on Cuban political prisoners will be held at 18:30, on October 10. The Cuban Democratic Directorate and the Cuban-American Bar Association will present a report to the Commission. The hearing will be broadcast live through the Internet on the official portal of the OAS and IACHR.
Fidel Castro Appears on TV
For the first time in three months, the Cuban people saw their ailing leader on September 21 in an interview to the local television. He brushed off speculation about his death or further decline after intestinal surgery, saying “Well, here I am. . . . Nobody knows when they will die.” Castro mostly spoke about international problems and expressed strong criticism of U.S. policy, a familiar theme of essays appearing over the past months in Cuban newspapers.
The nearly hour-long interview was broadcast without prior announcement. Castro was shown sitting in an armchair, wearing a track suit in the red, white, and blue colors of Cuba’s flag over his hospital robe. The Cuban leader spoke impromptu, but his voice was weak and he spoke slowly, and with frequent breaks.
Castro said nothing about the prospects of his return to power, which officially he has only temporarily handed over to his brother Raul. He did not comment on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’ remarks that the Cuban leader had undergone a near total blood transfusion during his recovery period. According to the presenter of The Round Table discussion program, the interview was taped earlier in the day.
Fidel Castro Seen Standing
Cuban authorities published a photo on September 23 of Fidel Castro meeting with Angola’s President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, reports the Associated Press. The picture, which appeared on the front page of Communist Party youth newspaper Juventud Rebelde on September 20, shows Castro and Dos Santos standing. Castro is seen in a track suit, shaking hands with the Angolan leader and looks alert and heavier than in previous photos. The image is the first time Castro has been shown standing since his surgery in summer 2006. During an hour-long TV interview broadcast on September 21, Castro stayed seated.
FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE
Religious Practice Spreading, But Restricted
Cuban Archbishop Dionisio Guillermo García Ibáñez, who oversees the diocese of Santiago de Cuba, said in an interview with the Associated Press that religious practice was slowly spreading on the island despite rigid restrictions imposed by the Communist government. He said the church had been able to expand its reach, but it would be years before it could achieve its goals of even more openness. The Archbishop was cautious not to criticize the Cuban government, something his predecessor, the retired Pedro Meurice Estiu, did. He noted, however, that “the Catholic faith in our community has resurrected.”
Cuban Defector Speaks to Brazilian Television
Former Cuban gymnastics coach Lázaro Lamelas Ramírez, who abandoned his team during the “Rio 2007” Pan-American Games, has spoken out publicly in defense of his right to emigrate in search of a better life in an interview shown on the news program “Jornal da Band.” The sportsman said he had decided to stay in Brazil to seek a better life and hinted that his decision was driven mainly by economic reasons. Lamelas disappeared from the Pan-American village in Rio on July 16, five days after Rafael Capote, a Cuban handball star deserted his team. He was soon followed by two other Cuban athletes, Guillermo Rigondeaux and Erislandy Lara, both amateur world boxing champions, who were arrested and deported in August from Brazil to Cuba. Lamelas told the main news program on the Band TV Channel that he is liviing in Sao Paolo has approached Caritas Diocesana, a Catholic organization, to help him receive refugee status.
Embargo Against Cuba Has Worked
The U.S. trade and economic embargo against Cuba introduced over 45 years ago has worked, according to U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez in a speech at the Heritage Foundation, a major conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. He told the audience, “When the subject of Cuba comes up, the question I’m often asked is this: has the U.S. embargo worked? My answer is an emphatic yes. The embargo has denied Castro resources. When the Castro regime has had resources, it hasn’t benefited Cubans, but has been an international threat and a threat to its own citizens. Imagine what he and his brother would have done with greater resources?”
The U.S. embargo is not against the Cuban people, it is against the Cuban oppressive regime, Gutierrez emphasized, adding that even with the embargo in place the United States is the largest source of humanitarian aid to the Cuban people. Gutierrez, a Cuban American, asserted “The Administration is determined to keep the policy in place. Unless the [Cuban] regime changes, our policy will not.” He said the Administration is also determined to continue a policy “to take initiatives to hasten the Cuban people’s day of freedom.”
U.S. Embargo Has Cost Cuba Over $89 Billion in 45 Years
Washington’s 45-year-old economic embargo has cost Cuba more than $89 billion to date, asserted Cuba’s Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque in a report to the 62nd Session of the UN General Assembly, which opened on September 19. In the 56-page document, the Cuban Foreign Ministry writes that the U.S. trade sanctions have caused enormous damage to everything “from primary education to pest control and nearly all other facts of island life.” In 2006 alone, Cuba, whose GDP is estimated at $40 billion, lost $3 billion due to the embargo, Roque charged.
The embargo “has reached levels of schizophrenia and made the last year notable for the ferocious and cruel way the blockade has been applied,” Perez Roque told a news conference, according to the Associated Press. Washington, he said, is bent on “persecuting Cuban interests and attempting to beat our people into submission with hunger and disease.” Felipe Roque said the embargo should be lifted immediately and unconditionally, calling it an absolutely unjustifiable economic blockade of a sovereign state.
The U.S. sanctions forbid American tourists from visiting Cuba and prohibit U.S. companies from doing business with Cuban companies, with only some exceptions for exports of food and farm products, medical supplies, and telecommunications equipment.
Cuba Is Ruled by Cruel Dictator, Says U.S. President
The Cuban delegation walked out of the UN General Assembly hall after U.S. President Bush told the 62nd session that “in Cuba, the long rule of a cruel dictator is nearing its end.”
“The Cuban people are ready for their freedom. And as that nation enters a period of transition, the United Nations must insist on free speech, free assembly, and ultimately, free and competitive elections,” Bush added.
The Cuban delegation said in a statement that the walkout was a “sign of profound rejection” of the statement by President Bush.
Speaking before the assembly, President Bush stressed the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and scolded other countries, Iran Zimbabwe, and Myanmar, for trampling on their people’s rights.
Cuban Foreign Minister Assails U.S. President
Cuba’s Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque lambasted President George W. Bush at a UN General Assembly meeting for calling Fidel Castro a cruel dictator whose rule was soon coming to an end. Referring to Bush’s comments the day before, which called upon the United Nations to insist on free speech, free assembly and free and competitive elections in Cuba, Roque said it was a scandalous and embarrassing show and that the U.S. president was a reckless global cop who threatens to use nuclear weapons to demand regime change in sovereign countries.
Cuban Soldiers Sentenced to Life for Attempted Escape to the U.S.
A Cuban military tribunal has sentenced two Cuban soldiers, Leandro Cerezo Sirut, 20, and Yoan Torres Martinez, 21, to life terms’ imprisonment for taking hostages and trying to hijack a plane off the island, reports AFP.
Their accomplices, Sgt. Karel De Miranda Rubio, Capt. Alain Frobes and a civilian, Ridel Leseaylle Veloz, were sentenced to 30, 25, and 15 years in jail, respectively.
According to a Cuban NGO, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, the sentence was awarded in mid-September, but became known only now. The Commission expressed satisfaction that the 21-year-old Martinez, the only one who was old enough to face the death penalty, was spared the capital punishment.
On May 3, 2006, Martinez and Sirut, both armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles, tried to hijack a passenger plane at Jose Marti airport in Havana to flee to Florida. They seized a public bus at gunpoint and managed to get to an empty Boeing 737 parked at Terminal One. While on board, one of the hostages, Army Lt. Col. Victor Ibo Acuna Velazquez showed resistance and was killed.
The soldiers demanded that pilots be sent to the plane. According to some sources, a “fake crew” of Cuban security officers was sent there who disarmed the hijackers. Sirut and Martinez had escaped from their base on April 29, 2006, killing a sentry in the process, and were the subjects of a massive nationwide manhunt.
Paying Final Respects to a Cuban Musician in Miami
Family, friends, colleagues and fans gathered on September 18 in Miami to pay their final respects to Cuban trombonist Generoso Jiménez, a legendary musician and patriarch of Cuban trombonists.
While the official press in Cuba kept silent about Jimenez’s death, dozens of people came to the Ferdinand Funeral Home in Little Havana to pay tribute. Among those who came to express their condolences were the famous cellist Israel López, Cachao, conductor Marlene Urbay, pianist Eugenio Laosa, and composer and singer Raúl Gómez. Generoso Jiménez, who died at the age of 90, left Cuba for Miami in 2003. His remains will be cremated.
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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. Please direct inquiries and comments to Editor, Cuba Chronicle of Events, Prima-News at [email protected] or [email protected].