Cuba Chronicle of Events
Issue No. 41 • October 1-15, 2007
Cuba Chronicle of Events is produced by the Prima News Agency (Russia) in cooperation with the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe (U.S.A). This edition is based on reports from PRIMA-News, Bitacora Cubana, CubaNet, Puente Informativo Cuba Miami, Martí Noticias, Directorio Democrático Cubano, Vengria.com, Izvestia, ITAR-TASS.
Thirty Dissidents Detained in Havana
Thirty Cuban dissidents were detained in the peaceful protest organized to demand better treatment for political prisoners on the island. Among those detained was the co-organizer of the march, Martha Beatriz Roque, leader of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Cuba. (See also Cuba Chronicle no. 40.) She and others were forced into a Chinese-made paddy wagon.
While Roque and some others were simply dropped at their home, human rights activist Elizardo Sánchez, who heads the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, told Reuters by phone from Havana that the whereabouts of twenty of the thirty detained dissidents were still unknown. This included the march co-organizer Jorge Luis García Pérez (a.k.a. Antúnez).
Roque and a group of dissidents went on September 27 to the Justice Ministry in Havana to deliver a letter demanding better jail conditions for political prisoners. During the protest, Roque said a crowd of some 100 government supporters attacked them. She was threatened, scratched and pushed, she said.
Spain Will Not Invite Any Cuban Dissidents to Its National Day
Spain’s Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos stated during Question Time at the Spanish Congress of Deputies that Spain said would stick to its policy of not inviting Cuban dissidents to its national day festivities on October 12, held at the embassy in Havana, so as to not hurt a dialogue with the Castro regime. In doing so, he reaffirmed that both Spain and the European Union have resumed cooperation with Cuba.
The People’s Party shadow Secretary for Foreign Relations, Jorge Moragas, has denounced the government for re-establishing humanitarian cooperation with Cuba without conditions regarding human rights. Moragas said that Foreign Minister Moratinos’s actions marginalize Cuban dissidents, employ double standards, and support the Cuban regime’s policy of oppression on the island. “We have had success with dialogue,” Moratinos claimed. “Political prisoners are free to walk the streets, we have the capacity to intervene and we are promoting the interests of our country,” he continued.
Cuban Dissidents Express Solidarity with Burmese Democracy Activists
Martha Beatríz Roque Cabello, head of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Cuba, and Héctor Palacios Ruiz, national coordinator of the Liberal Unity of the Republic of Cuba, have expressed support for the Buddhist monks and the people of Burma who have peacefully demonstrated their striving for democracy, freedom and justice. The Cuban dissidents also urged the military rulers to end oppression and force and release all political prisoners in Burma.
Major Rights Award Goes to Cuban Ex-Political Prisoner
Cuban lawyer and pro-democracy activist René Gómez Manzano has been awarded the 2007 Ludovic Trarieux Human Rights Prize. The prize, awarded in May, will be presented at an award ceremony on October 19 at the European Parliament headquarters in Brussels.
The organizers are honoring the Cuban dissident for campaigning for fundamental rights on the island. In 1995, he helped found the Concilio Cubano and he was imprisoned from 1997 to 2000 for co-signing its principal document, “The Homeland Belongs to All,” along with Marta Beatriz Roque, Vladimiro Roca, and Félix Bonne. He was re-arrested with a group of dissidents in 2005 and accused of preparing to attend a demonstration in front of the French Embassy in Havana. He was released on medical grounds in February 2007, without ever having been charged.
The Ludovic Trarieux Prize is organized by the Human Rights Institutes of the Bars of Bordeaux, Brussels, Paris, Rome, and Europe and involves consultations with 40 bars and associations of lawyers worldwide. The Prize, given annually, commemorates the memory of the French lawyer Ludovic Trarieux, who in 1898 founded the League for the Defense of Human Rights and the Citizen at the height of the Dreyfuss Affair, writing that “It was not only the single cause of a man which was to be defended, but behind this cause, law, justice, humanity.”
Gómez Manzano Requests Permission to Attend Award Ceremony
Cuban pro-democracy activist René Gómez Manzano has applied to the Cuban authorities for permission to travel to Belgium to receive the Ludovic-Trarieux Human Rights Prize for 2007 awarded by a group of European human rights associations of lawyers. René Gómez Manzano said he expected to have a decision on October 5, but did not know what that decision would be.
The Human Rights Institutes of the Bars of Bordeaux, Brussels, Paris, Rome, and Europe awarded the prize to Manzano in recognition of his fight for fundamental rights in Cuba. The award-giving ceremony will take place on October 19 at the European Parliament headquarters in Brussels. It is considered the most prestigious international award given to a lawyer in the world. The prize commemorates the French lawyer Ludovic Trarieux, who in 1898 founded the League for the Defense of Human Rights and the Citizen.
Over Forty Cuban Exile Groups Unite to Oppose Castro Regime Elections
More than 40 Cuban exile groups in Miami have joined forces in a campaign to expose municipal assembly elections to be held on October 28 in Cuba as fraudulent. Cuban exiles were gathering in Miami on October 2 to coordinate their actions with a “no-cooperation” campaign launched by Cuban political prisoners on their home island in 2005 and supported by the Cuban Democratic Directorate. According to the Cuban Democratic Directorate said in a statement , Cuba’s internal opposition will be holding street protests and marches and is publicly refusing to cooperate with the government.
Moderate Dissidents in Cuba Express Optimism Over Spain-Cuba Dialogue
In a statement to Agence France Presse on September 30, moderate dissident organizations in Cuba said they were pleased with the progress of political dialogue between Spain and Cuba, but urged Havana to employ a similar policy of dialogue inside Cuba. The statement also stated that the release of individual political prisoners should not be a one-time negotiating concession, but a proof of Cuba’s real intention to improve human rights on the island.
The document was signed by the Progressive Arc, the Democratic Solidarity Party, the Pro Human Rights Dialogue Coalition, theh José Martí National Commission for Human Rights, the Cuban Council for Defending Civil Rights, and the Mediation and Consensus Group. All of these groups propose dialogue with the regime to achieve reform.
Cuban Liberals Seek Permission to Participate in Discussion on National Problems
Liberal Unity representatives have requested the Castro regime’s permission to participate in a discussion on national problems. Members of the group called on the government to open the door to public criticism as Raul Castro has encouraged Cubans to do and to allow a public debate on the Proclamation for Liberal Unity, which calls for the release of political prisoners, peaceful change, and genuine democratic reform. There was no response. León Padrón Azcuy, chairman of the Cuban Liberal Party and a member of the board of coordinators of Liberal Unity, told Radio Martí that Raul Castro’s invitation to public criticism was clearly very limited in its scope, without participation of dissidents. Liberal Unity coordinator Héctor Palacios Ruíz cited recent arrests of several peaceful demonstrators, including dissidents Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello and Jorge Luis García Pérez, as evidence that the Cuban regime has no intention of reforming.
Cuban Opposition Members Thank President Bush for Upholding Freedom and Democracy in Cuba
A leading Cuban opposition activist and a sister of a Cuban prisoner of conscience thanked President George W. Bush for upholding Cubans’ rights to freedom and democracy and the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights while speaking before the UN General Assembly. Juan Carlos González Leyva, executive secretary of the Council of Human Rights Rapporteurs in Cuba, said Bush’s speech reflects the reality on the island where the words “transition” and a “rule-of-law state” are the most expensive. Clara Lourdes Llorente, sister of prisoner of conscience Fabio Prieto Llorente, told Radio Martí Bush’s remarks strengthen them in their fight for a free Cuba.
During his speech, Bush predicted the quick demise of the Castro regime and said the Cuban people were ready for their freedom. As that nation enters a period of transition, he stressed, the United Nations must insist on multiparty elections on the island.
Dissidents’ Agreement Encourages Debates in Cuba
An agreement reached by Cuban moderate dissidents invites the rest of the internal opposition to start a broad discussion that would embrace various political proposals and outline a transition to democracy on the island. In a special letter to the opposition, Fernando Sánchez, who heads the initiative, says the moderate groups want to thoroughly consider all available approaches, initiatives, and proposals, giving them a comprehensive, detailed and respectful analysis. The documents that were proposed for discussion include “History Will Absolve Me” by Fidel Castro, “The Homeland Belongs to Us All,” “The Common Platform” by the Roundtable of the Moderate Opposition, and “The Varela Project” by the Christian Liberation Movement.
Cuban Opposition Members Point to Increasing Public Frustration
Cuban opposition members René Gómez Manzano, Dimas Castellanos, and Felix Bonne Carcacés are warning of the threat that the regime’s phony preaching about norms and values is diverting Cubans from the reality they are facing every day. People on the streets in Havana and all across the island are unanimous in what they think about everyday life in Cuba, the dissidents said, and they described the social, economic and political situation in Cuba as extremely grave.
Speaking to Radio Martí, Gómez Manzano said it’s very difficult to breathe because there is no oxygen in the air and added that the situation was deteriorating because the totalitarian regime is on the wrong path. Dimas Castellanos stated that Cuba is worsening at all levels because the regime is using oppression in response to people getting rid of their fear and expressing desire for change. Felix Bonne asserted that tension among people is rising and is noticeable all across the island, but particularly in Cuba’s eastern provinces.
Cubans Bid Farewell to Activist
The Ladies in White, comprised of wives, mothers, and female relatives of political prisoners, along with other activists and former political prisoners bade farewell to rights advocate Gladys Núñez, who died on September 14 in Havana. Gladys Núñez, who was chairman of the outlawed Women’s Civil Front, was 45. She was buried at Havana’s Colón cemetery. Independent journalist and former political prisoner Guillermo Fariñas Hernández delivered a solemn farewell address.
Anti-Government Stickers in Santa Clara
Santa Clara, Cuba. Stickers with the words “I do not cooperate with the dictatorship” appeared in Santa Clara on the morning of October 4. They were spotted outside Semillitas Martianas kindergarten, Estrella wine shop, Artek hard-currency shop, and on every power line pole in the neighborhood. Police were immediately sent there in huge numbers to remove the stickers.
Rights Activist Briefly Detained
Havana, Cuba. Ricardo Rodríguez Borrero, a member of the Council of Human Rights Rapporteurs in Cuba and national vice president of the Collegium of Independent Teachers of Cuba, was arrested on the morning of October 3 at the Nacional Railway Station in Havana. According to Rodríguez, he was detained for taking pictures of beggars and vagabonds sleeping exposed at railway stations, bus stops and in other public places.
Rodríguez Borrero was taken to Zapata police station in Havana. He was held at the station until midday and then released. The police returned the dissident’s camera and computer they had confiscated during the arrest.
Protest Outside Cuban Prison
Cuban human rights activists and relatives of political prisoner Carlos Luis Díaz Fernández staged a protest action outside El Pre prison on the outskirts of the city of Santa Clara, opposition member Idania Yánes Contreras reported from the island She is national coordinator of the Women’s Humanitarian Front. Yánes told Radio Martí they were protesting against the dissident’s transfer from Kilo 8 prison in Camagüey to El Pre Tensado prison on the outskirts of Santa Clara, where he was placed in punitive confinement.
The prisoner’s sister, Marilín Díaz Fernández, and an in-law, Lázaro González Adán, who participated in the protest, believe the dissident was moved to another prison as punishment for witnessing the killing of two criminal inmates by prison guards in Kilo 8. Carlos Luis Díaz Fernández and other prisoners of conscience passed the word about this crime to people outside.
The prisoner’s relatives have demanded to be allowed visitation and an end to the punitive confinement, said Yánes Contreras. Prison authorities, she added, allowed the visit but then returned him to the harsh-treatment unit.
Further Protest Outside Radio Station
Human rights activists held a sit-in outside the provincial radio station in the city of Santa Clara. They gathered in Leoncio Vidal Park where Radio Santa Clara is located to protest harsh prison conditions of Carlos Luis Díaz Fernández. The prisoner of conscience was moved to El Pre Tensado prison on the outskirts of Santa Clara and put into punitive confinement.
Thirty activists went to the radio station headquarters to ask journalists to report on the situation of political prisoners, especially, Díaz Fernández, according to Belinda Salas from the independent APLA news agency in an interview by phone from Santa Clara with Radio Martí. When their demand was rejected, the activists sat in the middle of the street, forming a human chain. Soon afterwards, members of so-called rapid response brigades arrived shouting insults as ordinary Cubans gathered in the park to watch the protest. Earlier in the day, the protesters had gone to El Pre prison to show solidarity with the family of Carlos Luis Díaz Fernández.
Ladies in White Pray for Release of Political Prisoners
As it does each week, the Ladies in White held a Sunday march along an avenue in Havana. This time, they also prayed to the Virgin Mercedes for the release of their jailed men.
Dressed in white, members of the group went to Santa Rita Church to pray for good health and freedom of their imprisoned relatives. After the Mass, they marched along Havana’s Miramar Avenue. The following day was the Day of the Virgin Mercedes (The Virgin of Blessings), the patron saint of prisoners, making this march special, said Laura Pollán, wife of prisoner of conscience Héctor Maceda. They prayed for Her miraculous intervention so that their relatives and all Cuban political prisoners would be released.
Reporters Without Borders Supports Humanitarian Asylum Offer to Political Prisoner
Reporters Without Borders issued a press release to express support for the Costa Rican government’s offer to grant humanitarian asylum to imprisoned independent journalist Normando Hernández González.
Costa Rica’s consul in Havana, José Maria Penabad, has formally submitted a request to Cuban foreign minister Felipe Pérez Roque for the jailed journalist to be allowed to leave Cuba for humanitarian reasons. Hernández was arrested and put in prison during the last major crackdown on Cuban dissidents in March 2003, called the Black Spring. His health has been steadily deteriorating since his arrest, prompting the Costa Rican initiative.
Prison Guards Beat Political Prisoner Oscar Sánchez Mádam
Prison guards at Combinado Sur prison in Matanzas have beaten and put into punitive confinement political prisoner Oscar Sánchez Mádam. This incident was reported to Radio Martí by independent journalist Leticia Ramos Herrería.
Candlelight Vigil for Release of Political Prisoners
Holguín, Cuba. Peaceful pro-democracy activists in the town of Banes in Holguín province, held a regular candlelight vigil on October 3. Marta Díaz Rondón, provincial representative of the Latin American Federation of Rural Women (FLAMUR), said the civic and religious ceremony was held at her home. She said that the group lit white candles and prayed, asking God to give freedom to political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.
President Bush Calls for Release of Cuban Political Prisoners
President George W. Bush has called on Cuba to release political prisoners. He gmade this statement after meeting the family of Jose Luis Garcia Paneque, a dissident who was arrested and sentenced to 24 years in prison in 2003 as part of the Black Spring crackdown. Bush received the dissident’s wife, Yamile Llanes Labrada, and the couple’s daughter Shirley at the White House.
Bush said Garcia, a plastic surgeon, “did nothing more than advocate for freedom, and he is now in prison and not only is he in prison . . . . he is ill. One of the messages I have for the Cuban leaders is: free this man and free other political prisoners.” Bush stressed that Garcia Paneque was not a threat to the Cuban regime and urged the authorities to let him be reunited with his loving wife and four children. The president made the remarks at a White House event to mark Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States. Among the guests was Cuban bassist Israel “Cachao” Lopez, who was first received at the White House in 1948 by President Harry Truman.
Prisoner of Conscience Alfredo Pulido López’s Health Continues to Deteriorate
The wife of imprisoned journalist Alfredo Pulido López said his condition was getting much worse. Rebeca Rodríguez Souto called on the Cuban regime to immediately release her husband and also requested that Spain’s Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos visit prisons in Cuba, especially the one where her husband and other dissidents are being held.
Alfredo Pulido López, an activist of the Christian Liberation Movement and a member of the Varela Project committee in Camagüey, is one of the 75 peaceful pro-democracy activists arrested and sentenced to prison in a severe crackdown on dissent in spring 2003.
Cuban Political Prisoners in Danger of Death
Inhumane conditions in Cuban jails put the lives of many political prisoners in danger, said exile Cuban human rights activists. This statement was made by the Cuban Democratic Directorate and the Collegium of Advocates at a hearing during the 130th session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an autonomous organ of the OAS.
The treatment of prisoners of conscience in Cuba violates all international norms and the Geneva Conventions, said Laida Carro of the Cuban Democratic Directorate. The conditions they are subjected to mean a cruel and slow painful death: every day, they are being deprived of life bit by bit, she stated. There is no independent judiciary or judicial system in Cuba. So, despite all the evidence about maltreatment in jails, the Cuban authorities accuse prisoners of lying, Carro said.
OAS to Maintain Pressure on Cuba to Release Political Prisoners
After hearing statements by relatives of Cuban political prisoners and reports by Cuban exile groups at its 130th session, the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has decided to keep up pressure on Cuba to free all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience on the island.”
No Candidate Chosen Due to Apathy of Voters in Cuba’s Voting District
At a voting district on the Isle of Youth (Isla de la Juventud), no candidate was selected for either the provincial assembly or parliament due to apathy of local residents. In spite of the efforts of local government officials to encourage attendance, they did not come to the two nomination meetings.
Fidel Castro Fails to Attend Che’s Memorial Rally
Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who has not still come back to power or fully recovered from a serious abdominal illness, did not attend a ceremony in honor of Che Guevara in Santa Clara, where a mausoleum was built to house the remains of the revolutionary symbol, reported Reuters.
On October 8, Cuba marked the 40th anniversary of Che Guevara’s execution. Every year, ordinary people led by Cuban leaders gather in Santa Clara to pay homage to the guerilla fighter. There is still no 100- percent certainty that the body enshrined in the mausoleum is authentic. According to some sources, Che Guevara and his group of guerillas were killed and buried by CIA agents in a secret grave in Bolivia. In March, former CIA agent Gustavo Villoldo, 71, told The Miami Herald that he’s certain the mausoleum in Santa Clara is empty. He claimed to have himself buried Guevara in a pit in Bolivia and said that he cut a lock of Che’s hair and marked the exact coordinates of his grave on the map. His claims cast doubt on the finding of Che’s body last year.
Castro has not appeared in public since July 2006. He has been seen only in photos and eight videos since handing over power. Castro underwent intestinal surgery in July 2006.
FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE
Cuba Undergoes Period of Uncertainty, Says Former Editor of Catholic Magazine Vitral
Dagoberto Valdés Hernández, founder of the Center for Civic and Religious Formation of the Diocese of the city of Pinar del Río and former chief editor of the Catholic Church-sponsored magazine Vitral, said that the immense amount of uncertainty and despair pervading Cuba is due to existing totalitarian control on society, which prevents an individual from developing a sense of freedom and responsibility. In an interview with Radio Marti, he said that the biggest obstacle to reconstructing a civil society is not found in the government, but in people’s minds.
More Cuban Migrants Reach Florida
Eighteen Cuban migrants, including three children, arrived at the Florida Keys archipelago, the southern tip of Florida, on the night of September 27. The group was picked up by a trucker and taken from the Keys and dropped off at a gas station in South Miami-Dade. All were attended to by Miami-Dade Fire Rescue workers and seemed to be doing well and were then taken by the U.S. Border Patrol. Under the U.S. government’s wet foot/dry foot policy, Cuban migrants who make it to U.S. shores are generally allowed to remain in the United States and granted resident status after one year of presence in the United States, but anyone intercepted on water by the Coast Guard, no matter how near American shores, are turned back or returned to Cuba.
Brazil Grants Asylum to Two Cuban Athletes
The government of Brazil has granted asylum to two Cuban athletes who came to the country with the Cuban delegation for the Pan-American Games in July, reports Reuters. Rafael Capote, a handball player, and Michel Fernandez Garcia, a cyclist, abandoned the Cuban delegation during the Pan-American Games held in Rio de Janeiro from July 13 to July 29. For two months, they were in hiding in Brazil, awaiting a government’s decision on their asylum applications. Capote said he was seeking better professional opportunities in Brazil.
According to justice ministry officials, both have been granted their request for asylum. Capote and Garcia will obtain Brazilian passports and have the right to citizenship after six years of residency, the justice ministry said. Under Brazilian law, asylum is granted in cases of persecution or fear of returning for political, ethnic or religious reasons. Two Cuban boxing starts, Guillermo Rigondeaux and Erislandy Lara, who deserted the Pan-American village on July 22, were sent back to Cuba on August 5 after Brazilian authorities took them into custody and claimed that they expressed a change of mind. Their deportation has caused criticism from the Brazilian opposition.
Cuban Refugees Arrive in Hungary
Hungary’s Foreign Minister Horváthné Fekszi Márta announced back in August that the United States was asking her government to grant political asylum to 29 Cuban refugees captured at sea between Florida and Guatemala by the U.S. Coast Guard. Hungary accepted the request of Washington. Under a preliminary agreement, the United States will cover the costs for the refugees’ first year in Hungary, and Hungarian Baptist Aid will provide housing and food, said its president Sandor Szenczy.
A 1995 U.S.-Cuba migration accord forbids the United States to issue a residence permit to illegal immigrants. The United States has deported 3,000 people who attempted to reach U.S. soil by boat but did not reach land. An exception has been made for these twenty-nine Cubans because they have demonstrated that they fled persecution. In recent years, the Czech Republic, Australia, and several Latin American states have accepted refugees from Cuba on the same basis.
Spain Resumes Business Cooperation with Cuba
Spain’s National Radio, citing diplomatic sources, reports that Spain is set to renew full-fledged business cooperation with Cuba following the establishment of an inter-governmental cooperation commission to boost the island nation’s economic growth as part of an agreement signed on September 29.
The document was signed by Spanish International Cooperation Minister Leire Pajin and Cuban Minister of Foreign Investment and Economic Cooperation Marta Lomas, the sources said. Leire Pejin had set out on a trip to Havana with the purpose of fully restoring cooperation with Cuba, said the Spanish radio. In 2003, it reported, “economic cooperation between the two countries was officially halted by Cuba in protest . . .after Havana sentenced 75 dissidents” as part of the EU’s imposing of sanctions. The creation of the Intergovernmental Cooperation Commission was agreed upon when Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos visited Cuba in April 2007.
The Cuban Foreign Minister, Felipe Perez Roque, said that the resumption of official contacts with Spain become possible when Madrid gave up the policy of dictating and blackmail pursued by the European Union toward Cuba. While Cuba officially suspended cooperation with Spain in 2003, however, it never ceased, particularly in the tourism sector. “Spain is Cuba’s third-biggest trading partner after Venezuela and China,” states the Spanish press. Washington has expressed displeasure with today’s Spain-Cuba relations, most recently by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her official visit to Madrid in early June 2007.
Spanish People’s Party Accuses Zapatero Government of Propping Up Cuban Regime
The Spanish People’s Party has accused José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s Socialist government of appeasing Cuba, saying it amounts to complicity with the communist regime on the island.
Speaking to Europa Press Agency, People’s Party spokesman Gustavo de Arístegui said that the government’s decision to renew the work of the Spanish-Cuban Intergovernmental Cooperation Commission was strengthening the Cuban regime. According to the party representative, Spain’s position is propping up the brutal and ruthless regime on the island and does not help Cubans get rid of the dictatorship and make a peaceful transition to democracy. He stressed that his party favored a foreign policy leading to a transition to democracy in Cuba.
Spain and Cuba signed a protocol of cooperation and development on September 30 that
re-establishes bilateral cooperation halted by the Cuban government in response to EU sanctions imposed after the regime arrested and convicted 75 Cuban dissidents in 2003.
El País: Spain Is Right to Choose Contacts with Government Over Dissidents
In its October 4 editorial, Spanish daily El País stated that it would be extremely difficult to influence Cuba’s evolution while Fidel Castro is alive, but that Spain should use its diplomacy to take up the challenge. In its view, signing an agreement to establish an intergovernmental cooperation commission opened the way for Spain to officially resume its aid four years after it was halted by Cuba and is an important step toward normalization of bilateral relations. Spain is testing the water in several areas, the editorial added, including a high-level political dialogue on human rights and economic cooperation. But noting that the Cuban regime is unpredictable and seeks to suck advantage out of every high-level contact, these contacts pose a risk for both sides.
In dealing with the Castro dictatorship, Spain will find it difficult to maintain contacts with both the regime and the opposition or to defend fundamental values and pursue its economic interests at the same time.
Vatican Secretary of State to Visit Cuba in January
Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone will go to Cuba in January 2008, announced the press service of the Holy See on October 5. During the visit, from January 21 to 26, Bertone will meet with Catholic Church leaders and probably with Cuban leader Fidel Castro. But Vatican sources cautioned that it was too early to speak of the trip’s agenda. The dates of Bertone’s visit coincide with the trip ten years ago made by Pope John Paul II to Cuba.
Intellectuals, Politicians to Meet in Lithuania to Discuss Transition to Democracy in Cuba
Several nongovernmental and academic organizations will gather in October in Lithuania for an international forum on Cuba’s transition to democracy. The forum, which will be held on October 18 and 19, is entitled “Imparting Lessons Learned: Linking the Baltic Experience to the Promotion of Democracy in Cuba.” The event is organized by the Washington-based International Republican Institute. Discussions will include the role the Baltic States can have in shaping the European Union’s policy toward Havana
John Sullivan, director of IRI for Latin America, told Radio Martí that the Baltic states should play an active role to counterbalance Spain’s influence on the European Union on Cuba.
Because of the European Union’s strategy of engagement with the Cuban regime, it is vital that European countries take a tough posture toward the oppressors on the island, he added.
Cuban Exiles Protest in Madrid Against Spain’s Policy on Cuba
The pro-democracy exile group Cuba Democracia Ya held a demonstration in Madrid on October 7 to protest against what it called the “erroneous policy of Spain’s Socialist government toward the communist regime in Cuba.”
Protesters placed a huge terrestrial globe on Colón Square along with slogans denouncing the Spanish government for not inviting Cuban dissidents to the National Day festivities at the Spanish Embassy in Havana.
The group also complained that the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, is excluding the genuine parts of Cuban civil society that are seeking the full rights and freedoms of all Cubans from the discussion and agenda. Cuba Democracia Ya has repeatedly criticized Moratinos, most recently for his recent remarks about Cuban political prisoners being freed as a result of his efforts. They pointed out that the prisoners were not freed, but rather released after having served their sentences, and not because of Spain’s dialogue with Cuba.
Cuba Seeks Russia’s Help in Lifting U.S. Blockade
At a ceremony in Moscow to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Che Guevara’s death, Cuba’s Ambassador to Russia Jorge Marti Martinez expressed Cuba’s appreciation for Russia’s friendship and that it is “banking” on Russia’s support in urging an end to the U.S. trade and economic sanctions against the island nation. A vote on a U.N. draft resolution urging the lifting of the U.S. embargo will be held on October 30. The Cuban diplomat voiced confidence that this year’s General Assembly resolution would be approved by more countries than last year. For the sixteenth consecutive year, Cuba is coming to the UN Assembly with its report on the need to end the blockade imposed by the United States. Last year, 183 UN member nations voted for the resolution and against the U.S. embargo on Cuba.
Nebraska Continues Food Export to Cuba
Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman announced he was going to lead an agricultural delegation to Cuba on November 4-6. This will be his fourth trade trip to the island as governor. Greg Ibach, director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, and Nebraska agricultural producers will accompany Heineman. Since 2005, Cuba has purchased $60 million in commodities, including dry edible beans, wheat, corn, turkey, pork and soy products.
International Trade Union Confederation Reveals Repression in Cuba
In its annual report on trade union rights worldwide, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) reports that there was no change in Cuba in regard to freedom of association or collective bargaining in the last year. There remains one government-controlled trade union confederation and there is no genuine collective bargaining or right to strike recognized in law. The report also states that the government confiscated humanitarian aid sent by foreign trade unions to assist imprisoned trade union activists.
According to the report, in the state sector, the overwhelming part of the economy, the government controls the employment and job market and arbitrarily decides on pay and working conditions. The Labor Code does not allow for collective agreements and or independent trade unions. In the private sector, the 1995 Foreign Investment Law requires foreign investors to contract workers through State employment agencies. The investors pay the agencies in dollars, but the agencies pay the workers in pesos according to artificial exchange rates, pocketing up to 95 percent of their salaries.
Thousands of Cubans Talking About What’s Going Wrong on the Island
At workplaces and in neighborhoods across Cuba, hundreds of thousands of Cubans are now discussing what is going wrong on the island and why as part of a nation-wide debate on the state of the country initiated by acting President Raul Castro, reports Reuters. People are talking about a way out of the country’s persistent economic crisis, and particularly, about a host of problems triggered by the economy’s outdated model.
Reuters reports that Cuban workers are openly saying that their wages are low and that the government, in acknowledgement, is promising structural reforms in agriculture. Domingo Amunchástegui, a former Cuban intelligence officer, said, “It’s reform or perish! The world and Latin America and the Caribbean in particular have changed so dramatically that it becomes inevitable to rethink Cuban socialism.”
A Canadian expert on Cuba, John Kirk, shares the “reform-or-perish” opinion. Inequalities and other problems persist from the long post-Soviet crisis, he said, and people are frustrated with restrictions on killing their own cows and booking rooms or tables in hotels and restaurants.
Cuban Exiles Drumming Up Interest in Europe in Cuba Democratization Strategy
The Cuba Study Group, an influential Cuban-American organization in Washington, is touring Europe to promote its recipes to hasten transition to democracy in Cuba. The Group’s plan is to offer micro-credits to small entrepreneurs in Cuba and create an enterprise fund to be sponsored by the United States and European Union.
Speaking at a press conference in Madrid, the Group’s chairman, Carlos Saldrigas, outlined the initiative, saying that they need to raise roughly $50 million for micro-credits. The funds are expected to come from private enterprises and institutions. Micro-credits, he said, would quickly solve the problem of unemployment on the island. But, he said, to build a Cuban Enterprise Fund equivalent of the successful type of fund created by the U.S. in 1989 to support Eastern European democracy would require $100 million in contributions from both Washington and Brussels.
Cuba Evacuates 1,500 Due to Floods
The heavy rains in Cuba have affected the capacity of La Yaya reservoir, and cut off communication between Guantanamo and Santiago de Cuba provinces in southeastern Cuba. The overflow of the man-made reservoir above its 160 million cubic meters storage capacity submerged a bridge linking the two provinces.
In Granma province, Haybo reservoir has accumulated 7 million cubic meters above capacity. More than 1,500 people have been evacuated from low-lying areas vulnerable to flooding.
The floods in eastern Cuba have been caused by heavy downpours over the past eleven days.
• • •
The Cuba Chronicle of 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, Cuba Chronicle of Events, Prima-News at [email protected] or to [email protected].