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Cuba Chronicle of Events
Issue no. 42 • October 16-31, 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, Izvestia, RIA Novosti, Radio Liberty, Kommersant, Radio Mayak, EuroNews, Associated Press, Gazeta.ru, ITAR-TASS, The New York Times, Novy Region, Oreanda, and Reuters.


Prague Praised for Supporting Cuban Opposition

Pedro Fuentes Cid, a former political prisoner of sixteen years now and a prominent exile lawyer active in defending human rights and Cuban immigrants, met with Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek and thanked him and the Czech Republic for supporting the opposition in Cuba and maintaining pressure on the Castro government for democratic change. In his meeting, with the prime minister, he said he was confident Cuba will soon be free.

Cid is in Europe to receive the Ludovic Trarieux Prize on behalf of the prize winner René Gómez Manzano, a lawyer in Cuba and leader of the peaceful opposition movement, who was not allowed to travel to Brussels to pick up the award. The Prize is given annually by the International Human Rights Bar Association

In Prague, the Czech Prime Minister told Cid that his government would support continuing pressure on a state that violates fundamental human rights and that it would continue to expose the abuse of human rights on the island. He said the government would press Cuba to release all political prisoners.

Cuban Opposition Groups Stand Against Chavez’ Influence

Dissidents in Cuba recently issued a public statement denouncing the imperialist appetites of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, saying that the Cuban people could find solutions to their national problems without him. The statement was issued by moderate and left dissidents, including leaders of the Liberal Convergence, Progressive Arc, Republican Front of Cuba, Consensus for Dialogue and Reconciliation, and the Alliance for a New Nation. They  were unanimous in saying that 100,000 barrels of oil a day from Chavez is not worth the price.

Chavez, a close friend and follower of Cuban ruler Fidel Castro, is along with China Cuba’s major political and economic ally. The two Latin American countries are integrating their economies through a trade agreement called the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), which is meant to counter the U.S.-sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

René Gómez Manzano Dedicates the Trarieux Prize to Cuban Political Prisoners

René Gómez Manzano dedicated the Ludovic Trarieux International Human Rights Prize to all political prisoners in Cuba. The Prize, awarded by a consortium of international human rights law groups, including the Bordeaux, Brussels, Paris, and Rome Human Rights Bar Associations, is considered the highest international award for a lawyer. Manzano is the chairman of the Asociación de Abogados Independientes Corriente Agramontista, an independent professional group of lawyers that seeks to reform Cuba’s judicial system from within by requiring the Cuban government to obey its own laws. He is also a leading member of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Cuba. Until recently, Monzano had been held without trial for more than three years for attempting to participate in an independent protest.

The award ceremony took place on October 19, in the Belgian Senate, in Brussels, and was attended by dozens of European parliamentarians. Manzano was denied the permission to leave the country to attend the ceremony in his honor and the award was received by a prominent attorney in exile, Pedro Fuentes Cid, who himself spent 16 years in Castro’s prison.

Czech Rights Group To Expand Humanitarian Aid to Cuban Dissidents

People In Need, a nongovernmental rights group, intends to expand its humanitarian aid to Cuban pro-democracy activists and dissidents living outside Havana. The Prague-based foundation says its goal is to reach independent dissident groups in Cuba’s provinces far away from Havana.

Ladies in White Urge UN Official to Show Concern About Political Prisoners

The forthcoming official visit to Cuba of Jean Ziegler, special UN Rapporteur on the Right to Food, has prompted the group of wives of imprisoned Cuban opposition members to ask him to express interest in the condition of political prisoners, to visit relatives of the jailed dissidents, and to get a firsthand look at Cuba’s lack of democracy and freedom.


Independent Journalist Guillermo Fariñas Hernández Detained

Independent journalist Guillermo Fariñas Hernández was picked up by police at a polling station in the city of Villa Clara where he was urging local citizens not to cast their ballots in Cuba’s municipal elections. Fariñas told Radio Marti that Police Lt. Col. Ramon Alvarez demanded he “stop interfering in the balloting,” then ordered him into a police car, and drove him around the city.

After consulting his superiors, Alvarez dropped Fariñas at his home, on Calle Alemán, 115A in Santa Clara. There, Alvarez told the journalist that he was under house arrest and ordered two state security officers to stay outside his place. His home is already being monitored by the local Committee in Defense of the Revolution and the Association of the Combatants of the Revolution, which stations individuals on adjacent street corners.


Political Dissident Yulián Hernández López Released After Serving 8-Year Term

Opposition activist Yulián Hernández López, a resident of Guantánamo, has been released from prison after completing his 8-year jail term. On his release, he described the situation of political prisoners in Las Managas prison in the city of Bayámo. According to him, many political prisoners there are suffering from various diseases because of inhumane conditions. He added that he did not think his release signaled any change in the regime’s attitude to dissidents.

Czech, Slovak Deported from Communist Cuba

A Czech and Slovak were deported from Cuba for attending a meeting organized by peaceful opposition members in the city of Santa Clara to discuss the municipal elections held in Cuba on Sunday. Peter Novotný, a Slovak citizen, and his Czech interpreter, Pavel Res, were forced to leave the country for criticizing the way municipal elections were held in the province of Villa Clara.


Cuba Enters First Round of General Elections

Cubans held the first round of municipal elections on October 22. These are the first step in re-electing provincial assemblies and then the country’s parliament. Cubans chose among nearly 40,000 allowable candidates to take seats in municipal councils. Should enough candidates not obtain more than a half of the valid votes in a neighborhood, there will be a second round of voting to fill remaining seats.

The vote for municipal council members will be followed by elections to the provincial Assemblies of People’s Power and then to a new National Assembly in 2008. The new National Assembly will, in turn, decide whether to replace Fidel Castro as head of state by approving a new president of the Council of State, Cuba’s top executive body. The Council was led unchallenged by Fidel Castro for thirty years until July 2006, when he temporarily ceded presidential powers to his brother Raul, its vice president.

In a statement on the eve of balloting carried by government-run media, Fidel Castro expressed confidence in the “massive and enthusiastic turnout of our people in these elections.” The Cuban leader, who has not appeared in public for over a year, gave no indications that he intends to return to active power. Cuba’s top officials make no predictions, saying it’s for Fidel and his doctors to decide.

Fidel Castro Participates in Cuban Elections

Fidel Castro, who continues to convalesce after a serious intestinal surgery in July 2006, participated on October 21 in Cuba’s municipal elections. But he exercised his right to vote without attending a polling station, according to government sources. Making use of constitutional provisions, Castro summoned an electoral official to “his convalescence quarters” to vote in the elections, reported Cuban state television.

He stressed the importance of the current polling in Cuba, although he gave no indications that he intends to resume office. According to official sources, the Caribbean island nation demonstrated a massive turnout for the municipal elections, which mark the start of an electoral process that is to culminate in a new National Assembly in 2008. Official sources claimed that  more than 8 million Cubans over the age of 16 were registered to vote (the total population is estimated to be 11.3 million).

Human Rights First Sends Letter of Protest to Raul Castro

Human Rights First, an advocacy group based in New York and Washington, D.C., has sent a letter to Cuba’s Acting President Raul Castro to protest that the Cuban government did not allow dissident lawyer René Gómez Manzano to travel to Brussels to receive the prestigious Ludovic Trarieux International Human Rights Prize.

Havana Accuses Bush of Inciting Violence with Speech

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque accused the United States of planning to use force to push Cuba for “regime change.” Bush’s plans are the “equivalent to the re-conquest of Cuba’s by force,” said Pérez Roque in response to the U.S. president’s call for political change on the island. The Cuban foreign minister called Bush’s speech the “stimulation of violence and the invocation of the use of force” to defeat the Revolution and plant his ideas in Cuba.
On Wednesday, in his first address focused on Cuba in four years, Bush called Fidel Castro’s Cuba a “tropical gulag” and called for maintaining trade sanctions against Cuba for as long as the communist government retains its monopoly on power.


Brazilian Lawmakers Seeking Meeting with Deported Boxers Denied Entry to Cuba

Brazilian Member of Parliament Vieira da Cunha said the Cuban government had denied entry visas to a group of Brazilian legislators wanting to meet with the two Cuban boxers who abandoned the Cuban national team at the Pan-American Games in Rio de Janeiro in July but who were hastily sent back in August to Cuba after being found by Brazilian police at a sea resort. The boxers, Guillermo Rigondeaux and Erislandy Lara, said publicly they had changed their minds. But their swift deportation on August 4 of caused a political storm in Brazil.

The congressman, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Brazilian House of Deputies, told the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper that the Cuban Ambassador to Brazil, Pedro Núñez Mosqueraa, had said to him “if we requested an entry visa to Cuba to question the two athletes, it would be denied.” The report of the meeting with Da Cunha ran on a blog run by journalist Josías de Souza.

Cuban Ambassador Núñez Mosqueraa claimed the matter was an internal affair and considered the matter now closed.

Chilean President Asked to Intervene for Hilda Molina and Her Mother

The exiled Cuban neurosurgeon Roberto Quiñones has sent a letter to Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet, asking her to intervene on behalf of his mother, Hilda Molina, and his grandmother, Hilda Morejón, who have not been permitted to leave Cuba to join him in Argentina.

Chile’s El Mercurio said on its website that Quiñones sent his appeal to Bachelet on August 15 to the Chilean Embassy in Buenos Aires. There are fears this thorny issue could fuel tension between the countries, reported the newspaper.

In his two-page letter, the doctor pleads for the Chilean president to intercede for his mother, a dissident Cuban neurosurgeon renowned as a pioneer in the transplant of fetal stem cells into the brains of patients with Parkinson’s disease, and his grandmother, so that the two women may reunite with him and other members of the family in Argentina.

Cuba has been refusing Hilda Molina an exit visa since 1995, saying her brain is the property of the government. From June 5, 2007, the ban includes Hilda Morejón, who is seriously ill. Robert Quiñones expressed confidence that President Bachelet, as a female head of state, a mother, a doctor, and a human rights advocate, would help in this case, writes El Mercurio.


Vilnius Forum Discusses Baltic Role in Cuba’s Transition to Democracy

An international forum on Cuba has wrapped up its work in Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania. Participants in the forum discussed how the experiences of the Baltic States could promote democracy in Cuba.

U.S. Coordinator for Transition in Cuba Caleb McCarry, who took part in the event, said the forum was important for mapping out how a transition to democracy could set up in Cuba. The American diplomat said policy analysts, parliamentarians, and academics from various Western and Eastern European countries came together to explore the realities of today’s Cuba and analyze the political and economic reforms in the Baltic countries that have made the transition to democracy there.

McCarry said the forum showed solidarity with the Cuban people and discussed how democratic countries could help the Cuban people move toward a better and democratic future.

George W. Bush: Dissidents of Today Will Be Nation’s Leaders Tomorrow

In a major foreign policy address at the U.S. State Department on October 24, President George W. Bush stated that the day is coming when the Cuban people will chart their own course for a better life and have the freedom they have awaited for so long. He strongly believed that the dissidents of today would be the nation’s leaders tomorrow.  Freedom is the word of the day in Cuba, Bush added, and it will bring a new era for the United States and Cuba.

Flanked on the stage by relatives of Cuban political prisoners, the U.S. president said calls for fundamental change were growing across the island and peaceful demonstrations were spreading. During the speech, the president introduced family members of political prisoners in Cuba — Ricardo González Alfonso, Jorge Luis González Tanquero, Omar Pernet and José Luis García Paneque — whom he had asked to come. He also made special note of prisoners of conscience Oscar Elías Biscet, Normando Hernández González, and Omar Rodríguez Saludes.

Bush reiterated that the current U.S. policy of embargo would stay in place until Cuba had freedom and he called on the international community to show support for the Cuban people and help them get to a new dawn of freedom. He said differences should be put aside in order to prepare for Cuba’s transition to a future of freedom and progress, calling upon the international community to invest economic and political capital in Cuba’s transition to democracy.

For this purpose, Bush said, he has proposed creation of an international Freedom Fund for Cuba and asked his officials to enlist coalition governments to contribute to this initiative. The fund, he said, would help the Cuban people rebuild their economy. The U.S. government is also prepared to license non-governmental organizations and individuals to provide computers and Internet access to Cuban students and to invite Cuban young people into its scholarship programs.

President Bush Makes Special Appeal to Cuba’s Military to Support Democracy Process

In his speech at the State Department, U.S. President George W. Bush had a special message for members of the Cuban military, the police, and officials in the government. He called on them to support their fellow citizens who strive for democracy and not to stand in the way of transition when Cubans rise up against the Castro regime. He assured them they will have a place in a free Cuba.

He said:

At this moment, my words are being transmitted live into Cuba by media outlets in the free world, including Radio and TV Marti. To those Cubans who are listening — perhaps at great risk — I would like to speak to you directly.

Some of you are members of the Cuban military, or the police, or officials in the government. You may have once believed in the revolution. Now you can see its failure. When Cubans rise up to demand their liberty, they -- they -- the liberty they deserve, you've got to make a choice. Will you defend a disgraced and dying order by using force against your own people? Or will you embrace your people's desire for change? There is a place for you in the free Cuba. You can share the hope found in the song that has become a rallying cry for freedom-loving Cubans on and off the island: "Nuestro Dia Ya Viene Llegando." Our day is coming soon.

Cuba Interested in Military and Technical Cooperation with Belarus

Cuban Ambassador to Minsk Omar Medina Quintero told the press in Minsk his country was interested in military-technical cooperation with Belarus, reports Interfax. “Cuba is interested in military-technical cooperation with Belarus and is ready to expand it,” the Cuban diplomat said. He pointed to “good agreements” reached by the two countries during a recent visit to Cuba by a Belarusian military delegation led by its defense minister, which are now being implemented. He also pointed out that Cuban generals had studied in Belarus and that the Cuban army values the good dual-purpose optical devices produced by the Belarusian enterprise BelOMO.


Road-Traffic Accidents Are the Leading Cause of Death in Cuba

Road-traffic accidents are the most common cause of death in Cuba whose population is 11.5 million. According to official statistics, 6,000 major road-traffic accidents were recorded on the island in 2007, in which nearly 500 people were killed and 5,000 injured. Nearly 800 people died in car crashes in the country last year. Cuban authorities admit that poor quality of road surfaces frequently contributes to accidents, although many crashes are blamed on poor maintenance of motor vehicles. Official sources reveal that out of 11,400 km of major highways in Cuba, 24 percent are in a poor state of repair. To repair the old roads and to complete the new ones, Cuba needs nearly $1 billion. Although traffic density in Cuba is rather low, serious road traffic accidents occur frequently.


Cuba: Survey Indicates Majority of Cubans Want Choice

A survey conducted in Cuba for the International Republican Institute (IRI) shows that nearly three-quarters of Cubans polled would like to vote to decide who succeeds Fidel Castro as president. The survey was conducted from September 5 to October 4, 2007.

According to other findings in the survey, 25.2 percent believe things are going well in Cuba, while 40 percent think the situation is bad or very bad. The remaining third (33.7 percent) say the situation in the country is neither good nor bad. Nearly 43 percent of respondents say low salaries and the high cost of living are the country’s biggest problem, while 18.2 percent cited lack of freedoms or the political system, and 11.6 percent cited scarcity of food and 4.8 percent cited the U.S. embargo.

A majority of Cubans (75.6 percent) believe politic democratic changes on the island would improve their daily lives, and 14.2 percent hold contrary views, however only a third said that they wanted a democratic system to replace the existing one.

IRI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to advancing democracy across the world.

Seven against Thebes Staged After Four Decades of Censorship

The Cuban government has finally decided to lift its 40-year-long ban on Seven against Thebes, a play written by Cuban playwright Antón Arrufat. Speaking to EFE news agency, Arrufat called the premier of Seven against Thebes an “act of justice,” saying Cuban authorities are correcting its errors of the past.

The play, which received a national literary award in 1968, debuted at one of Havana’s most famous theaters on October 20 and 21 after being prohibited and scorned for four decades for reasons that Arrufat himself says he never understood.
The author said it occurred in a period of repression known as the “Five Gray Years,” in which dozens of intellectuals and artists were persecuted for their homosexuality, supposed lack of commitment to the revolution, and “ideological deviationism.”

Ching-Kuo Wu: There Won’t Be Any Sanctions Against Cuba’s Boxing Federation

The president of the Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA), Ching-Kuo Wu, issued a statement that the Cuban Boxing Federation will not face sanctions for its absence from the World Boxing Championship in Chicago. In it, Wu said,

I understand the reasons why the Cuban team has not come to Chicago. Professional promoters are constantly hounding Cuban boxers, considered the best of the world, with money. Facing a deficit of hopefuls, U.S. promoters are also scouting for young boxing talents.

As part of his decision, according to the Ves Sport agency, Cuba will be able to participate in two pre-Olympic boxing tournaments to be held in Trinidad and Tobago and Guatemala to earn places for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

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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].