Cuba Chronicle of Events
Issue No. 43 • November 1-31, 2007
Cuba Chronicle of Events is produced by the Prima Human Rights News Agency in Moscow in cooperation with the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe, based in Washington, D.C. This edition is based on reports from PRIMA-News, Bitacora Cubana, CubaNet, Puente Informativo Cuba Miami, Martí Noticias, Directorio Democrático Cubano, NEWSru.com, Lenta.Ru, ITAR-TASS–Vzglyad, Associated Press, La Jornada, Reuters, RIA Novosti, and NTV.
Seventy-Two Teachers Gather in Havana for Alternative Education Congress
Seventy-two teachers gathered at the 2nd Congress of the Colegio de Profesores Independiente de Cuba (Association of Independent Teachers in Cuba) on November 3 in Havana. The gathering was called “Alternative Pedagogy 2007.” The acting president Luis Daniel Silva Quintana stated the aim of the conference: “What we are seeking is alternative teaching, in other words, education independent of the regime.” Daniel Escalona Martínez, vice president of the Association, streesed the group’s aim of “keeping the torch of education burning on the island.”
As reported by Agence France Presse, the event was hosted by Cuban opposition member Roberto de Miranda, founder of the Colegio in 1996. Miranda directs the Martin Luther King Independent Library in a destitute barrio in central Havana, one in a network of forty-seven independent libraries run by teachers, according to a report on the Colegio’s activities sent out by de Miranda this summer. He was among the 75 opposition activists arrested in Black Spring in March 2003, but was released two years ago on a medical parole. He continues to suffer from a serious heart condition. De Miranda said one goal of the meeting was to discuss problems in Cuba’s public education system, whose central element is political indoctrination.
The teachers also issued a statement denouncing Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s constitutional reform plan and his repression of dissenters, saying he is trying to stay in power forever through the new constitution. Agence France Presse reported that in the statement the group expressed solidarity with Venezuelan students who took to the streets all across the country to protest against Chavez’s proposed reforms that would allow him to remain in power for decades. The document was signed by all seventy-two independent Cuban teachers attending the congress
Concern Expressed for Life of Sick Dissident; Group Appeals to International Community
The Miami-based group Mothers and Women Against Repression in Cuba (MAR. por Cuba) issued a press-release on November 20 to voice concern about the state of health of Jorge Luis García Pérez, a.k.a. Antúnez. The Cuban dissident and former political prisoner was hurriedly taken to a hospital in Cuba a few days ago.
The exile human rights group says it holds the Castro regime responsible for the life of the pro-democracy dissident who was arrest in late September with others during a human rights protest (see lead story in Cuba Chronicle of Events No. 40). The Group appealed to democratic governments and the international community to urgently demand that Cuban authorities provide Antúnez immediate and adequate medical treatment.
Oswaldo Payá Launches New Civic Movement in Cuba
Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas announced the creation of a new civic group designed to push forward a peaceful campaign to achieve free elections and democratic changes in Cuba.
The leader of the Christian Liberation Movement said more than 300 Cubans from across the island had joined the newly formed Citizen’s Committee for Reconciliation and Dialogue.
In a press conference in his home in Havana, Payá said the new initiative would be an impetus for deeper civic engagement in efforts to bring about peaceful change in Cuba. Payá stated that the first task of the group would be to push for reforms in Cuba’s electoral law, but that it would also work towards the release of political prisoners and the convocation of a constituent assembly. “The days are gone when one single party could shape the nation’s destiny, having all the privileges and depriving the masses of their basic rights, rejoicing in life’s pleasures and making others’ lives miserable,” the dissident said. He noted that the Cuban people had never before been so conscious that change is near and that Cuba must change.
In 2002, Paya organized the Varella Project, a petition campaign to change the Cuban Constitution. The Project gathered more than 10,000 signatures, the number required for initiating a referendum, but the signatures were rejected and the Cuban Parliament instead adopted constitutional provisions establishing socialism as the “eternal and unchangeable system” of Cuba. Many petition signers and coordinators were imprisoned.
10,000 Signatures Gathered in Support for Monetary Reform
A group of dissident women from the Latin American Federation of Rural Women (FLAMUR) submitted a petition signed by 10,732 people to the National Assembly demanding an end to Cuba’s dual currency system, which the group states is a cause of poverty and inequality in the country. In Cuba, there are two currencies. One is the Cuban peso, which all Cubans must use and the other is the convertible peso, worth 24 times more, which is used by foreigners.
“We demand for all the nation that the Cuban peso be an acceptable means of payment in every establishment without exception,” the petition said. Fidel Castro said the dual currency system was temporary and would eventually be abandoned when economic development permits. But FLAMUR is demanding a positive response from the government because it said “this is a demand that all Cubans are making.”
Miami Kicks Off Campaign for Wearing CAMBIO Bracelets
In an act of support of young Cuban girls and boys detained on the street for wearing white rubber bracelets emblazoned with the word “CAMBIO,” meaning “change,” a group of youth in Miami, Florida, has launched a campaign, urging Miami residents and people across the world to wear the CAMBIO wristbands.
Anti-Castro Stickers Appear in Havana Suburb, Sparking a Police Swarm
Anti-government stickers have been again spotted in the Havana suburbs. Several stickers bearing anti-government slogans appeared on the central street in Güines, a Havana suburb. A large number of police were immediately rushed to the scene.
NGO for Democracy in Cuba Formed in Brazil
A group of activists announced the formation of the Cuba-Brazil Committee for a Democratic Cuba to assist peaceful pro-democracy changes on the island. The Committee was founded by Cuban exiles and other foreigners residing in Brazil in cooperation with Brazilians who have chosen to transcend their party affiliations and ideological leanings to support pro-democracy efforts in Cuba. Raúl Simón from Sao Paulo, Carlos Jiménez from Brasilia, and Jorge Fonseca from Belem will co-chair the Committee. The newly launched NGO says its key goal is to keep the Brazilian public and the government informed of the peaceful opposition activities on the island and to take every possible step to press for the release of political prisoners in Cuba.
Cuban-American Congresswoman Reports Arrests of Youth in Cuba
U.S. Representative Ileana Ros Lehtinen of Florida reported the arrest of 60 young people in Cuba for wearing wristbands bearing a one-word message “CAMBIO” or “CHANGE.” The Cuban-born Congresswoman said it was sad that these simple bracelets and the word “change” arouses such fear among Cuban functionaries who see them as a threat to the regime. The arrest of these young Cubans for the smallest act of defiance, Lehtinen said, shows that the communist regime, despite running the country with an iron fist and suppressing all freedom, feels insecure about its grip on power.
President Bush Commended for Honoring Oscar Elías Biscet
Jay Nordlinger, editor of the National Review, praises President George W. Bush for giving Cuban political prisoner Oscar Elías Biscet the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In his article “Remembering Biscet, &c.,” the author writes that he has been “yelling about Biscet” since he began his column in the National Review in March 2001. He argued that if the Afro-Cuban physician were a prisoner of anyone but Fidel Castro he would be world famous.
Cuba Begins Moncada-2007 Military Exercises
Cuba has launched full-scale military exercises that involve different branches of the armed forces, from infantry to aviation. The Moncada-2007 maneuvers are being carried out on testing ranges in various parts of the country. The scenario for the exercises is to prepare against a possible U.S. attack. Civilians also take part in the exercises, mingling with the troops and preparing for the island’s defense. Copying tactics from Vietnam during the U.S. intervention, Cuba advocates the doctrine of a so-called people’s war. Under this doctrine, should there be an attack, every single household would become a frontline, and every person capable of bearing arms would take up arms to defend the country.
Cuban Parliamentary Elections Set for January 20, 2008
Cuba has set January 20 for elections to provincial and national assemblies. After that, the head of Cuba’s highest executive organ, the Council of State, will be elected. Fidel Castro, Cuba's unchallenged leader since 1959, has held the council presidency since its creation in 1976.
The date for elections was set by a special government ruling signed by interim leader Raul Castro and read on state television. The document did not mention whether Fidel Castro was going to put his name on the ballot, but he did vote in the municipal elections earlier this year.
Castro to Run for Parliament Seat
Cuban leader Fidel Castro was nominated for a seat in Cuba’s parliament, known as the National Assembly, which means he may still intend to hang onto power in spite of his serious illness. Over a year ago, the ailing 81-year-old leader temporarily handed over power to his younger brother Raul. Formally, to retain the presidency, Fidel Castro must win a parliament seat.
Two Cuban Students Seek Asylum in Canada
Two Cuban students taking part in a Canada World Youth exchange program have sought asylum in Canada. The president of Canada World Youth that has sponsored the trip of the Cuban youth said the rest of the group would return to Havana on November 27.
A Plea from Mother of Cuban Dissident Doctor
The mother of Hilda Molina, once a leading Cuban brain surgeon and now an ailing dissident unable to leave the island, has appealed to the Cuban government to allow her to travel to Argentina to be with her grandson and great-grandsons. The appeal was aired by Radio Martí.
UN Urges U.S. to end Cuba Embargo for 16th Year
The UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to demand an end to the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. By a vote of 184 in favor, the 192-member assembly adopted the resolution submitted by Cuba, reports Interfax. The United States, Israel, Palau and the Marshall Islands voted against the resolution. This is the 16th year in a row that the UN General Assembly puts to the vote a draft resolution against the U.S. embargo on Cuba.
The United States first imposed trade sanctions against Cuba in 1960 shortly after Fidel Castro seized power and declared a socialist revolution and his alliance with the Soviet Union. A full travel and trade embargo was imposed in 1962 shortly before the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Cuba, Spain Postpone Rights Talks
Spain and Cuba have postponed talks on human rights that were planned to be held at the end of November in Madrid, according to Spanish Foreign Ministry sources. The postponement is due to an upcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council slated for December 10-14 in Geneva.
According to the sources, the parties will soon set a new meeting date to facilitate a mechanism for political consultations, created during a visit to Cuba by Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos in April this year. As part of this process, the first meeting was held in Havana in May.
The agreement for bilateral political consultations is the first document of its kind signed by Cuba and an EU member country since the European Union froze relations with the Castro regime following the arrest of 75 Cuban political dissidents in spring 2003.
Russian State Duma Ratifies Deal to Restructure Cuba’s $166 Million Debt
Russia’s State Duma has ratified an intergovernmental agreement on restructuring Cuba’s post-Soviet debt to Russia. Under the agreement, Cuba is to pay off the $166 million debt amassed when Russia was funding construction of the Huragua nuclear power plant from 1993 to 1996.
The debt will be restructured over a period of ten years, with a four-year grace period and a 5 percent rate of interest for arrears. The debt is to be repaid in euros.
The original agreement on Cuba’s debt to Russia was signed in Havana on September 28, 2006. Russian Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Shatalov says the agreement does not cover Cuba’s debt to the Soviet Union, which is estimated at $26 billion.
High-Ranking German Government Official Intends Visit to Cuba
German Secretary of State for the Federal Ministry of Economics, Bernd Pfaffenbach, will visit Cuba in February 2008 by instruction of Economics Minister Michael Glos. He will be the first high-ranking German government official to travel to Cuba since diplomatic relations between the European Union and Cuba were frozen in 2003 over the imprisonment of Cuban dissidents. Der Spiegel reports that the aim of the visit is to secure Germany’s economic interests in Cuba.
But the minister’s plans are facing opposition from within his own party, Angela Merkel’s Christian bloc (CDU/CSU). CDU parliamentarian Arnold Vaatz demanded in a letter to the minister that he postpone the trip, threatening with a public protest, if otherwise,
Costa Rica Supports Non-Cooperation Campaign with Cuban Dictatorship
The Costa Rican Committee in Solidarity with Democracy in Cuba is expanding efforts to promote the “I Do Not Cooperate With The Dictatorship” campaign and to give people more information to disprove the Castro regime’s defense of its actions inside the island, its chairman María del Milagro Méndez told Radio Martí.
International Trade Fair Kicks Off in Cuba
The 25th International Trade Fair opened in Havana involving more than 1,000 companies from 53 countries. Organizers of the island’s annual trade event expect Cuba to sign nearly $450 million in contracts with international firms, according to the Associated Press. Foreign trade is expected to grow 12 percent in 2007 compared with the year 2006. Cuba’s top trade partners are Venezuela, China, Spain, Canada, Italy, Brazil, and even several U.S. states. The United States passed a law in 2000 that allows American businessmen to sell food directly to Cuba for cash.
Cuba Introduces Meat Rationing
Cuba has introduced rationing to meat. The meat ration is 230 grams per person per month. The monthly ration per person also includes several kilograms of sugar, rice, beans, and a dozen of eggs. Most of the rationed foodstuffs could be bought on the black market, except meat. Meat is only available at so-called dollar stores for foreigners and costs $12 per kilogram.
Noel Causes $500 Million in Damage in Cuba
Tropical Storm Noel, which hit Cuba on October 31, has caused losses worth $500 million in Cuba’s eastern provinces, according to the government. The storm, the worst to hit the Caribbean this year, lashed the island’s eastern provinces last week, bringing torrential rains which have destroyed much of the crop, the road network, and inundated homes. More than forty thousand people had to be evacuated in Granma province alone and there was flooding of a total of 20,000 homes. Fifty percent of unpaved roads have been destroyed or damaged, and serious damage has been inflicted to crops such as coffee and sugar cane.
A total of 142 people died as a result of Tropical Storm Noel.
Catholic Church Gives Emergency Aid to Flood Victims in Cuba
The Catholic Church in the Bayamo-Manzanillo diocese has issued an appeal for solidarity with flood-stricken communities, doing all that’s possible to remedy the grave situation in Cuba’s devastated areas. The Cuban Bishops’ Conference said in its official statement fundraising campaigns have been launched in several dioceses to assist flood victims.
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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].