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Cuba Chronicle of Events
Issue No. 44 • December 1-31, 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, RIA Novosti, Reuters, Strana.Ru, MIGnews.com, Pinknews – Gay.Ru, NEWSru.com, Ympo.ua, Gzt.Ru, NEWSru.com, and BBC News.

OPPOSITION

10/12/2007
Cuba to Expel 10 Spaniards for Taking Part in Dissident Protest

The Cuban government said that it is deporting ten Spanish women who took part in a dissident protest. The ten women, all from Catalonia and including a Barcelona city councilor, had joined a regular march conducted by Ladies in White on Sunday for the release of Cuban political prisoners, a Spanish Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

POLITICAL REPRESSION

28/12/2007
Fariñas Detained in Santa-Clara

Santa Clara, Cuba. Guillermo Fariñas Hernández, the independent journalist and former political prisoner who carried out a six-month hunger strike demanding an end to restrictions on internet access, was detained on December 19 by state security officers in his native city of Santa Clara.

According to the journalist’s mother, Alicia Hernández Cabeza, Major Fulgencio Bagué from the political police drove up to her son’s home early in the morning in a red Lada bearing the license plate VDE205. He ordered Fariñas to go with him to a police station for talks.

Upon their arrival at the station, Fariñas was taken to an office where he was met by Lt. Col.   Rubén Álvarez Pérez. The officer told Fariñas he had received an instruction to tell him he could be held for espionage because, according to their sources, he had taken pictures of Cuban jails to be displayed at an exhibition dedicated to Cuban political prisoners held at the premises of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation from December 6 to December 11.

When confronted with such accusation, Fariñas said they better start an investigation since the photos were downloaded from the Internet using the Google search engine. Álvarez responded that the official decision granting him early release from prison earlier in the year could be rescinded at any moment. Sometime later in the day, Fariñas was taken back home.

POLITICAL PRISONERS

26/12/2007
Political Prisoner’s Health Declines After Medication is Denied

Santa Clara, Cuba. The condition of Julián Antonio Moné Borrero, a political prisoner held in Paso de Cuba prison in Baracoa municipality in Guantánamo province, has worsened because of the lack of the needed medical treatment and medicine.

On December 17, Moné said over the phone he was suffering from tonsil and adenoid disease and hypotension. He said he sought help from a prison doctor, but the best the prison doctor could do for him was to suggest he place salt underneath the tongue to keep his blood pressure in check because the medicine he needed was not available.

Moné is a member of the Miguel Valdés Tamayo Movement in Cuba. Last January he was sentenced to one year of house arrest, but on October 24 Cuban authorities ordered him to be taken to prison.

GOVERNMENT

10/12/2007
Cuba to Sign International Pacts on Human Rights

Cuba will soon sign two important UN agreements in relation to human rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Pérez Roque announced today.

This is the political decision adopted by Cuba and we announce it today, 10 December, International Human Rights, said Pérez Roque. Both instruments, of widely recognized importance in this area, are fully protected by the national judicial code, the minister pointed out.
The decision, which should materialize in the first quarter of the coming year, is indicative that Cuba “will always maintain close cooperation with the UN system, on the basis of respect for our national sovereignty and for the right of the Cuban people to self-determination,” reports             ITAR-TASS, citing Pérez Roque.

15/12/2007
Fidel Castro’s Niece Defends Gays and Lesbians

Mariela Castro, the daughter of acting president Raul Castro and niece of perennial Cuban leader Fidel Castro, has yet again shocked her communist country by advocating same-sex unions and saying that gays, lesbians, transsexuals, transvestites, and transgender people should be granted legal protection under forthcoming legal reforms. As director of the National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), Miss Castro has been long known for such appeals. The new measures she is advocating include non-discrimination on the grounds of sexuality or gender identity, the introduction of same-sex unions and adoption rights, and reforms relating to health care and treatment of the gay, bi-sexual, and transgender community.

Speaking to IPSnews.net, Miss Castro said gay and lesbian people had been unfairly persecuted in Cuba for a long time. She criticized the Communist party’s ideology introduced in the 1960s that was deeply prejudiced against homosexuals. She added, however, that the potential reforms marked a gradual change of attitude in the party. “Now they’re adopting more inclusive attitudes. Fortunately, they have learned and become aware of those errors and many others. What we are doing is helping it progress along the learning curve. What we have to do is learn from experience and take steps to move forward as a society,” said Mariela Castro.

17/12/2007
Castro Hints at Retirement

Cuba’s ailing Communist leader Fidel Castro, who has not been seen in public for 16 months,  hinted on December 17 that he may give up his formal leadership posts. It’s the first time Fidel Castro has raised the possibility of his retirement. “My basic duty is not to cling to office, and even less to obstruct the path of younger people,” the 80-year-old Castro said in a letter read out on state television.

Cuba’s National Assembly could formalize Castro’s retirement when it approves the members of the executive Council of State in March. Castro said his duty “is to pass on the experiences and ideas whose modest worth stems from the exceptional times that I have lived through.” The comments, which Castro made in the final paragraph of a letter delivered on Cuba’s main evening current affairs program, suggest he may not seek to renew his mandate but may continue as an advisor on key issues for the country’s communist government.

Castro holds the posts of president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers, and first secretary of the ruling Communist Party. Since March this year, Castro has remained present in Cuban political life by writing dozens of essays and newspaper columns on a wide range of world affairs, but he had not mentioned his future role until now.

29/12/2007
Raul Castro Admits “Excess of Prohibitions”

There are too many excessive prohibitions and legal measures in Cuba, said Cuba’s acting President Raul Castro in his address to the 10th ordinary session of the Cuban National Assembly. “We agree with those who warn about the excess of prohibitions and legal measures, which do more harm than good,” Raul Castro told the assembly. He noted that each incorrect prohibition leads to a number of illegalities.

In his address, Raul Castro spoke about the problems facing the nation and reported back on the feedback received over the last several months during “thousands of meetings” held at workplaces and neighborhoods throughout the island following his call for more debate on Cuba’s problems. In a speech on July 26, Raul said the country’s economy needed changes and urged Cubans to air their views.

He said the debates were aimed at finding collective support and “the best solutions based on the country’s economic possibilities.” At the same time, he spoke out against having illusions that resources would come “flying out of the sombrero.” Cuba needed time to study, organize and plan to achieve the best possible results, both in the terms of quality and efficiency, and in accordance with established priorities, he said.

“We all would prefer to march faster, but it is not always possible,” he concluded. He invited Cubans to develop criticism and self-criticism in order to improve Cuba’s socialist system.  Fidel Castro, who is still recovering from serious intestinal surgery he underwent in July, 2006, did not attend the parliamentary session. He sent a written message to the assembly in which he has publicly backed his brother to whom he temporarily handed power to 17 months ago.

29/12/2007
Fidel Castro Reaffirms He’s Ready to Retire

Cuba’s leader Fidel Castro, who had ruled the country since 1959, has for the second time this month hinted at possible retirement. In a letter read out to Cuba’s National Assembly, he said in the past he had been a person, ”who clung to power,” but that life had changed his views. In the letter, dated December 27, Castro urged people to support his brother, acting president Raul Castro, who is also Cuba’s Defense Minister. In a previous message on December 18, Castro wrote that he had a duty not to obstruct the rise of younger people. The ailing Castro has not been actively governing the country since July 2006. His brother Raul is five years younger than his 80-year-old brother. Fidel Castro’s letters come before so-called elections on January 20 to elect the National Assembly.

REFUGEES

26/12/2007
U.S. Denies Asylum to Cuban Diplomat

The U.S. Embassy in Madrid has denied asylum to a Cuban diplomat, advising him to approach Spanish authorities for political protection, reported the Spanish daily El Mundo. Lorenzo Menendez, the second-ranking diplomat in Cuba’s Embassy in Mozambique, skipped a flight out of Paris to seek political asylum in Spain, according to the newspaper.

Menendez applied to the U.S. Embassy because he has relatives in Miami who could help him relocate there. But the United States rejected his application on the grounds that he is on the territory of a democratic nation, Spain, and should seek asylum there, El Mundo wrote.

The diplomat applied to the U.S. embassy, he said, because processing applications for asylum in Spain is a long and complex affair taking several months and in the meantime he had no means to support his wife and 11-year-old daughter pending the authorities’ decision. El Mundo writes that asylum claims in Spain are considered within six months by a special commission representing four ministries — the interior, justice, foreign affairs, and labor — and that issuing a residence and work permit would take another six months.

Following the rejection of his claim by the U.S. Embassy, Menendez applied for asylum to the government of Spain. His claim will be considered according to the standard procedure.  Until then, he will have to rely on is generosity and kindness of his fellow countrymen living in exile, the newspaper continued, which added that the Cuban diplomat failed to get accommodation in a hostel for asylum seekers because it was overfilled.

According to Amnesty International’s office in Spain, “the number of people seeking asylum in Spain for political or humanitarian reasons has reached 5,000 this year.” The human rights group has repeatedly drawn attention to the difficulties of getting asylum in Spain arising from “the country’s unwillingness to accept refugees.”

27/12/2007
U.S. Says Cuba Rescues Survivors as Boat Capsizes

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, Cuban authorities informed the U.S. mission in Havana that eleven Cubans had been rescued while trying to flee Cuba in a motorboat that had overturned inside Cuban territorial waters. Lt. Commander Chris O’Neil, a Coast Guard spokesman in Miami, told Radio Martí that a letter delivered by Cuban authorities to the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba stated the incident occurred  not far from the coastal town of Santa Cruz del Norte near Havana in the predawn hours of December 22. Citing Cuban authorities, the Coast Guard spokesman said the eleven Cubans rescued at sea included two children, while another ten Cubans had been intercepted at shore, two having been found dead. One of the deceased was identified by a family member as Yosvanny Vera, a young man from Aguada de Pasajeros. The body of the 28-year-old victim was handed over by Cuban authorities to his family, his relatives told international news agencies. Neither Cuban authorities nor the official Cuban press have made any announcement about the incident.

26/12/2007
Band Defects to U.S.

Cuban musicians from the band Los Tres de La Habana y su Grupo (The Three from Havana and their Group) led by Germán Pinelli, the grandson of the famous Cuban TV host, arrived in Miami on December 26. They defected while on tour in Mexico a week ago.

The band, made up mostly of members of the Pinelli family, entered the United States through the Mexico-California border. They told Radio Martí they wanted to realize their artistic ambitions.

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

03/12/2007
Putin Ratifies Agreement to Settle Cuba’s Debt to Russia

Vladimir Putin has signed a federal law ratifying the agreement between Russia and Cuba to settle Cuba’s debt to Russian creditors. The law was approved by the State Duma on November 16 and by the Federation Council, the parliament’s upper house, on November 23, 2007. The deal was originally signed in September 2006 and covers the $166.09 million debt Cuba accumulated from 1993 to1996 in the course of economic and technical cooperation with Russia. The agreement establishes the debt restructuring procedures and interest rate.

12/12/2007
Spanish Court Considers Lawsuit against Fidel Castro

Spain’s National Court is considering a suit accusing Cuban President Fidel Castro of genocide and other crimes, said a court spokesman. The complaint was filed by a Miami-based group called Committee to Aid Dissidents-2506, or CAD 2506, named after the 2506 Brigade that took part in the CIA-organized Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. In addition to genocide, Castro is accused of crimes against humanity, torture and terrorism.

According to the court spokesman, the suit states that “upon seizing power on January 8, 1959, Castro began to carry out repressive policies, violating the rights and freedom of the islanders, and unleashing revolutionary terror with the help of the newly founded State Security Department, Ministry of the Interior, General Directorate of Intelligence, and Military Units to Aid Production.” The document further claims “that around half a million people have gone through concentration camps in Cuba since Castro came to power in 1959, and that 15,000 to 17,000 people have been executed.” The complaint alleged widespread torture and abuses under the Castro regime, including depriving political prisoners of sleep, food, infecting them with diseases through bloodsucking insects, and stripping them naked in front of prison authorities. In one incident, the document said that on April 20, 1961, 149 members of the 2506 Brigade captured in the Bay of Pigs invasion were put into a sealed truck to be transported to Havana. During the 11-hour ride, nine prisoners died of suffocation.

The Group lodged the complaint with the Spanish National Court because under Spanish law, judges have the right to try foreigners suspected of acts of genocide irrespective of where they have taken place, the court spokesman explained.

13/12/2007
Spain Refuses to Put Fidel Castro on Trial

On December 13, a Spanish court rejected a lawsuit that sought to have Cuban President Fidel Castro charged in Spain with acts of genocide, including the death of nine prisoners in the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.

The complaint is similar to two others filed in Spain in 1998 and 2005 that were also rejected by the National Court. They were lodged under Spain’s so-called principle of universal jurisdiction under which doctrine grievous crimes can be prosecuted in Spain even if alleged to have been committed in another country. A panel of 19 judges cited the same reason used to dismiss the earlier complaints, namely that Castro is a sitting head of state and as such enjoys immunity from prosecution under the Spanish doctrine.

The new complaint was filed in February by a Miami-based group called the CAD 2506, or the Committee to Aid Dissidents-2506. It takes its name from the 2506 Brigade that took part in the CIA-organized Bay of Pigs invasion force that sought to topple Castro in April 1961.

23/12/2007
Chavez Signs Economic Agreements with Cuba

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez has signed several energy, finance and farming agreements with Cuba. Speaking at the signing ceremony in Santiago de Cuba, Chavez said, “We are together and will be together forever. We are conscious that we are one nation.” The deals with Venezuela, especially for oil, are considered essential to keeping Cuba’s economy afloat.
 

ECONOMICS

20/12/2007
Cuba Set to Re-Open Huge Soviet-Era Oil Refinery

The huge oil refinery located in the city of Cienfuegos in central Cuba, originally built in the late 1980s in cooperation with the Soviet Union, is to start operations after a recent rehabilitation. Cuban sources report that there has already been a test run at the plant, and Venezuela has shipped over 548,000 barrels of oil to feed its storage tanks. Cuba’s and Venezuela’s experts have done leak testing, first using water and then crude oil, to make sure that pipelines and newly-installed modern safety systems are working properly.

The reopening ceremony will be held during the Fourth Petrocaribe Summit to be opened on December 21 in the city of Cienfuegos. The Petrocaribe is a Caribbean oil alliance launched by Cuba and Venezuela in 2005. Under the agreement regarding the oil refinery, Venezuela’s national oil company Petróleos de Venezuela sends subsidized oil and its derivatives to a large group of Caribbean nations and Nicaragua.

OTHER NEWS

22/12/2007
Naomi Campbell Seeks Meeting with Fidel Castro

Supermodel Naomi Campbell has come to Cuba to interview Fidel Castro. The catwalk queen, who arrived in Cuba in her new role as political reporter, has been commissioned by Britain’s GQ magazine to interview political figures. Her editors believe few male politicians if any will turn her away, reports ForUm.

Campbell is expected to meet with the country’s top government officials. But it is not clear if she will get to discuss hot topics with Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who has not appeared in public after undergoing intestinal surgery nearly a year and a half ago.

27/12/2007
Two Lesbians Seal the Union in Cuba

Two lesbians, Monica, 19, and Elizabeth, 28, have tied the knot in a symbolic ceremony in Cuba, according to IPSnews.net. While not the first such symbolic marriage, it is the first time a gay couple has married with the official support of a state institution, the National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), which led by Fidel Castro’s niece Mariela Castro.

CENESEX, which has long been promoting greater understanding of sexual diversity, loaned its inner courtyard for the ceremony. The wedding was attended by 60 friends, representatives of the center, and students of the Cuban Higher Institute of Art (ISA) who recorded the ceremony on film.

A study carried out in Cuba early this decade found that social disapproval of lesbians is far greater even than that faced by homosexual or bisexual men. CENESEX and the Cuban Women’s Federation are calling for equal rights for heterosexual and homosexual couples and the recognition of de facto unions between same-sex couples (see above). The initiative may reach parliament in 2008, but it is unclear if it will ever come to a vote.
 
 

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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. Please direct inquiries and comments to Editor, Cuba Chronicle of Events, Prima-News at prima@prima-news.ru or to idee@idee.org with the mark “Cuba Chronicle of Events.”