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Cuba Chronicle of Events
Issue No. 45 • January 1-15, 2008

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, and Directorio Democrático Cubano.


Ladies in White Celebrate Epiphany

Ladies in White celebrated Epiphany in Havana with a group of thirty children of political prisoners. According to EFE, some of the children came from as far away as Santiago de Cuba and Las Tunas, while others arrived from Pinar del Rio, Havana, Matanzas and Villa Clara.

Miriam Leiva, wife of former political prisoner Oscar Chepe, told EFE that the group wanted to throw a small party for children who live under so much stress because of their parents political imprisonment. The children received a piece of cake and presents, mostly toys sent by Cubans living outside the country. Leiva said some children had attended Mass at Havana’s Santa Rita Church, where the Ladies in White gather every Sunday to pray for the release of political prisoners.  “For us this is a very special day because this month we also celebrate the 10th anniversary of the historic visit of Pope John Paul II to Cuba,” Leiva said.

Signs of Civil Disobedience in Eastern Cuba

There are reports of intensified police activity in Palma Soriana municipality, Santiago de Cuba province following  the appearance of anti-government and anti-Castro stickers in the township a few days earlier. The organs of Cuban repression have increased efforts to find people responsible for these acts of sedition, independent journalist Virgilio Delat told Radio Martí.

Cuban Catholic Magazine Says Postponing Solutions Would Be a Humiliation

Cuba’s Catholic magazine Palabra Nueva supports gradual changes, but they should be soon because further postponing would be a humiliation for society.
Orlando Márquez, editor of the monthly magazine of the Havana Archdioceses, wrote in an opinion article that people should not expect immediate and sudden solutions. Gradualism, he argued, is better than impetuous and radicalism. But gradual changes must begin soon, he emphasized, because “the idea of postponing the solutions once again would not only frighten, but . . .completely dishearten [society]" and be seen as a joke.
Cubans have today a chance to show the world an example of social responsibility, respect, pluralism, integration, and lack of any kind of discrimination.


Wave of Repression Hits Santa Clara

The political police arrested a dozen peaceful demonstrators in Santa Clara.

Human rights activists and members of the pro-democracy opposition carried out a march to demand the release of all political prisoners in Cuba. The demonstration was held after Marta opposition leaders and former political prisoners Marta Beatriz Roque and Jorge Luis García Pérez, a.k.a. Antúnez, called for the opposition to take to the streets. Antúnez, who led the protest action, was pepper sprayed in the face, handcuffed, and dragged along the street, while women protesters tried to protect him. He was arrested with a dozen others, but later released. The 18 demonstrators wore T-shirts bearing pictures of political prisoners and chanted slogans demanding freedom and respect for human rights.

Human Rights Activist Not Allowed to Enter Cuba

Ivana Kullova, a Slovak human rights activist from People in Need, said she was barred from entering Cuba by immigration authorities despite being given a visa earlier. She told AFP that she was ordered to leave Cuba immediately after being informed she is on a list of unwanted persons. She was forced to leave on the first plane out after arriving in Cuba on January 2, she added. Kullova had planned to meet with intellectuals and teachers and provide them with literature and information about a pluralistic education system.

Cuba has tense relations the Czech Republic, which has championed the rights of dissidents and called for a tough European Union line in dealing with Havana.

Leading Dissidents Detained in Havana

Cuban dissidents Jorge Luis “Antúnez” García Pérez , Blas Fortún Martínez, Alejandro Martínez Martínez, and Carlos Cordero were detained in Havana as they were going to hand over leaflets to mark the first anniversary of the death of human rights activist Miguel Valdés Tamayo. The three men were taken to Villa Clara, but Carlos Cordero was soon released. The incident was reported by Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello, a former political prisoner and opposition leader.


Reporters Without Borders: Cuba Is World’s Second-Biggest Jail for Journalists

Cuba is still the world’s second-biggest prison for journalists, according to the annual report of Reporters Without Borders published on January 2. The report states that 55 journalists were arrested in Cuba in 2007 and 24 are still being held behind bars,. The government, it said, has released only those who have served their terms in full and imprisons others. Reporters Without Borders has reiterated its demand for the unconditional release of all imprisoned journalists across the world, including the 24 Cubans.

Cuban Political Prisoner Transferred to Boniato Prison

Cuban authorities have transferred political prisoner Lázaro Alejandro García Farah to the notorious Boniato prison in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba.

Prisoner of Conscience’s Family Seek His Transfer

The family of jailed dissident Víctor Rolando Arroyo Carmona, who is sentenced to 26 years imprisonment, has asked the chief of Cuba’s department of prisons to move him from Cuba Sí prison in Holguín province to the provincial facility in Pinar del Rio nearer to his home. He is the only person from the Group of 75 who is being held such a long distance, 900 km, from home, they wrote in a letter. Copies of the letter were also sent to the Apostolic Nunciature and the Catholic Bishops Conference of Cuba.

Ladies in White Hope Vatican’s No. 2 Will Show Concern for Political Prisoners

The Ladies in White, a group comprised of the wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, and other female relatives of 75 dissidents who received harsh sentences in 2003, have expressed hope the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarciso Bertone, would intervene on behalf of Cuban political prisoners during his forthcoming official visit to the island. The female relatives of the jailed dissidents had repeatedly appealed to the late Pope John Paul II and have also written a letter to Pope Benedict XVI asking him to speak up in defense of all rights activists in Cuba.

Cuban Political Prisoner Who Declares Hunger Strike is Transferred

After Cuban prisoner of conscience Antonio Díaz Sánchez went on a hunger strike at Canaleta prison in Ceigo de Avila, prison authorities  transferred him from the fifth unit to a barrack occupied by dangerous criminals, the Christian Liberation Movement announced in a press release. Transferring political prisoners to sections with hardened criminals is a frequently used intimidation tactic by Cuban prison authorities, the document read.

Health of Cuban Political Prisoner Deteriorates

Cuban political prisoner José Luis García Paneque’s medical condition is deteriorating by the day because of inadequate food provided in Las Mangas prison in Bayamo province. According to “NetforCuba,” a rights advocacy group, the former Cuban surgeon imprisoned in March 2003 suffers from intestinal mal-absorption that has led to chronic diarrhea and rectal bleeding. The syndrome has developed in prison due to poor diet over more than four years of incarceration. At present, Dr. Paneque weighs hardly 100 pounds.

German Rights Activists Demand Release of Cuban Political Prisoner

The International Society for Human Rights (ISHR), based in Germany, issued a press release voicing concern over the poor medical condition of Cuban political prisoner José Luis García Paneque. It also released his family’s urgent appeal to the international community to intervene on his behalf. The ISHR stated that the doctor’s life is at risk.

Dr. García Paneque was arrested on March 18, 2003, and sentenced to 24 years in jail for advocating adherence to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He has been held in the high-security Las Mangas prison in Bayamo since being sentenced. He suffers from chronic diarrhea and profuse rectal bleeding that could indicate the development of a duodenal ulcer. According to ISHR, Dr. Paneque is confined in a barrack next to ten violent prisoners. Since the beginning of this year prison authorities have not allowed him access to fresh air or sunlight.


Cuban TV Shows Previously Banned Documentary

Cuban television showed a sports documentary called “Fuera de Liga” (“Outstanding”) on January 12 that featured interviews with Cuba’s most popular baseball players from Industriales of Havana who left the island a decade ago to play in the U.S. major leagues. The 68-minute film was completed by Ián Padrón in 2003 but had been censored because of interviews with players who defected. The documentary was broadcast two weeks after acting President Raúl Castro said in a speech there was “an excess of prohibitions” in Cuba that did more harm than good.


Pope Benedict XVI Wishes Cuba Better Future

Speaking to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See at a New Year reception in the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI wished Cuba a better future.

The Pope made note in his annual “state of the world” address that Cuba was preparing to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the visit of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who was received with affection by the authorities and by the people. The Pope said he would like to reiterate his message of hope for Cuba and encouraged all Cubans to work together for a better future.

Cuban Catholic Church Marks 10th Anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s Visit

The visit of John Paul II to Cuba in 1998 was an event of great significance for the Church and the nation, Cardinal Jaime Ortega said in an interview to be published by the Catholic magazine Espacio Laical, according to Agence France Presse.

Pope John Paul II made his historic pilgrimage to Cuba in January 21-25, 1998. During his visit there, he held Masses in Santa Clara, Camagüey, Santiago de Cuba, and in Havana at the Plaza de la Revolución, in the presence of Fidel Castro.

In his interview, Cardinal Ortega acknowledged the importance of national reconciliation, according to AFP. As reconciliation between people spreads, he stressed, other situations will improve. He also recalled that Pope John Paul II’s trip to Cuba helped Cuba “open itself up to the world, and the world open itself up to Cuba.”

Mass Held to Remember Miguel Valdés Tamayo

A mass was held on January 10 in Havana to mark the first anniversary of the death of independent journalist Miguel Valdés Tamayo, one of the 75 dissidents jailed in a massive police crackdown in 2003 called the “Black Spring.” He died of a heart attack two years after being released on medical parole in 2004. The mass was held in the parish of Nuestra Señora del Carmen, in Central Havana neighborhood. The prayer service was led by Father Teodoro Berrecil Fernández. The service was attended by members of the Ladies in White, opposition member René Gómez Manzano, and members of the independent press. The service passed without incident, but visibly under watch by the political police.

Valdez was head of the Fraternal Brothers for Dignity (Hermanos Fraternales por la Dignidad) and a member of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Cuba (Asamblea para Promover la Sociedad Civil en Cuba). After being arrested in March 2003, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges of violating Article 91 of the penal code ("acts against the independence or territorial integrity of the state").  Mr. Valdes resumed his activism, which earned him regular harrassment from the Cuban police and its civilian collaborators. On Oct. 27, 2006, according to Amnesty International, Valdes was assaulted by a Castroite street mob.


“Free As a Bird,” Says Cuban Musician Granted Asylum in Brazil

Three Cuban musicians have been granted asylum by Brazil and said they intend to settle there for good, reported Brazil’s newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo. All three described themselves as now being “free men.” Singer Miguel Costafreda, 40, said “I feel myself here as free as a bird.” He and guitarists Juan Alcides Diaz and Arodis Verdecia Pompa decided on going to Brazil while they were on tour in Europe because, he said, Brazilian music “is akin to our native rhythms.” Costafreda told reporters that Castro’s agents had always accompanied him on all his tours abroad and kept his instruments under lock and key.

Stevenson Says Rigondeaux and Lara Are Not Traitors

Three-time Olympic heavyweight boxing champion Teófilo Stevenson voiced his opinion on the case of two Cuban boxers Guillermo Rigondeaux and Erislandy Lara, now barred from fighting for their country after they deserted their teammates during the Pan-American Games in Rio de Janeiro last July and later returned to Cuba. He told Reuters that he did not consider the two traitors but instead as great fighters. In an interview with the AP, he said that they should be given another opportunity, just as prisoners and others are given a chance of reeducation.

Rigondeaux and Lara abandoned the national team during the Pan-American Games in Rio. Both were later arrested by the Brazilian police in a sea resort and sent back hastily to the island. Brazilian lawmakers and various rights advocacy groups, including Human Rights Watch, denounced the deportations, saying Brazil did not ensure legal protections entitled to refugees.


Brazilian President to Visit Cuba

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is scheduled to visit Cuba next week after attending the swearing-in ceremony of Guatemala’s President Alvaro Colom. During his official visit, Lula will meet with top Cuban officials, including Raúl Castro, and will probably see the ailing Fidel Castro. Lula had previously planned to travel to Cuba in November, but then postponed the visit to be able to work out and sign more bilateral agreements during the visit.

Brazilian President Urged to Show Solidarity with Cuban Opposition

The Cuban-Brazil Committee for a Democratic Cuba has called on President Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva to voice support for rights activists, multiparty elections, and the release of political prisoners during his forthcoming visit to the island. The group, which unites Brazilian and Cuban ex-patriot human rights activists, sent a letter to da Silva ahead of his official visit to Cuba on January 15.

The Brazilian president has always championed human rights, free elections and political prisoners, the group writes in the letter. It continued that there are various opposition groups in Cuba, left wing, centrist, and right wing, but all of them are equally suppressed by the totalitarian single-party, one rejected by the Cuban people in the same way as Brazilians  rejected military dictatorship.


Cubans Working for Foreign Companies to Pay Income Tax

Cubans employed by foreign companies on the island must from now on declare all “under the table” payments and bonuses and pay tax on that income, according to official sources. The new measure requires Cubans working in branches of foreign companies, air companies, tourist agencies, news services, diplomatic missions and international organizations to register to be taxed.

Under Cuban legislation, foreign businesses employ staff through governmental agencies, which are paid in Cuban convertible pesos ($1.8) and, in turn, pay the employees in Cuban pesos at the rate of 21 pesos per dollar, well under the black market rate. Legislation does not allow free contracting of personnel by foreign companies in Cuba. Cuba’s Ministry of the Economy reported in December that the average monthly wage on the island was 408 Cuban pesos, or about $19 at the official exchange rate.


Spain Discusses Homosexuality in Cuba

Writers, poets, publishers, politicians and exiled dissidents gathered today in Madrid’s Casa de la America for a two-day discussion on homosexuality in Cuba and the repression that sexual minorities had suffered at the hands of the Castro regime.

The event, entitled “Cuba: Revolution and Homosexuality,” was organized by the Spanish Federation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Advocacy Organizations (COLEGAS).

Participants examined how changing political and historical circumstances affected the attitude to sexual minorities in Cuba in the second half of the 20th century. The discussion began with presentations about José Mario and Reinaldo Arenas, two Cuban writers persecuted by the Castro regime for homosexuality. Participants then shared their views on Spain’s current policy toward Cuba and its affect on the human rights situation on the island. The conference ended with a speech delivered by María Elena Cruz Varela, a Cuban writer and journalist in exile.

Ammonia Leak in Havana

About 50 people sought medical aid for respiratory and skin irritation following an ammonia leak at a refrigeration facility on the outskirts of Havana, firefighters said. Four to five thousand people were evacuated as a result of the leak. The head of the Cuban Firefighter Corps, Bienvenido Rafoso, told EFE that about three tons of ammonia escaped earlier in the morning from refrigeration facility No. 303 in the Berroa free trade zone and that the situation “has already been brought under control.” He said evacuees would soon return to their homes. An investigation is being carried out to determine the causes of the leak, which formed a toxic cloud in the Alamar neighborhood, one of Havana’s most heavily populated areas.

Novelist Lambasts Che Guevara’s Legend

In an interview to EFE, Cuban writer Zoë Valdés expressed regret that Ernesto Che Guevara was so idealized around the world and that there was so little information to people about his actual personality and deeds. Guevara’s ideal, she said, was very far from the ideal of the free man. She called Fidel Castro the best expert in marketing of the 20th century: he bought the product and built the brand of Che, one that still sells like “hot cakes” all over the world.

New Book Dispels Che Guevara’s Myth

Wanting to restore the truth behind the myth, exiled Cuban writer Jacobo Machover exposes the legend surrounding Argentine-born revolutionary hero Ernesto Che Guevaro by using the guerilla fighter’s own writings in his new book, “The Hidden Face of Che.”

In an interview to Spanish news agency EFE, Machover said “There is a huge misunderstanding” surrounding the figure of Che Guevara who is seen as a romantic liberator when he was really “no more than a fanatical Stalinist.” He stressed that there is an intentional forgetfulness about all Che did when he was in power in Cuba, especially as head of the fortress of La Cabaña, where he sent collaborators of the Fulgencio Batista regime to the firing squad day and night, the author stressed. Instead, Che is considered a dreamer and an independent fighter who wanted to carry guerilla warfare to Bolivia. In fact, this was a project of his mentor, Fidel Castro.

Machover is living in France. The book was published in France three months ago and is being launched in Germany, Italy, and Romania and some other Eastern European countries.

Ex-CIA Agent Dies in Havana

Former CIA agent Philip Agee, a long-time resident of Cuba, died in Havana on January 7 aged 72. Cuban state media reported the news on January 9 without giving details of his death.
Agee worked for the CIA until 1968 when he quit the agency and began to expose CIA agents and operations throughout the world. In the 1970s, he settled in Cuba. In recent years he directed an internet travel agency, Cubalinda.

Cuban Journalist Says Crime Is on the Rise on the Island

People are becoming increasingly concerned about the rise of crime on the island, independent Cuban journalist Jaime Leygonier told Radio Martí. Fewer and fewer people now leave their homes after nine in the evening, he added.

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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].