Cuba Chronicle of Events
No. 47 • February 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, Directorio Democrático Cubano, Associated Press, REGNUM, Kursor, Gay.ru, Radio Freedom, Travel.ru.
Cuban Opposition Members Ask King of Spain for Copies of Universal Declaration
Prominent Cuban peaceful opposition members Martha Beatríz Roque Cabello and Jorge Luis García Pérez Antúnez have sent a letter to the King of Spain asking the monarch to provide them with copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights so that they can distribute them on the island.
New Independent Publication Distributed in Cuba
The January issue of La Patria Libre (The Free Homeland) news bulletin was released and is in circulation in Havana and the rest of the country, announced Ludys Rodríguez Díaz, chief editor of the publication.
According to independent journalist Carlos Serpa Maceira, the bulletin was launched on January 28, 2007 and seeks to become an unofficial forum for discussing major national problems, especially women’s issues. It is being published by La Patria Libre independent press bureau in the city of Manzanillo in eastern Cuba. The online version of the bulletin is already available on the internet on websites Misceláneas de Cuba and Cuba Democracia y Vida, said Serpa Maceira.
Wave of Arrests
Dozens of human rights activists were arrested by state security agents in Cuba on January 27 and 28. Many of them were beaten and officially cautioned.
Leading opposition member Jorge Luis García Pérez Antúnez and his wife Iris Pérez Aguilera were taken to the police station in Villa Clara. The couple was arrested at about three o’clock in the afternoon near their home in Placetas as they prepared to leave for Santi Spiritus for an event honoring the birth of Cuban national hero Jose Martí.
Idania Yanes Contreras, an independent journalist and member of the Cuban Council of Human Rights Investigators, reported that the political police wanted Antúnez locked up in prison. A group of eleven dissidents gathered outside the police station demanding the couple’s release. For their efforts, they were beaten with fists, kicks, and clubs and some were shoved into police patrol vehicles and driven back to their homes. Those beaten were Idania Yanes Contreras, Carlos Michael Morales Rodríguez, Félix Reyes Gutiérrez, Pedro Yordi Tápanes García, Yunieski García López, Yanci Ruiz Martínez, Jorge Luis Montiel, Arcides Rivera Rodríguez, Alexis Om Pérez, Yesmy Elena Mena Urbano, and María del Carmen Martínez López.
In Holguín province, police detained Carlos Manuel González Rodríguez and Pedro González Rodríguez and took them to a police station known as El Anillo. Police threatened to put them on trial for buying up goods. Police also arrested Marco Antonio Lima Dalmau.
In Banes, police arrested five dissidents: Santos Alberto Escalona Blanco, Alexander Guerrero Toro, Fidel García Roldán, Reinaldo Rivera, and Ángel Luis Santiesteban Rodé. Police gave them official warnings, took hair samples and fingerprinted them.
Melba Santana Aríz and Joaquín Iglesias Torres from the Cuban Council of Human Rights Investigators reported several arrests in Redención, Vázquez, and Puerto Padre. Those arrested were Armando Leiva Sánchez, José Remedios, Rolando Sánchez, José Antonio Pérez, Miguel Pupo, Leticia Verdecia, Genaro Paz Valero, Nelson Gómez Guerra, Héctor Verdecia, Gonzalo Garrido, William Varea, Josué Varea, Manuel Martínez Legón, Ángel Millán, Joaquín Iglesias Torres, Jorge Curbelo, Hosdany Tejeda, Alberto Hernández, and José Remedio. Police photographed and fingerprinted them, took hair samples, and threatened to imprison them.
Cuban Opposition Member Refuses to Accept House Arrest Order
Cuban dissident Jorge Luis García Pérez, known as Antúnez, said on January 31 he would reject a house arrest order issued by Cuban police authorities. Speaking by phone from Havana, Antúnez, 43, told Nuevo Herald in Miami that he would challenge the house arrest order as a violation of laws on individual rights and liberties.
The dissident and his wife Iris Pérez Aguilera were detained on January 28 as they were heading to a ceremony in the neighboring province of Sancti Spíritus to commemorate the birth anniversary of José Martí. They were taken to a police station while in Villa Clara.
Antúnez said opposition members were facing increasing risk of physical attack in Cuba. He added that before being taken to the provincial police headquarters he and his wife were beaten and kicked and then shoved into a police vehicle. According to the dissident, a State Security Major accused him of disobedience, disrespect, and causing public disturbances.
Before being released in the early hours of January 29, the police warned Antúnez and his wife they were now under house arrest and should report all their movements to the police.
Cuba Listed Among Biggest Jailers of Journalists
Cuba continued to be one of the worst environments in the world for reporters, said the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The New York-based press freedom group said in its annual report, “Attacks on the Press,” that twenty-four Cuban reporters continued to languish in prison in 2007.
The Cuban government’s 2006 declaration that Fidel Castro’s health was a state secret remained in effect, so Cuban media — completely controlled by the Communist Party — barely referred to the condition of the 81-year-old leader, added CPJ. Instead, Cubans have learned of Castro’s condition mainly through accounts from foreign leaders such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Bolivian President Evo Morales, writes CPJ.
Political Police Charge Antunez
Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, also known as Antunez, is under police investigation for the crimes of disrespect and disobedience, said Cuban dissident Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello. She noted that international press reports stating charges had been withdrawn against Antunez were not true.
According to Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, a group of fellow dissidents, including herself, Vladimiro Roca, Felix Bonne, and Francisco Chaviano, traveled to Santa Clara on February 4, where they were joined by Idania Yánez Contreras and Antunez’s wife, Iris Pérez Aguilera. When they visited the state security headquarters in Villa Clara to demand Antunez’s current status, a police officer confirmed that he has been charged for disrespect and disobedience, and was now under investigation.
Activists in Cacocún Get Warnings
Peaceful pro-democracy activists in Cacocún in Holguín province, were summoned on January 26 by the political police and were warned about their forming a new group called the Human Rights Movement for Liberty. According to Bertha Guerrero Segura, a member of the movement living in Cacocún, they were questioned by two state security agents who threatened to apply Law 88, better known as the “gag law,” against her, while Rolando González Fern was threatened with imprisonment and loss of his job if he didn’t break off with the opposition.
The police fingerprinted and photographed the dissidents after questioning.
Spain Supports Cuban Dissident Nomination for Nobel Prize
The Cuba Solidarity group in Spain has expressed support for the nomination of Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas for the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize. Paya is well known for his dedication to promoting human rights, said the Group in a press release to support his nomination. Payá was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in Sweden on February 1 by six members of parliament representing various political factions.
Antúnez Hospitalized in Serious Condition
Jorge Luis García Pérez (Antúnez) suffered a heart attack in the early hours of February 8 and was taken urgently to the National Hospital in Havana where he was admitted to the intensive care unit. Leading opposition member Martha Beatriz Cabello sent an alert to the international community expressing concern for the life of her fellow dissident. The communist regime denies Antúnez the right to travel to another country where he might be properly treated without any political pressure, said Roque.
FLAMUR Chairman Detained, Threatened
Maura Iset González Jurguet, a leading dissident and chairman of the Cuban section of the Latin American Federation of Rural Women (FLAMUR) who lives in San Luis, Santiago de Cuba province, was arrested on the morning of February 6 and taken to the police station known as “Versailles.” She was held there for two hours, during which police threatened to put her in jail for 20 years if she didn’t stop campaigning for a single currency in Cuba. FLAMUR’s campaign is called “With the Same Coin.”
Two from Group of 75 Returned from Hospital Ward to Cells
Two Cuban dissidents have been transferred from hospital wards to solitary cells in the same prison at Combinado del Este prison, near Havana. Independent journalist Ricardo González Alfonso and labor union activist Pedro Pablo Álvarez Ramos were arrested and sentenced to long prison sentences in a crackdown on dissent in the spring of 2003. Despite serious health problems, they were removed from hospital without official medical approval.
Independent Cuban Journalist Denied Parole
Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior has refused to grant conditional release to independent journalist Ramón Velázquez Toranzo, although he has already served his sentence in La Piedra prison in the province of Las Tunas.
In an interview on January 29 in Havana, Toranzo’s daughter, Rufina Velázquez, informed Carlos Serpa Maceira, director of Sindical Press agency and a reporter the publication Misceláneas de Cuba, that her father had been eligible for conditional release since January 25, but had been denied. Toranzo was sentenced to three years in prison for organizing, together with his wife and daughter, a march in protest for human rights violations in Cuba. The march began in Santiago de Cuba and was set to finish outside National Capitol in Havana.
Cuban Prisoners Endure Inhumane Conditions
In a report issued by Martí.noticias.com, Cuban prisoners of conscience describe conditions in jails as deplorable and degrading, including being forced to sleep on the floor without bedding, being given limited and rotten food rations, and receiving inadequate medical treatment. Cuban jails, they say, are known for harsh treatment of prisoners, overcrowding, and a general atmosphere of violence.
Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, who is serving a 20-year term in the provincial prison in Holguín, says that the breakfast there is comprised of water with sugar and the main meal consists of three spoonfuls of rice mixed with soya or crushed fish bones.
Blas Girardo Reyes Rodríguez, who is serving a 25-year term in Nieves Morejón prison in Santi Spíritus, reports that with only 92 beds for 107 inmates in his unit, 15 prisoners have to sleep on the floor each night. Commenting on the series of concerts in prisons organized by pro-government musician Silvio Rodriguez’s band, he says that Cuban prisoners need decent living conditions, not songs.
Political Prisoner’s Health Sparks Serious Concern
The health condition of political prisoner Normando Hernández González, who is being held at the Carlos J. Finlay military hospital in Havana, has deteriorated.
Prison authorities are interrupting his telephone conversations and restricting visitation by his wife, Yaraí Reyes Marín, who told Radio Martí that he is suffering from fever and diarrhea and has lost a lot of weight. Normando Hernández González is a writer and independent journalist. He was arrested during the “Black Spring” of 2003 and sentenced to 25 years in jail.
Amnesty International has declared him a political prisoner stating that he is imprisoned for exercising his right to freedom of speech and joining public associations. It has urged the Castro government to release him immediately.
Woman Dissident Moved to Prison
Peaceful pro-democracy activist Daisy Talavera López was transferred in February 8 to Velloté prison for women in Matanzas. Talavera is accused of undermining the state. She was arrested on January 31 on suspicion of posting a slogan supporting political prisoners on the door of her house
Daisy’s mother, Verónica López León, stated that she was not allowed to come near her daughter when she was being taken to prison because, she believes, police did not want her to see marks of beating on the girl’s body. This was also the reason, she added, for her transfer to another prison without prior notification of relatives.
Fidel Castro Outdone at the Polls by Younger Brother
Fidel Castro got fewer votes in Cuban parliamentary elections than his brother and acting President Raul Castro, according to official results released on January 30.
Cuba’s elections to the National Assembly took place on January 20. Cubans ratified a single list of 614 candidates to fill the same number of seats in the legislature. According to Cuba’s Constitution, only members of the National Assembly can assume top leadership posts in the country.
Both Raul and Fidel Castro easily cleared the required 50 percent threshold and won re-election in their respective districts. But the official results show that Fidel Castro received less percentage of the vote, 98.2 percent, than his younger brother, who got 99.3 percent.
The new parliament convenes on February 24 and will choose a new Council of State from its members. Fidel Castro, who provisionally ceded power to Raul in mid-2006, still remains head of the Council of State, the country’s supreme governing body. Casting his vote on January 20, Raul Castro said that whether Fidel would retain the post would be decided by the new parliament during its first meeting in February. Western observers interpret Raul Castro’s statement as an attempt to prepare Cubans for Fidel’s official retirement.
Fidel Castro has not appeared in public since undergoing emergency intestinal surgery on July 21, 2006 and has only appeared in pictures and brief video clips of foreign visitors shown on the media. Cuba has declared his state of health a state secret and kept saying through state-controlled mass media that Fidel was on the mend.
Cubans Respond to Invitation for Criticism
After Raul Castro suggested last year that people should speak without fear about the problems the country is facing, Cubans began publicly complaining about government policies. At first, Cubans’ voices were weak, but now they appear more loud and fearless.
Cubans mostly complain about economic problems. At a meeting with Ricardo Alarcon, head of Cuba’s parliament, university students asked him why many basic goods, including toiletries and clothes, are sold in convertible currency meant for tourists and foreigners, making some necessities totally inaccessible to ordinary Cubans. They also complained about restrictions on Internet access and rules that make getting a travel visa practically impossible for most Cubans.
Alarcon ducked questions about the Internet and told the students that when he was their age, before the Revolution, he wasn’t able to travel or enter Cuba’s luxury nightclubs or exclusive beaches.
Even many prominent Cuban figures have now joined the calls for change, among them Culture Minister Abel Prieto, a member of the party’s Politburo. “I think that marriage between lesbians, between homosexuals can be perfectly approved and that in Cuba that wouldn’t cause an earthquake or anything like that,” he told reporters. Cuban lawmakers are considering a proposal to allow gay marriages, although its progress in the legislature’s closed-door sessions remains unclear. A 57-year-old writer-turned-political leader, Prieto sports shoulder-length hair, the only top Cuban government official. He is also a member of the island’s supreme governing body, the Council of State. He said he supports what Raul Castro has termed a “debate” on Cuba’s future. The “immense majority of intellectuals want to confront problems, to battle all expressions of bureaucracy in culture and in society and at the same time defend this Revolution and socialism,” Prieto said.
Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a well-known economist who became an independent journalist and an anti-communist, penned an article about a meeting of Cuban employees with officials. He said in the article the meeting caused such an uproar that officials suspended plans for similar forums with ordinary Cubans.
Two of Eight Refugees in Latvia are Cubans
In 2007, Latvia granted refugee status (with the prospect of receiving permanent residency in the country) to four Azeris, one Iraqi, one Belarusan, and two Cubans in 2007, said Diana Bogdanova, press secretary at the Office of Citizenship and Migration in Latvia. This protection means that the refugees are no longer at risk of being prosecuted in their native countries and conditions there are ready for them to return safely.
Young Cubans Accused of Illegally Leaving the Island
Rubén Gutiérrez Villasana, 20, Julián Rafael Ruano Basulto, 24, and Jesús Manuel Peña Ramírez, 23, will face a military tribunal on charges of illegally exiting from the national territory. They could be sentenced to up to 7 years in prison each.
The three escapees were caught and beaten on January 20 at the fence-line between the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo and the rest of the island. They were then taken to a military police station where they were held for five days. Now they are being held at Combinado de Guantánamo prison. The young Cubans are residents of Caribe, Guantánamo province.
Hundreds of people are being jailed in Cuba for attempting to leave the country. The Cuban government considers entering the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo a grievous crime.
Cultural Figures Flee the Island
The latest defections of numerous performing artists to the United States are not worthy of comment, said Cuban government officials on February 7, trying for the second time to play down the incidents.
In recent weeks several Cubans have taken advantage of foreign tours to flee the island, including a dozen dancers from the Cuban National Ballet and the Spanish Ballet of Cuba, members of the Los Tres de La Habana band, and television icon and comic Carlos Otero.
Cuban Culture Minister Abel Prieto said on February 5 the defections were not a big loss for national culture. People that desert the country and make derogatory statements about the government and policies of Cuba are mercenaries eager to seek short-lived fame and fortune abroad, he claimed.
Israel Challenges Cuba’s Credentials at the U.N.
Speaking at the United Nations Security Council, Cuba’s U.N. Ambassador Rodrigo Malmierca, asserting that he spoke for the Non-Aligned Movement, which Cuba currently chairs, said Israel was responsible for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman, displeased with Malmierca’s speech, asked for the right of response and challenged the Cuban’s credentials arguing “What indeed is the Non-Aligned Movement non-aligned about today?” and “Who is this group representing since the Cold War has already ended?” The Cuban ambassador, expressing offense at these comments, on the following day filed a complaint with the U.N. Security Council president in which he described Gillerman’s remarks as “harmful and distorted.” The Israeli delegation at the U.N. refused to back down and sent a letter of response in which it once again asked in whose name the Cuban ambassador was speaking. Several countries that are members of the non-aligned nations, such as Vietnam, have publicly condemned Palestinian terrorism and support Israel’s right to defend itself. So what right has the Cuban ambassador to claim to represent the whole group, said the Israeli delegation in the letter.
McCain: Help Me Bring Torturer To Justice
Speaking recently before Cuban American supporters in Miami, U.S. presidential hopeful, Republican John McCain, said, “There’s a person I want you to help me find when Cuba is free, and that’s that Cuban that came to the prison camps of North Vietnam and tortured and killed my friends. We’ll get him and bring him to justice.” Mr. McCain, a pilot, was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967, held as a POW, and brutally tortured. At the time, North Vietnam, Cuba, and the Soviet Union were Cold War allies and Fidel Castro visited North Vietnam.
Fidel Castro, 81, who has not been seen in public for almost a year-and-a-half since intestinal surgery but who maintains a public presence by writing numerous articles and essays, denied McCain’s charge that Cubans helped torture him and accused the U.S. Senator of telling lies and making false accusations against internationalist Cuban revolutionaries.
U.S. presidential hopeful John McCain called Cuban leader Fidel Castro one of the world’s most brutal dictators and said he would not dignify any comments he made with a response.
Factories Paralyzed in Matanzas
Ten factories in Matanzas province had to stop production either because of shortage of raw materials and spare parts or because of the poor condition of factory equipment. This measure badly hit the factories’ workers, who have not received their pay for a long time.
Among the factories that stopped production was a bucket factory in Matanzas, a fodder plant in Colón, a beverage factory in Jovellanos, a car-maintenance factory in Cárdenas, an ice cream factory, a sausage factory and engine plant in Jovellanos, and a milk plant in Colón.
The halt of these production facilities adds to the hardships of people living in the province. People are having trouble not only finding goods that used to be made locally, but also making ends meet on their wage allowance. The government pays them just 60 percent of their wage while the plants are not running.
Cuba to Launch New Projects to Attract Tourists
Cuba’s Ministry of Tourism is to launch a number of big projects to attract more foreign visitors to Havana. “Cuba is not just sun and beaches, and Havana is a destination that is destined to be successful,” said Minister of Tourism Manuel Marrero Cruz, speaking at the International Tourism Fair in Madrid.
One project being planned is the construction of a Museum of Tourism in downtown Havana, wrote Granma, the main newspaper of the Communist Party. The museum will display the entire history of the pre- and post-Revolutionary periods. We have sufficient material and history for the project to be interesting, the minister stressed.
The construction of the museum would come in the context of a broader plan to create a “commercial zone” in the capital that would have its nerve center on Havana’s Galiano Street. “We want tourists to use their time to the maximum, that is why we are going to close down half of the street to make it a pedestrian mall, with restaurants and hotels,” the minister said.
The capital’s famous seaside, the Malecón, will also be transformed to adapt to the times. A number of services will be created there, such as zones dedicated to leisure and entertainment. Special “tourist buses” will run there to allow tourists to see a different, better image of Havana. The government expects to receive more than 2.5 million visitors to the island this year.
Psychiatric Patients in Appalling Conditions
Patients with mental illnesses in the provincial psychiatric institution in Santa Clara, known as Zone 9, are kept in appalling conditions due to the neglect of the medical staff working there, according to Carlos Michael Morales Rodríguez, who works for the independent agency Villa Clara Press.
Rodriguez has a brother in a hospital ward there whom he regularly visits. According to him, patients have to endure squalid hygienic conditions, especially in wards and bathrooms. Many are unable to attend to their own physical needs and are tied to beds or chairs. They relieve themselves just where they are, and have to stay in this squalor for hours or sometimes the whole day. The food there is terrible and the attitude of nurses and other medical staff is unlawfully abusive.
Many patients spend months and years in this facility. Some of them have relatives who live far away from this place and cannot visit them frequently.
Government Neglects Poor and Needy
Arnaldo Expósito Zaldivar, chairman of the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Democratic Committee, reports that many elderly Cubans live in unbearable conditions. He told the story of one, Lucirio Francisco Pérez.
Francisco lives at #65 Block, 17th Street (at the cross-section of Carretera de Veguita and Francisco Franco) in the Banes municipality, Holguín province. He is 78, very weak, and receives only 167 Cuban pesos a month.
He is a victim of the horrendous negligence by the government. The house the old man lives in has no roof. He lays there all day, without a proper bed to sleep on, and without anything to cover himself with. He is fouled in his own urine and excrement. He eats only when some neighbor drops in with some food, and washes himself only when somebody brings some water and helps, as he himself is unable to attend to his needs.
A Democratic Committee activist, Reinaldo Rivera, approached a local Committee in Defense of the Revolution (CDR) and social welfare officers from the government to seek help for the poor man. But they said it was none of their business.
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