Cuba Chronicle of Events
Issue No. 52 • April 16-30, 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, EAI, Expert Online, Charter 97, ITAR-TASS, MIGnews.com, PEH TB, and BBC News.
Police Break up Ladies in White’s Protest near Offices of Raul Castro
Cuban police broke up a peaceful protest and manhandled the small group of women protestors calling for the release of their imprisoned dissident husbands. The protest was staged near the offices of President Raul Castro.
Ten women, half of them from the dissident group known as the Ladies in White, gathered on the morning of April 21 in a park near Havana’s famed Revolution Square to call for their husbands’ release. Three hours later twenty uniformed police arrived on a bus. The women clasped arms and refused to leave the site. Police then forced the women onto the ground, twisting their arms behind them.
Berta de los Angeles Soler, the wife of Cuban dissident Angel Moya Acosta, who has been jailed for 20 years, stated that the women were detained, forcefully put on a bus, and driven home. Seven protestors were taken outside of Havana to other provinces where they live.
Ladies in White Hold Sunday Demonstration in Havana
Members of the Ladies in White dissident group held a prayer vigil in the Santa Rita Church in Havana for the release of political prisoners in Cuba. More than 20 women from the group attended Sunday Mass and then, as is customary, walked together in silence along Havana’s Fifth Avenue in the Miramar district demanding freedom for Cuban prisoners of conscience.
They also announced preparations for a literature and tea party scheduled for April 18.
Former Cuban Official Submits Petition for Eliminating Exit Permits
Pedro Aníbal Riera Escalante, a former Cuban consul in Mexico and intelligence official, submitted a petition application to the chairman of the National Assembly asking for the elimination of exit and reentry permits for Cuban citizens. Riera Escalante told the Associated Press that “the right to enter and depart from the country must be inalienable for the people of Cuba.”
He said his petition initiative also seeks the end of confiscation of property of those who emigrate indefinitely. The petition was lodged on April 15 on his own behalf. A copy of the petition was given to AP.
Under the constitution, a petition has to have valid signatures of 10,000 Cuban citizens for it to be considered as a bill by the Assembly. Riera Escalante said he would be gathering signatures of Cubans both inside and outside the country, and would contact social and religious groups, including those engaged with the Communist Party, to help publicize the effort.
In an interview with AFP, Riera Escalante said the initiative also “asks for the vote to be granted to Cuban citizens living overseas, and for them to be allowed to invest in the island.” The former diplomat served a three-year prison term in Cuba after traveling to Mexico with falsified documents.
Women March through Havana to Protest Economic Discrimination
A group of Cuban women marched to protest against by regime. The Latin American Federation of Rural Women (FLAMUR) staged a demonstration through Havana’s streets to voice their discontent over economic inequality and discrimination in communist Cuba. The march is part of FLAMUR’s campaign for a single currency, “With the Same Coin,” demanding that the Cuban peso be an acceptable means of payment in every establishment without exception.
FLAMUR chairman Belinda Salas Tápanes told Radio Martí on April 14 that Raul Castro’s so- called reforms do not represent an actual opening of the island’s economy. “Eliminating some bans doesn’t solve any problems,” added Salas Tápanes. She reminded listeners that Cubans cannot afford to stay in hotels [one of Raul Castro’s recent “reforms” was to allow Cuban citizens to stay in expensive foreign hotels].
New Opposition Organization Launched
On April 23, a group of oppositionists in the city of Santa Clara formed the Central Opposition Coalition (CCO) to unite and coordinate the dissidents’ non-violent pro-democracy efforts in the central part of the country.
The founding meeting was held at a private house and was attended by 16 activists. The event started with the national anthem. The idea to start the organization was initiated by Guillermo Fariñas Hernández and Jorge Luis García Pérez (Antúnez), who serve as the group’s advisors. The organization is chaired by Idania Yanes Contreras. Ana Margarita Perdigón Brito was named co-chairman representing the province of Sancti Spíritus, while a co-chairman for Cienfuegos province will be elected shortly. Yesmy Elena Mena Zurbano serves as treasurer.
The new organization announced their key goals will be the release of all political prisoners, human rights, and practical peaceful steps aimed at achieving genuine democracy and freedom on the island.
Dissidents Sentenced to 3 Years in Prison
A municipal court on the Isle of Youth sentenced opposition activists Abel López Nápoles and Santo del Pozo Rodríguez to three years in prison each on March 25 for illegally exiting the country.
Acccording to López Nápoles, he and Santo del Pozo Rodríguez had been held for 30 days in El Guayabo prison, but were released on bail after paying 1,000 Cuban pesos each. The activists are now at home pending their appeal. The trial was held behind closed doors, with only two relatives allowed to attend.
Detention Conditions Revealed of Cuban Christian Liberation Movement Activist
Prisoner of conscience Luis Enrique Ferrer García faces mistreatment and abuse of authority, and suffers from lack of medical care and poor food rations in Mar Verde prison, Santiago de Cuba province, relatives of the activist told Radio Martí. They said that Ferrer García informed them that common criminals also have their rights violated.
Continuing Harassment of Herrera Acosta
Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment as part of a crackdown on 75 dissidents in April 2003, faces constant harassment by prison guards in the Holguín province prison where he is currently held.
According to Alfredo Domínguez, another prisoner of conscience from the Group of 75, Herrera Acosta, recently suffered the tragic loss of his daughter who died in a traffic accident. But authorities show no mercy and continue to subject him to psychological torture.
In early April, Herrera Acosta was moved to a disciplinary cell. On April 10, prison authorities forbade him from making phone calls to his family. Acosta went on hunger strike to protest mistreatment.
Oscar Elías Biscet González’ Wife Demands His Immediate Release
Elsa Morejón Hernández stated that it is absurd that the government of Raul Castro continues to hold her husband, Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet González, and other peaceful opposition members in prison after signing the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Speaking in Havana, Morejón demanded the immediate and unconditional release of Biscet, who was sentenced in 2003 to 25 years’ imprisonment for allegedly “assaulting the sovereignty of Cuba” but in fact for advocating democracy and respect for human dignity.
Cuban Dissident Sews up Mouth to Protest Prison Conditions
Cuban political prisoner Julio Antonio Monet Borrero, chairman of the Miguel Valdés Tamayo Movement for Human Rights, stitched his lips shut to demand prescribed medical treatment and to protest against abuse and inhumane prison conditions. Monet Borrero is being held in the Guantánamo provincial prison. He is not letting himself have any food.
Vigil for Cuban Political Prisoners Held in German City
A vigil was held in front of the Cuban Consulate in Bonn, Germany, in solidarity with hundreds of political prisoners who are still languishing in various jails throughout Cuba. The demonstration was organized by the International Human Rights Society.
Prisoner Released on Medical Parole Returned to Jail
Activist Abel López Pérez, the head of the Martiana Resurgence Movement (Movimiento Resurrección Martiana), was returned to Combinado de Guantánamo prison after traveling to Havana to meet with European Union representatives. He had been released on medical parole a year ago. López Pérez, was originally sentenced “for disrespecting” Fidel Castro, reported Radio Martí. In prison, he didn’t have needed medicine to treat chronic cardiopathy and kidney failure.
U.S. Deplores Cuban Regime Action against Ladies in White
The U.S. government denounced the Cuban regime’s April 21 action against a group of women peacefully protesting for the release of political prisoners from the so-called Group of 75. The U.S. Interest Section in Havana said in a statement on April 22 that the protesters, some of them from a dissident group known as the Ladies in White, gathered near Havana’s Revolution Square in an exercise of their right to free assembly as guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Cuban government recently signed the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights as well as on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights declarations and committed itself to adhere to its provisions.
The United States expressed solidarity with political prisoners and their families and urged the Cuban government to unconditionally release those jailed for peaceful exercising their rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international covenants.
Protest by Political Prisoners in Santiago de Cuba
A group of political prisoners in Boniato prison in the province of Santiago de Cuba began a hunger strike to protest the beating of Eduardo Díaz Castellanos, an opposition member serving a 25-year sentence, by a prison guard. Eduardo Díaz Castellanos remains in hospital following the beating.
U.S. State Department Calls Cuba’s Reforms “Cosmetic”
Raul Castro’s reforms are “cosmetic,” the U.S. Department of State stated on April 18. At a daily briefing, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the Cuban people continue not to have “any say whatsoever in whether or not they want [Raul Castro] to head their government or even what kind of government they are going to have.” The State Department is closely following the announcements of the Cuban government and “our assessment is that they have not qualitatively changed the situation,” he added.
“A handful of people” are deciding Cuba’s future and people can not express their views freely, a situation that “qualitatively has not changed from . . . 10 years ago or 20 years ago,” he concluded.
First Cabinet Change Since Raul Castro Assumed Presidency
The Council of State, Cuba’s supreme governing body, made the decision to remove Luis Ignacio Gomez Gutierrez from the post of education minister. It is the first change to Raul Castro’s Cabinet since he assumed the presidency on February 24.
The Cuban authorities announced that the minister was replaced by Ana Elsa Velazquez, a member of parliament claimed to have substantial experience in the sphere of education.
During his interim leadership since late July 2006 till the start of this year, Raul Castro has appointed only four other new ministers: for information and communications, transportation, justice and water resources. In his first address as president to the National Assembly on February 24, Raul Castro said he was not going to immediately announce a new cabinet, promising gradual adjustments over the next year.
FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE
Church Used as Disco Reopened to Public
Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, Archbishop of Havana, has once again consecrated the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Helen in the coastal town of Tarara in Cuba. The Communist government returned the church building to the Archdiocese in 2006. It has been under restoration since then. The authorities seized the church building 30 years ago. After the church closure, the building was used as a storage building and then a disco club.
Worshipper Josefina Netto, who attended the first Mass in the reopened church, said the church was closed in 1975 because local members of the communist youth organization of Pioneers had played truant from school to attend masses and prayer meetings held in the church, which the local authorities could not tolerate.
Cuban Photo Exhibition Pays Tribute to Pope John Paul II
A photo exhibition marking the 10th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s historic visit to Cuba debuted in the province of Cienfuegos in mid April. The exhibition includes 55 pictures taken by photographer Arturo Mari, whose camera has immortalized the most significant moments in the lives of various pontiffs. Mari took pictures of Pope John Paul II over the course of his 22 years as head of the Roman Catholic Church, often accompanying the pontiff on his trips across Italy and abroad.
The exhibition will travel to major parish communities and has already been taken to Aguada de Pasajeros, Yaguaramas, Abreus, Rodas, Cartagena, Ariza, Palmira, San Fernando de Camarones, Cruces, Lajas, Cumanayagua, Guaos, Paraíso, la Santísima Trinidad y San Francisco de Paula, Buenavista, Tulipán, Caonao, and Cienfuegos.
Defecting Cuban Musical Group Secures Performance Contract
Several months after having received political asylum in the United States, a popular Cuban group, Los Tres de la Habana, has signed a recording contract and started performing at such famed clubs as SOB’s in New York.
The group was founded in 1993. In 1995, it recorded the first of their first three discs released in Cuba. The group arrived in Tijuana, Mexico last December and asked for asylum after crossing the border.
“I think we won’t wish to return,” the band leader, Germán Pinelli, told the Associated Press. The 34-year-old musician said that members of the group are very happy and have no regrets with their decision. Los Tres de la Habana will begin recording their new disc on June 4 for CEG Entertainment, a recording company founded by Camerina Campillo, a U.S. citizen of Latin American descent.
Foundation to Assist World Democracy, Including in Cuba, Launched in Brussels
The European Foundation for Democracy through Partnership (EFDP) was launched in Brussels on April 16. The new organization will assist democracy to flourish in every corner of the world, from Tibet to Cuba.
“From China and Belarus to Burma and Zimbabwe, Europeans have a duty at the national and EU level to support those striving for human rights,” said former Czech President Václav Havel, who will serve as Chair of the EFDP’s Council of Patrons.
Havel was joined at the launch of the foundation in Brussels by other EFDP patrons, including the former President of Germany Richard von Weizsäcker, the former president of the European Commission Jacques Delors, and the former ministers of foreign affairs of Denmark and of the Netherlands.
The foundation aims to complement existing EU democracy assistance programs and implement its own projects, retaining an arm’s-length approach to preserve flexibility. “[By] assisting those in need, we are helping ourselves,” said Havel in his introductory remarks.
Cuba Signs Deal to Fight Hunger and Rising Food Prices
The leaders of Bolivia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Cuba, have agreed to create a $100 million program to attack the world food crisis. The four countries, members of a trade block called the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), agreed to boost production of rice, beans and corn as a means of reducing world food prices.
Global food prices are stoked by rising fuel prices and transportation costs as well as increased demand from India and China.
Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez said the U.S. push to boost biofuel production has also added to the current food price explosion. Chavez said the looming food crisis “is the biggest demonstration of the historic failure of the capitalist model.” Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega said that in the last year the price of rice had increased by 70 percent and the price of corn by 130 percent. Venezuela, too, suffers from shortages.
Inadequate food supplies and the rise in food prices have sparked riots in some countries, including Haiti, Cameroon, and Indonesia. The United Nations warns that high prices are expected to continue despite increased production.
Cuban University Students Express Solidarity with Kidnapped Colombian
Independent journalist Carlos Serpa Maceira from Sindical Press agency reports from Havana that a student group has issued a statement of solidarity with Ingrid Betancourt. University Students Without Borders, a Cuban group that wants the government to allow universities that would operate independently of the state, said the former Colombian presidential candidate, who has French as well as Colombian citizenship, taken hostage by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), is seriously ill.
In its statement, the group stressed that Cuban youth believe in a culture of peace, civilized behavior, love, and hope and thus wants to send the Colombian people, who are suffering the consequences of a conflict with barbarity, a fraternal message of solidarity. The document is signed by Néstor Rodríguez Lobaina, the group’s executive director.
Ex-Political Prisoner Slams Catholic Church Policy Toward Cuba
Former Cuban political prisoner Armando Valladares used the occasion of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States to denounce the Catholic Church’s attitude toward Cuba. He said the Catholic Church has taken a hard-line position against right-wing dictatorships, but the Church has been silent towards Cuba.
In an article published in The Wall Street Journal, Valladares, writes that “the Vatican’s diplomatic behavior helps prolong the agony of my sisters and brothers in Cuba, and creates a grave problem of conscience for loyal Cuban Catholics who expect better from the pope.” Valladares, who spent 22 years in Cuban political prisons and now resides in the United States, believes the Catholic Church has adopted an indulgent approach toward Cuba that was reinforced during Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarsicio Bertone’s trip to the island in February. Valladares cited the cardinal as saying during his visit that Cuba’s Catholic Church is not persecuted and that Cuba’s crucial problems are due to the U.S.-imposed embargo imposed and the EU’s economic sanctions, which slow down its development. Valladares writes that by pressuring the U.S. to lift the embargo, Cardinal Bertone “plays the sad role of an effective ambassador of Cuban communist diplomacy.”
Sugar Production Targets Not Met
Two sugar mills in Los Arabos and Colón municipalities, both in the province of Matanzas, have failed to fulfill their obligatory sugar production quotas because of the early start of the rainy season. Early downpours have reduced the sucrose content in the harvested sugar cane.
According to industry experts, it would be very difficult to go on with production as normal since the peak of the harvesting season is coming to an end.
Osvaldo Álvarez, a representative of the National Confederation of Independent Workers of Cuba (CONIC) in Matanzas province, stated that workers had to produce not just the daily norm but also extra to cover part of the province’s shortage in sugar production.
Cubans Line up for Cell Phone Service
The Cuban government has allowed ordinary Cubans to sign up for cellular phone service for the first time. Previously, only foreigners and Cubans holding key government posts were allowed to have cell phones. Many Cubans were seen lining up outside phone offices on April 14 to sign up for phone service.
The contracts cost about $120 to activate, the equivalent of half a year’s average state salary. This does not include the cost of a phone or to make and receive calls. Making or receiving local calls costs 30 cents a minute, while a call to Europe costs $5.85 per minute and to the United States $2.70 per minute. A basic phone costs twice as much as in the U.S.
Cubans must pay for their mobile telephones with hard currency, which they have access to only through foreign tourists and remittances sent to them by relatives and friends living abroad.
The government said the hard currency income would be invested in the expansion of phone land lines and telecommunications.
Some Cubans already have cell phones registered in the name of foreigners. They will now be able to put the contracts in their own names.
Cuba Opens Stores for Cubans to Buy Agricultural Tools
Cuban small farmers can now freely buy agricultural tools such as machetes, wire, work gear, and herbicides. Previously, agricultural supplies were assigned by the central government and farmers required special government permit to buy some of the goods they needed.
The government is planning to restructure the marketing of agricultural products. At present, agricultural producers in Cuba have to sell a fixed amount of their harvest to the state, at government-fixed prices, and only then are they free to sell any surplus on the open market.
Due to soaring world food prices, the Cuban government is placing great emphasis on increasing food production in the country. Cuba has spent about $1.6 billion annually for food imports. Raul Castro’s recent reforms have opened up possibilities for both private and government-controlled agricultural producers. For example, farms regarded as inefficient will be closed, and all land that is not used will be leased to cooperatives and other farming organizations.
Cuban State TV Airs New U.S. Television Series
The Cuban government has made another modest move to ease the life of Cubans. From now on, Cuba will air more U.S. television dramas. “The Sopranos," which depicts the life of a New Jersey mafia boss and his family, and “Grey’s Anatomy,” which follows the lives of doctors working in a hospital will be broadcast by state-run television on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The government said in a statement that the television series “have high ethical quality and pose no threat for Cubans.” “The Sopranos” and “Grey’s Anatomy” are not the first U.S. television series to be broadcast in Cuba. Some U.S. television movies could be bought in Cuba on DVD.
Deaths in Prisons
The Council of Investigators of Human Rights in Cuba (CRDHC) has confirmed the deaths of 12 persons during the first quarter of this year due to injury, disease, inadequate medical treatment, suicide, and intentional self-injury. The Council asserted that these deaths result from the inhumane detention conditions and mistreatment of Cuban prisoners. It reports that over 50 prisoners died in Cuban jails throughout 2007. The following deaths were recorded:
Jorge Luis Acuña Arias, 22, died after being beaten by another inmate in a dispute in La 60 prison on the Isle of Youth, reported prisoner of conscience Fabio Prieto Llorente.
Andrés Vázquez Rodríguez, 57, died on March 24 in Guanajay prison, Havana province. He had reportedly suffered from strong abdominal pains for more than 20 days and received no medical help except painkillers. The prisoner had been serving a 30-year term for robbery, unlawful cattle slaughter, and illegal possession of firearms. This information came from prisoner of conscience Efrén Fernández, who is being held at the same facility.
Leonardo Delgado Díaz, 65, passed away at three o’clock in the morning on March 2 in Ariza 2 prison, the province of Cienfuegos. For the past four months, he had suffered from lung problems but received no medical help. He had been sentenced to one year in jail for disrupting public order, said imprisoned dissident Luis Cueto Echeverría by phone.
Three common criminals are said to have died in February in Combinado de Guantánamo prison. They were Tomás Pantojas Rodríguez, 36, who died on February 16, in Unit 4B; Carlos Cobas Gainza, who died at 4:15 in the morning on February 21; and Pascual Correa, 35, who died in the early hours of February 23. According to prisoner of conscience José Daniel Ferrer García, the three had been suffering from malnutrition and lack of medical attention.
Several inmates died in Kilo 7 prison in Camagüey. Ismario Álvarez died on January 28 in an apparent suicide. He had suffered from mental illness and the lack of much-needed medical treatment only worsened his condition. He had frequently intentionally injured himself. Prior to his death, he swallowed a piece of wire that caused peritonitis. Prison guards beat him and locked him up in a disciplinary cell, leaving him for three days without medical attention.
Also at Kilo 7, Dennys Pupo Zamora, 31, died on January 18 of a heart attack after crying the whole night for help. His fellow inmates started to break the cell bars in an attempt to call attention to the sick man. He had been sentenced to two years for the crime of “insulting authority.” Rafael Sierra García, 41, died on February 23. Since October 2007, he had been waiting for a medical parole because he had a liver tumor. He had been serving a 10-year sentence for robbery with violence. Manuel Yende Rosa hanged himself in a disciplinary cell; Yordy Chacón Asares died from blood loss after being stabbed with a knife, inmate Jorge Alberto Liriano Linares reported from Kilo 7 prison.
Eliécer Veitera, sentenced to 30 years in jail, was found hanging on January 30 in 10th unit in La Pendiente prison, in the province of Villa Clara.
Poisoning Substances in the Air
A strange incident occurred on April 1 in the village of Taguayabón, Camajuaní municipality, in the province of Villa Clara. Most schoolchildren from fifth grade of the local primary school were hospitalized with poisoning of unknown origin. The school was closed after more poisonings followed, including among teachers.
According to various sources, an investigation launched by municipal authorities has concluded that was the case of contaminated air poisoning resulting from the use of chemicals by some agricultural producers. Thirty nine persons, including children and adults, have become victims of this poisoning. Despite the conclusion, local authorities met with schoolchildren’s parents on April 7 and declared the incident “closed.” A group of parents disagreed and refused to send children to school.
Taguayabón is a village community, with some 4,000 people living among plantations and fields. Chemicals are widely and irresponsibly used in farming all across Cuba.
One Dead, One Injured in Tunnel Collapse
One worker died and another seriously injured in the collapse of a tunnel being built in Santa Clara on April 20. The tunnel is being built as part of Cuba’s defense preparations.
Pedro Pablo Melis Águila, 56, died on the spot, and his fellow worker Aleixis González Linares, 37, was seriously injured and taken to the intensive care unit in the Arnaldo Milián Castro provincial hospital.
Both workers worked for a road construction company that is run by the provincial Assembly of People’s Power and is building underground shelters in Loma del Capiro, in northeast Santa Clara. According to sources inside the company, the accident is being investigated by the Cuban military counterintelligence service.
Underground bunkers are being built across Cuba to prepare for evacuation in case of any invasion. The work is supervised by the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces.
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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].