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Cuba Chronicle of Events
Issue No. 53 • May 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, RIA Novosti, Reuters, ITAR-TASS, Sun-Sentinel.com, AFP, MIGnews.com, Russian News Service, Interfax, Variety, Miami Heral, Reuters.


Ladies in White March in Havana

As is their tradition, activists of the Ladies in White movement marched in silence down Fifth Avenue in the Miramar district of Havana after attending Sunday Mass at Santa Rita Church in Havana and praying for the release of Cuban political prisoners.

They marched peacefully and without interference from communist authorities, according to Aniley Fuentes in an interview with Radio Martí. This was in contrast with a non-violent sit-in the group organized on April 21 near Revolution Square in which women were manhandled, detained, and forced into paddy wagons.

Fuentes’s husband, Fidel Suárez Cruz, is languishing in Kilo-8 prison, serving a 20-year sentence for the crime of starting the San Pablo independent library in the small town of Manuel Lazo.

State Security Keeps Close Watch on Lady in White’s Home

Agents of Cuba’s political police continue their surveillance of Laura Pollán Toledo’s home after she and other members of the Ladies in White movement held a peaceful protest in a park adjacent to Revolution Square in Havana.

According to independent journalist Carlos Serpa Maceira, a police post was set up near Pollán Toledo’s home to monitor every movement in the house. The post is manned by five plain-clothes police officers who walk past the activist’s house at regular intervals.

Time Magazine Ranks Cuban Blogger among 100 “Most Influential” People

Yoani Sanchez, whose “slice-of-life” blog has earned international acclaim, has been selected by Time magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people.

“What makes me happy is that I made the list not by being a famous singer or breaking athletic records but simply by being a citizen,” Sanchez said on May 5. Sanchez said she was surprised by the “sepulchral silence” in the Cuban press about her making Time magazine’s annual list. “They announced that Bolivian President Evo Morales made the list in the Cuban press but made no mention that a Cuban also made it,” she noted.

Cuban Authorities Refuse to Give Blogger Visa to Collect Prize

Cuban authorities have refused to give an exit visa to a Cuban blogger to fly to Spain to receive a top Spanish journalism award. “I have cancelled tonight’s flight to Madrid,” writer Yoani Sanchez, 32, wrote after learning she wouldn’t be granted permission to make the trip. “It’s another way to remind us that we are like children who need to get our parents’ permission to leave the house,” wrote Sanchez.

The Cuban blogger was awarded the prestigious Ortega y Gasset prize for digital journalism given out every year by Spanish newspaper El País. The award ceremony was scheduled for May 7.  Sanchez said her request for a travel visa was the “perfect test” to see if Cuba’s new President Raul Castro is serious about opening up the regime.

Bush Speaks with Cuban Dissidents about Political Prisoners

U.S. President George W. Bush spoke on May 6 with dissidents in Cuba via a video conference from the White House about the situation of political prisoners on the communist island, Cuban opposition leaders said in a press-release circulated in Havana.

The president spoke with opposition leaders Martha Beatriz Roque, Jose Luis Garcia “Antunez,” and Berta Soler, wife of imprisoned dissident Angel Moya. The three gave Bush their accounts of the “political, economic and social situation” in Cuba under Raul Castro, who formally took over Cuba’s presidency from his 81-year-old brother, Fidel, in February.

Cuba Calls Conversation between Bush and Dissidents as Show

The Cuban government on May 12 dismissed a videoconference between President Bush and three key Cuban dissidents as a stunt to boost the U.S. leader’s low approval ratings and asserted that there would be no political opposition on the island without funding from Washington.

It took Cuba's government six days to respond to the event. The Communist Party newspaper Granma called the May 6 conversation between Bush, two Cuban activists, and the wife of a noted political prisoner, “a show to bolster the image of a dead man who cannot be resurrected.” It called Michael Parmly, head of the Interests Section, is called “an imperial sergeant,” and accused the dissidents of using the call to ask Bush for money. ”Without dollars there is no counterrevolution,” the article wrote. “Time is running out for Bush while Cuba reaffirms its socialist course,” the newspaper concluded.

Political Party in Cuba Illegally Circulates Human Rights Manifesto

The Cuban National Liberal Party marked its first anniversary on May 3 by circulating a manifesto in Havana urging the government to publish and adhere to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which the Cuban government signed on February 28.


Raul Castro Named Enemy of Press Freedom

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has issued an updated list of its “predators of press freedom” for World Press Freedom Day marked on May 3. Thirty-nine persons were dubbed “predators of press freedom” this year. Among the new predators are Raul Castro, who has taken the place of his brother Fidel, and the leaders of the armed wing of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority’s security forces in the West Bank.

The France-based advocacy group has released annual reports for the past several years that list the world’s “predators of press freedom,” who are men and women who directly attack journalists or order others to do so. According to the document, most of those who commit press freedom violations are top-level politicians (including presidents, prime ministers and kings) but they also include militia chiefs, leaders of armed groups, and drug-traffickers.

International Press Institute Slams Cuba for Attacks on Independent Press

The Austria-based International Press Institute (IPI) has denounced the Cuban government for persistent hostile measures against the independent press. Condemning Cuba, the civil rights advocacy group pointed out that more than twenty independent journalists remain in Cuban jails.

Cuba Solidarity Day to Be Marked on May 21

Speaking on TV and Radio Martí, U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutiérrez said Cuba’s future “lies in the hands of its people.” The high-ranking official stressed that May 21, a “Day of Solidarity with Cuba,” would put a spotlight on the plight of hundreds of political prisoners and would be marked by actions throughout the world, including in Cuba.

The World Movement of Solidarity with Cuba has launched a website at www.solidaridadcuba.org to inform people about events worldwide designed to show support for Cuban pro-democracy activists and to call for the release of political prisoners on the island.


Beatings of Inmates in Guantánamo Prison

Reports are coming from both political prisoners and common criminals at Combinado de Guantánamo prison about persisting incidents of physical abuse by Jesús Bouly Martínez, deputy prison chief in charge of maintaining internal prison regulations.

Pointing out the fact that Cuba has signed the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, inmates are urging the National Department of Jails and Prisons to take measures to stop abuses and ensure that anyone who commits violence is adequately punished.


Raul Castro Commutes Most Death Sentences

Cuba’s new President Raul Castro announced on April 28 that death sentences would be commuted to jail terms of 30 years and life in prison for all inmates, except three persons accused of terrorism.

“The Council of State decided to commute the death penalty imposed on a group of prisoners,” Raul Castro said at a meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, in a speech broadcast by Cuban state-run television.

Castro said that two Central Americans charged with hotel bombings in the 1990s that took the life of an Italian tourist and a Cuban American charged with murder during an attempt at armed infiltration of the island, were not included and their cases were still on appeal. “That does not mean we have eliminated the death penalty from the penal code,” Castro noted.

He blasted the United States for allowing Cuban Americans to use its soil to launch violent attacks on the country. “It would be irresponsible and disingenuous to renounce the dissuasive power that capital punishment has on real terrorists, the Imperialist mercenaries,” he continued.
Cuba has been under pressure from human rights organizations to eliminate the death penalty, which is carried out by firing squad. Just three people have been executed since 2000, all of them involved in a failed 2003 boat hijacking. Raul Castro asserted that “This decision was not taken under pressure, but as a sovereign act in accordance with the humanitarian and ethical conduct that has characterized the Cuban Revolution from the start.”

Raul Castro Announces First Communist Party Congress for 11 Years

Cuba’s Communist Party will convene its first congress since 1997 in the second half of 2009. The decision was made by the Party’s Central Committee in a meeting held on April 28 in Havana under chairmanship of  Cuba’s new leader, Raul Castro, reported Cuban state television.

“The Political Office deems it necessary to carry out the sixth Party Congress, and we will propose it take place in the second semester of next year,” Castro said. An official announcement with a precise date for the congress would be made “at the appropriate time,” added Raul Castro, Second Secretary of the Communist Party.

The Communist Party, which is formally recognized by the Cuban constitution as the “leading and guiding force of society,” has not held a congress in 11 years. Fidel Castro, who resigned the presidency of the Council of State on health grounds at the beginning of this year, still keeps the post of First Secretary of the Party.

Raul Castro Makes His First May Day Appearance as Cuba’s Formal Leader

Cuba’s new leader, President of the Council of State Raul Castro, oversaw a May Day celebration in Havana for the first time since he permanently assumed the presidency in February. He was acting president for a year-and-a-half before then. Over a million Cuban citizens participated in the parade. Raul Castro appeared on a reviewing stand with top party and government officials wearing his trademark general’s uniform. For an hour and a half, he was greeting the marchers waving a Cuban flag. But he didn’t address the crowds as many Cubans and foreign guests had expected.

Instead, general secretary of the Cuban Workers Federation (CTC), Salvador Valdes Mesa, made a five-minute speech to the gathered masses in which he reaffirmed Cuba’s determination to continue on the path toward Socialism as guided by the leader of the Revolution, Fidel Castro, to build a fair, humane and efficient Socialism, said the Cuban labor leader. He called for discipline and better organization under the direction of the Communist Party.

A sea of people paraded through Havana’s Jose Marti Square carrying banners reading “Unity, Strength and Victory” and “Efficiency and Quality.”  The May Day celebrations were attended by some 1400 foreign dignitaries from 61 countries. According to official sources, six million Cubans, more than a half of the country’s population, participated in the annual government-sponsored demonstrations all across Cuba.


Cuban Bishops Go to Vatican

Cuba’s top prelates began a visit to the Vatican on April 28. It is the first such trip since Benedict XVI was elected Pope. The delegation included archbishops and bishops from eleven Cuban provinces. During their encounter with the Pontiff, they will present their “state-of-the-Church” report (both oral and written) and tell the Pope about their pastoral governance in Cuba.


Cuban Rafters Die in Gulf of Mexico

After running into trouble crossing the Gulf of Mexico, six rafters, including a youth , were found 485 km off of New Orleans  and hospitalized with dehydration and exhaustion. They are in stable condition now.  But two Cubans died and two declared missing in the accident.

Intercepted at Sea, Cubans Repatriated

The Coast Guard Cutter Key Biscayne repatriated a total of 79 Cuban migrants to Bahia de Cabañas, Cuba on May 11 after interecepting three groups on vessels during the first week of May. On May 6, six migrants were picked up by Customs agents aboard an unlit vessel about 80 miles off of Key West. On May 7, 12 miles east of Miami, two vessels were interdicted when they refused to stop. Fifty-eight migrants were found and four suspected smugglers were arrested.  The same day, the Cutter Kodiak Island stopped 18 Cubans 45 miles off of Havana.

Cuban Judo Athlete Disappears after Competition

A female Cuban judo athlete left the team on the evening of April 11 following the final day of the Pan American Judo Championships in Miami. U.S. judo president Jose Rodriguez said, “We have contacted the appropriate agencies and are working with the Cuban national team.”


Bush Rules Out Easing Embargo on Cuba

U.S. President George W. Bush said since Fidel Castro’s retirement as president the Cuban government has been making “empty gestures at reform,” and rejected calls for easing U.S. trade sanctions against the communist island. There has been no change at all in post-Fidel Castro’s Cuba, said President Bush in his speech.

Bush spoke at the State Department on May 7 to the Council of the Americas, a business group advocating democracy and open markets in the Western Hemisphere. Bush described his conversation by videoconference from the White House with pro-democracy activists in Cuba.

OAS General Secretary: Raul Castro’s Takeover Brings no Serious Change

Jose Miguel Insulza, Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), said Raul Castro had brought no serious change in Cuba yet. He added that Cuba is making awkward efforts to introduce some economic changes and is easing restrictions on the sale of household appliances to ordinary Cuban citizens. But there is nothing so far that might indicate the existence of at least a minimum level of political change, Insulza told Universidad Catolica.


Russia, Cuba Negotiate Plane Deliveries

Moscow and Havana are holding negotiations on the delivery of additional Russian planes to Cuba. according to Russia’s Ambassador to Cuba Mikhail Kamynin told Interfax.  After delivery of two Il-96 planes and four TU-204 planes (two passenger and two flight carriers), Cuban and Russian military and technical cooperation has large prospects, he said. “Russian-Cuban relations have recently become all-sufficient and don’t depend on any political conditions.”

On May 9, Kamynin took part in the ceremony of laying flowers at the Monument to the Soviet Soldier-Internationalist in Havana. “Cuba has been, is and will be our ally. Cuba will always estimate the results of the Second World War in the right way,” the ambassador stressed. There were no reports of sales of military aircraft.

European Parliament Requests More Resources for Cuba’s Democratization

In its annual report on human rights, the European Parliament has called on the European Union to pledge additional resources to push for democracy in Cuba and other countries with repressive governments. The report was heard at the Brussels plenary session on May 8 and approved by 533 votes in favor to 63 against and 41 abstentions.  It also calls on the presidium of the Council of Europe to focus attention on countries with poor human rights records, including Cuba, North Korea, Belarus, Myanmar, Eritrea, Laos, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe.

Cuba’s Central Bank

Cuba’s Central Bank is urging the government to gradually unify the island’s two parallel currencies and cut back on “indiscriminate” subsidies, according to an internal report obtained by The Associated Press on May 9. The document, which was distributed to Communist Party members, says a single, strong peso would boost productivity and morale in Cuba. The island now has two separate currencies: one for locals, and one designed principally for foreigners.

Party members were instructed to discuss the bank’s recommendations between April and June. One of those members provided a copy of the document to a local journalist.

The report says Cuba would be more efficient if its currencies were streamlined. But it warns that the transition should be gradual, with incremental revaluations to narrow the gap between the two pesos over time.

Rumors have circulated that Raul Castro, who replaced his brother as president in February, is planning to strengthen the ordinary peso, which is now worth about 21 per U.S. dollar. The convertible peso is currently worth slightly more than a dollar


Raul Castro Raises Pensions by $2, and Increases Salaries for Judges and Prosecutors

The president of Cuba’s Council of State, Raul Castro, has announced pension increases of 20 percent a month, starting May 2008, according to a government notice. The pay increases will affect more than 2 million Cuban citizens, raising minimum monthly pensions from 164 Cuban pesos ($6.80) to 200 Cuban pesos ($8.30).

The official notice reported Castro as saying that the pension increases were compensation for those who have “dedicated a great part of their lives to working . . . and who remain firm in defense of socialism.”  The raises in state pensions will cost the government an additional 810 million Cuban pesos ($32 million) annually.

Castro has urged Cuban workers to “work hard” to ensure that further “wage and pension increases will take place in a gradual and differentiated way.” “It is necessary to work hard with the conviction that only by increasing production and productivity, … will we have more,” the government announcement read. Also, judges and prosecutors will get raises worth 55 percent per month, and social assistance to needy families will be increased to 147 Cuban pesos ($6.10) per month. Cuba’s average monthly wage is now 408 Cuban pesos ($17).

Cuba Dismisses Easy Access to Internet

Cuba doesn’t have financial or technical resources to provide Internet service to the larger population, said Ramon Linares Torres, the first deputy of Cuba’s Minister of Informatics and Communications. A month ago, Raul Castro lifted a ban on the sale of home computers. Technological problems of “connectivity” and lack of resources won’t allow for the opening of the Internet to individuals in the near future, foreign media reported, citing Ramon Torres.
The deputy minister noted that Cuba was officially connected to the Internet in 1996, but the government has restricted Internet access for individuals because, he said, of the economic embargo that the United States maintains against the island. The Cuban official said it’s unlikely that Cuba would be able in the near future to solve economic and technological problems that don’t allow to more widely distribute this service.

We can’t make Internet service broader “in a country with a teledensity of just over 10 telephones per 100 inhabitants,” explained Ramon Torres. The Cuban deputy minister said it is “a great aspiration that everyone has a computer,” but noted that “we must be realistic and go step by step and in response to the needs of the economy, society and the individual.”  There are around 200,000 computers connected to the Web in today’s Cuba, mainly from academic and research centers and state institutions.


Independent Library Holds Kite Festival

The Calixto García Iñiguez independent library in Holguín ran a kite competition on April 20 for   many children living in the locality. Juan Carlos Reyes Ocaña, head of this cultural center, said the competition was meant to restore the tradition of kite-making among children and to promote spiritual values among them. The winner was Carlos Miguel, whose kite stayed in the air the longest. It bore the inscription “We Want All Children to Be Happy!”

Home Computers Go on Sale in Cuba

The Cuban government has opened sale of personal computers to the general public. Any Cuban citizen with the means to buy one can now buy a home computer without a special permit. The first “legal” home computers went on sale on May 2. Hundreds of Cubans gathered outside an electronics store in Havana, although only few could afford to pay $780 for a desktop computer.

The only model available are QTECH computers, complete with CRT monitors and standard-issue mice and keyboards. The Cuban PCs have Intel Celeron processors with 80 gigabytes of memory and 512 RAM and are equipped with Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system. Cuban companies assemble the computers from parts imported from China. The decision to end restrictions and allow ordinary Cubans access to previously banned computers and other household appliances was made by Raul Castro, the president of the Council of State, in February 2008. Until now only foreigners and companies could buy computers in Cuba.

Cuba Holds Parade to Celebrate V-Day

Cuba held a V-Day military parade, marking the 63rd anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany. Various units of the Revolutionary Armed Forces participated in the parade. Troops from all three arms of the Cuban military marched before the Monument to the Soviet Internationalist Soldier. Ambassadors and other officials of the embassies of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan attended the ceremony. They laid flowers at the Monument to pay tribute to Soviet soldiers who died while performing their “international duty” in Cuba.
Although the Batista government, as an ally of the United States, declared war on Japan on December 9, 1941 and two days later on Germany and Italy, Cuba didn’t take part in combat action in WWII. Cuba doesn’t celebrate anniversaries of the end of WWII and doesn’t have official holidays either on May 8 or May 9.

Cuban Government Backs Anti-Homophobia Festival

President Raul Castro’s daughter, Mariela, is organizing Cuba’s second anti-homophobia festival this week. The week-long festival will be held in Havana and six Cuban provinces with the approval of her father’s government. “There is political support for this educational strategy. It’s the best thing that’s happened to us,” said Mariela Castro. The event aims to increase public tolerance for homosexual people through book fairs, television programs, movies, and theater. The festival will end on May 17, International Day against Homophobia, an initiative launched in 2005.

A teacher and mother of three children, Mariela Castro, 46, heads the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) that has been long campaigning for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in Cuba. Mariela’s group has recently proposed in parliament a bill that would recognize same-sex unions and also give transsexuals the right to free sex-change operations. According to Mariela, thirty such operations have already been approved by health authorities. Belgian surgeons are ready to perform transgender operations.

Life Story of Fidel Castro’s Daughter Coming to the Big Screen

Bobby Moresco, the Academy Award winning producer of “Crash” and “Million Dollar Baby,” has teamed up with Artists Relations Group to make a film about the life story of Alina Fernandez, Fidel Castro’s out-of-wedlock daughter, who fled the island to the United States in 1993. Fernandez will be involved in the film as a story consultant. The film will be based on Fernandez’ memoir, which she published after her defection.

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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].