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Cuba Chronicle of Events
Issue No. 54 • May 16-31, 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, International Islamic News Agency (IINA), Caribbean News Digital, RIA Novosti, Associated Press, DELFI.ee, DELFI.lt, Interfax-Ukraine, Dallas Morning News, Interfax,  AFN.by, CNN, BBC, ITAR-TASS, EFE.


OPPOSITION

19/05/2008
Cuban Government Accuses U.S. of Providing Money to Island’s Opposition

The Cuban government has accused U.S. officials of giving financial assistance to political dissidents in Cuba. At a news conference in Havana, Josefina Vidal, director of the Foreign Ministry’s North American Department, and Manuel Hevia, director of Cuban State Security’s Historic Investigations Center, presented 14 documents that they said prove ties between U.S. diplomats and Cuban dissidents and displayed video recordings and e-mail exchanges alleged to have taken place between Michael Parmly, head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, and dissident Martha Beatriz Roque. Manuel Hevia told reporters that American diplomats are acting as “couriers” to funnel money from the so-called Foundation for Juridical Rescue (Fundacion Rescata Juridico) to Cuban counterrevolutionaries.

26/05/2008
Ladies in White Send Letter to Barack Obama

The Ladies in White sent an open letter to Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama on May 22 stating their hope that he will try to help free the 55 dissidents remaining behind bars from the Group of 75 arrested during Black Spring in 2003 and to ensure that the those released on medical parole will not be returned to prison. They also expressed hope that Obama would look to free more than 200 other Cuban political prisoners. Ladies in White is made up of the wives, mothers and daughters of the Group of 75 who were arrested and sentenced during the Black Spring of 2003 to terms up to 28 years in prison.
 
“There is absolutely no reason why our prisoners should remain in jail since President Raul Castro has acknowledged that Cuban society suffers from serious problems that require unknown structural and conceptual changes and invited Cubans to . . . air their criticisms,” the letter said.

27/05/2008
Authorities Break Up Demonstration Commemorating Pedro Luis Boitel

Cuban police violently rounded up a group of 26 dissidents on May 25 as they were planning to hold a peaceful commemorative demonstration in the town of Placetas, 300 km east of Havana. The group, led by former political prisoner Jorge Luis García Pérez, also known as “Antúnez,” intended to mark the death of Pedro Luis Boitel, a student activist who died in a Cuban prison on May 25, 1972 from starvation after being denied medical treatment and liquids during a 53-day hunger strike to protest prison conditions. The group intended to hold a street action, raise a Cuban flag, and chain themselves together, but the demonstration was immediately broken up by police. Five participants, including two women, were placed under arrest, but released a few hours later.

29/05/2008
Ladies in White Deny Government Accusations, Demand Release of Political Prisoners

The Ladies in White, a group comprising wives and mothers of Cuban political prisoners, expressed alarm over supposed plans by the government to put them behind bars. In a press release issued on May 28, the Ladies in White deny the Cuban government’s accusations that they are “mercenaries” on the payroll of the United States and warn Cubans and the international community of the government’s plans to launch a new wave of repression, this time against their group. This document is the first public response of the group to the government’s allegations last week, based on e-mails and video recordings, that Ladies in White members in Havana received money from Washington and a Cuban exile group ferried by U.S. diplomats.

POLITICAL REPRESSION

29/05/2008
Amnesty International: Human Rights Severely Restricted in Cuba

Human rights in Cuba continued to be severely restricted in 2007, reports Amnesty International. Freedom of expression, assembly and association and freedom of travel were seriously restricted in 2007, AI says in its latest report on the state of the world’s human rights. The document says 62 persons, including independent journalists and rights activists, were imprisoned, intimidated and harassed in Cuba in 2007. According to its data, there are about 225 political activists in Cuban jails.

Although Cuba has signed several U.N. conventions on fundamental freedoms, today’s Cuban law is still not in keeping with these pacts, notes AI. The human rights advocacy group is concerned that all means of mass communication continue to be under state control. AI also pointed out that the ongoing U.S. economic embargo against Cuba has a detrimental impact on the country’s economy, especially, on food supply and the health care system.

POLITICAL PRISONERS

21/05/2008

Belarusian Opposition Leader Sends Message to Raul Castro

The leader of the For Freedom movement Alexander Milinkevich has called on Cuban dictator Raul Castro to free Cuban political prisoners. “As a representative of the Belarusian democratic forces I call for the immediate and unconditional release of Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet González, Dr. José Luis Garcia Paneque and all the other political prisoners in Cuba who were sentenced for the mere exercising of their basic rights as guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Milinkevich wrote in a letter, according to the movement’s press service.

Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet
González, the founder and head of the Cuban Foundation for Human Rights, was sentenced to 25 years for allegedly having committed a crime of “acts against the independence and the territorial integrity of the State.Dr. José Luis Garcia Paneque, a journalist and the founder of an independent media association, was sentenced to 24 years.

The former presidential candidate sent the letter as part of an international campaign of solidarity with Cuban political prisoners. In it, he wrote Castro that besides Lukashenka his country has a political opposition and that Cuba shouldn’t be surprised if “the last remaining dictatorship in Europe” would become a democracy in a couple of years and, instead of being the Cuban regime’s friend, would become a steadfast fighter for democracy on the island.


Milinkevich described the “democratic climate” in Belarus and political prisoners such as Alexander Kozulin, Andrei Kim, and Sergei Parsyukevich. “We are convinced that the Cuban and Belarusan people deserve a democratic government that respects their citizens’ rights and freedoms. In both cases, the release of political prisoners is a first necessary step toward openness and reintegration into the international community of democratic nations,” he wrote.

22/05/2008
Reprisals against Prisoner of Conscience from Group of 75

According to his wife, prisoner of conscience Fidel Suárez Cruz, a member of the For Human Rights Party in Pinar del Río, is reportedly being held in solitary confinement in Kilo Cinco y Medio prison as punishment for showing solidarity with a common criminal, Jorge Luis Rodríguez Suárez, and protesting against poor medical aid in Kilo 8 prison located in the same province. She also reported intimidation by the political police against their family.

28/05/2008
U.S. Interests Section to Continue Giving Humanitarian Aid to Political Prisoners

Cuban deputy Lázaro Barredo, editor-in-chief of the Communist Party daily Granma, asked the Cuban Prosecutor General’s Office to consider revising the Penal Code to provide for punishment for “individuals who receive money from a foreign power to subvert the domestic order.” The proposal was made during a meeting of the National Assembly.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Interests Section in Havana said in a statement that “if the government of Cuba has concerns about the conduct of U.S. diplomats, it should communicate them through official diplomatic channels rather than calling press conferences.” The U.S. mission also said it would continue giving humanitarian aid to political prisoners and their families.

Barredo’s proposal implies the revision of the so-called Gag Law (Ley Mordaza), which was first applied against many of the 75 dissidents sentenced in a massive crackdown on dissent in 2003 dubbed Black Spring. Miriam Leiva, a member of the Ladies in White, described Barredo’s proposal as just another unfair government attack against her group, according to EFE agency. The Gag Law violates U.N. human rights conventions that Cuba has recently signed, she said.

28/05/2008
Cuban Dissidents’ Letter Gets Support from Prison

Cuban prisoner of conscience Pablo Pacheco Ávila has expressed support for the Ladies in White, a group of female relatives of 75 Cuban dissidents jailed in the spring of 2003, as well as dissidents Miriam Leiva and Oscar Espinosa Chepe, for sending open letters to U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Pacheco Ávila is now in the prison hospital in Ciego de Avila where he has been transferred due to deteriorating health.

GOVERNMENT

23/05/2008
Cuba Accuses United States of Financing Dissidents

The Cuban government demanded that the United States explain the behavior of the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba who, according to the Cuban authorities, has been financing Cuban dissidents. Cuba’s Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque repeated accusations made earlier against Michael Parmly, head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, saying he was funneling money from an exile group in Miami to dissidents in Cuba. The Cuban government accuses Parmly of passing money to a Cuban dissident in Havana, Martha Beatriz Roque, claiming the funds came from a Cuban exile who masterminded several bombings. The U.S. Department of State responded by saying there was nothing illegal in the actions of the diplomat.

According to Felipe Perez Roque, the Cuban government has abundant proof, video recordings and e-mails, that prove Michael Parmly and officials at the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba have breached the law.  The Cuban minister dismissed as “ridiculous” President George W. Bush’s announcement that U.S. residents can send cellular phones to Cuban relatives. The talk about the possibility of easing U.S. trade sanctions against Cuba to allow Americans to send cellular phones is “an act of ridiculous propaganda,” said Perez Roque.

25/05/2008
Cuban Regime to Abolish Dual Currency

The Cuban government will end its dual monetary system, according to the head of the Cuban parliament’s economic commission, Osvaldo Martínez. He told this to the Spanish daily El País. Currently, Cubans are paid in national pesos but require convertible pesos to buy certain goods. “The government’s policy is to eliminate the dual currency, which to some extent hurts the country’s self-esteem,” the Cuban senior official said. 


FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE

14/05/2008

First Islamic Center to Open in Cuba

The Cuban government has given a green light to open the country’s first Islamic center in Havana. Secretary General of the Islamic Organization of Latin America Mohammad Yusef Hajar said the organization has been negotiating with the Cuban authorities for the establishment of an Islamic center in the communist country since last year.

“Apart from the Catholic establishment, this will be the first other religious institution in Cuba [under communism],” he said, adding that Islamic activities in the country have been on the rise in recent years. The annual meeting of Latin America’s Islamic Organization is scheduled to be held in Venezuela on June 4-7 and will review the conditions of Latin American Muslims.

REFUGEES

25/05/2008
Mother of Dissident Cuban Researcher Arrives in Buenos Aires

The mother of renowned Cuban doctor Hilda Molina has been reunited with her family in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The reunion took place on the night of May 24 after waiting for more than ten years for the Cuban government to grant her an exit permit. The 89-year-old Hilda Morejón Serantes was welcomed at the airport by her grandson Roberto Quiñones and her great-grandchildren. Her daughter Hilda Molina is still stuck in Havana. The Cuban government refuses to give her permission to leave the country to reunite with the family.

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
 
17/05/2008
New Chief Coming to U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Havana

Jonathan D. Farrar, principal deputy assistant secretary at the State Department’s Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, has been appointed the new head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, mass media reported, citing the State Department. The assignment of a high-ranking official to the post shows the U.S. administration’s continuing attention to Cuba.

Farrar will succeed Michael Parmly, who was assigned to head the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba in 2005 and has been repeatedly attacked by the Cuban authorities for his “excessive” interest in Cuban dissidents. It was his initiative to install in 2006 a special electronic billboard at the U.S. Interests Section building carrying excerpts from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and broadcasting world news. The Cuban government denounced the measure, calling Parmly “an idiot and a gangster.”

The new top U.S. diplomat in Cuba speaks Spanish and Portuguese, has broad experience in Latin America, with previous postings at U.S. embassies in Mexico, Belize, Paraguay and Uruguay.  The United States and Cuba broke off diplomatic relations in 1961. In 1977, under President Carter, the respective Interests Sections were opened in Washington DC and Havana in a move to solve migration problems and provide consular services. After the United States and Cuba signed migration accords in 1994, the U.S. Interests Section in Havana has issued 125,000 entry visas to Cuban citizens.

21/05/2008

United States Wants Peaceful Transition to Democracy in Cuba

The George W. Bush administration stands for a peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon said on Tuesday in a press briefing. He assured that “it is the Cuban people themselves who will build this peaceful democratic future.”

“We believe it is important that the Cuban government create a political space that allows the Cuban people to express themselves in a free and democratic fashion,” noted the U.S. high-ranking official. We also believe, he continued, that “for a political transition in Cuba to be peaceful and enduring, there has to be some kind of broad comprehensive national dialogue about Cuba’s future in which the Cuban people can participate.” For that dialogue to succeed, “the fear factor needs to be removed from Cuban political discourse,” Shannon said, adding that one of the most dramatic ways to begin this process would be freeing political prisoners.
 
He also said that despite Havana’s protests the United States would continue to give humanitarian assistance to “political prisoners, to families of political prisoners, and to dissidents” in Cuba. Shannon underscored that this assistance “has a humanitarian purpose, not a political purpose.”  The press briefing with Thomas A. Shannon was dedicated to a Day of Solidarity with the Cuban People sponsored by the U.S. government and to be celebrated worldwide on May 21.

21/05/2008
World Commemorates Cuba Solidarity Day

May 21 was marked as an international day of action to support the people of Cuba as they seek to secure freedom and human rights on the island.

Cuba Solidarity Day was celebrated in the United States, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Romania, Czech Republic, Poland, Costa Rica, and Mexico. It featured various events that included lawmakers, state officials and rights activists who called for the release of all political prisoners on the island and demanded that the Cuban government recognize the right of its people to determine their own destiny and live in peace and democracy.

Organizations that promoted the observance of this Solidarity Day included the Spanish-Cuban Foundation in Madrid (Fundación Hispanocubana), For Cuba’s Freedom Union in Milan (Unione per la Libertà di Cuba), the Cultural Association of Genevan Commnunes, and the Estonian Parliament’s Support Group for Democracy in Cuba.

21/05/2008
Estonia and Lithuania Mark Cuba Solidarity Day

Estonia marked the first-ever Day of Solidarity with the Cuban People on May 21. Vice Speaker of the Parliament of Estonia Kristiina Ojuland opened a photo exhibition by Madli Lääne titled “Meeting with Cuba” at the Museum of Occupation The museum also hosted the premiere of documentary film “Ladies in White” about the situation of Cuban political prisoners. The May 21 commemoration aims to tell people honestly and openly about what’s happening in Cuba, said Silver Meikar, vice chairman of a Cuba solidarity group that organized the event. He said that it would become a tradition to mark the day each year to support the peaceful campaign for Cuban liberty until there is no longer communism on the island.

In Lithuania,
U.S. Ambassador John A. Cloud called on the Lithuanian people to support the people of Cuba who have embarked on the path of liberty and democracy. “Lithuania is a country which the United States supported during the long years of occupation. In turn, Lithuania has supported the Cuban people refusing to recognize the Castro regime. We hope the people of Lithuania will join the world community to commemorate Day of Solidarity with the Cuban people,” said Cloud. “Cubans should know that there is support internationally for their struggle for freedom and human rights just like there was support for the Baltic nations when they were struggling to free themselves from the fetters of the Soviet occupation,” he said.

20/05/2008
Ukraine Joins In Cuba Solidarity Day

Ukraine has joined the international campaign for solidarity with the Cuban people, said the press secretary of Ukraine’ Foreign Ministry, Vasili Kirilich, adding that “Cuba is opening up to the world, and this is the chance for the Cuban people to get united.

“The current geopolitical realities open up the prospect of rapprochement and allow for a broader international dialogue conducive to the strengthening of generally recognized democratic principles enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There are also new opportunities for developing democratic society, moving democratic change forward, and for freedom of speech and human rights,” said Kirilich.

27/05/2008
EU Commissioner Calls for Normalization with Cuba

European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Assistance Louis Michel has called for the “normalization” of relations between the European Union and Cuba, saying European public opinion has “real expectations” on this issue.

Michel, who participated on May 26 in a debate on the subject at the European Parliament in Brussels, insisted on the need to call off the sanctions imposed by Europe on Cuba in 2003 and suspended two years later to gauge if there was a desire to “move ahead in the dialogue.” The commissioner recalled that he has always rejected sanctions “in principle” and he stressed that there are no examples showing positive results when measures of this kind have been implemented.
 
In June, the European Union will revise its position towards the Caribbean nation as it does periodically. Since 2005, the EU has kept open an offer of two-pronged dialogue with both the Cuban government and the island’s dissidents. In recent months, leftist groups in the European Parliament have called for lifting the sanctions against Cuba, a demand the Cuban government has also made.

Michel criticized the fact that the Cuban regime was at times judged more harshly than other countries with worse situations, a statement that was seconded by Spanish center-right MEP Ignasi Guardans, who went further and denounced the EU’s “hypocrisy.”

THE ECONOMY

16/05/2008

Over One Million Tourists Visited Cuba since Start of the Year

Over one million tourists visited Cuba since the start of 2008, twenty-two days earlier than projected, said María Elena López, deputy minister of tourism. According to her, the target was hit on April 28. At the close of the first quarter in 2008, the number of arriving tourists had increased by 15% compared to the same period in 2007. Cuba expects the number of tourists to the island will cross the 2 million mark for the fourth year running.

14/05/2008
Texas to Send Trade Delegation to Cuba

Texas will send a trade delegation to Cuba in late May, the first official visit from that state in more than 45 years and one that organizers hope will pave the way for broader trade in the years to come. Led by Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, the 24-member delegation will include representatives from all sectors of Texas agriculture, including grain, cotton, beans, rice and cattle. The trip is scheduled for May 27-31, organizers said. Other trade prospects include airlines, oil, technology and tourism, although these sectors remain banned under the nearly 50-year U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.

“Texas and Cuba used to have very strong commercial ties before the embargo,” said Cynthia Thomas, president of Dallas-based Tri Dimensions Strategies, a consulting firm. “This trip is intended to lay the foundation for renewing strong ties between our two economies.”


28/05/2008
Texas Trade Delegation Visits Cuba

Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples from the U.S. State of Texas arrived on May 27 in Havana, leading a trade delegation to offer its agricultural products to the island. The Texas business executives will discuss the possible sale of rice, cotton, soy, beans, wheat and cattle, according to Cuba’s state-run food agency Alimport. Cuba has welcomed American trade delegations from California and New Mexico so far this year in addition to business groups that have traveled to the island to offer its agricultural products. In 2007, Cuba has purchased agricultural products from U.S. companies totaling some $600 million, according to Alimport.

SOCIAL ISSUES

21/05/2008
Plastic Homes for Cubans

The Cuban government plans to build plastic houses for its people to help ease a national housing shortage. “Cuba will produce more than 14,000 houses annually with polyvinyl chloride, thanks to a bi-national project with Venezuela,” said project director Julian Alonso. He added that the machinery to produce the so-called “petrohouses” will arrive in Cuba in June and should be operating by September with a daily production of 40 homes measuring 70  square meters each.

22/05/2008
Human Rights Group Reports Deaths of 41 Prisoners

The Council of Human Rights Investigators in Cuba, a Cuban rights group that operates on the island, says in its latest report that 41 common criminals have died in Cuban jails since the start of the year, citing the lack of proper medical aid and self-mutilation as the main causes of their deaths.

27/05/2008

Exodus of Teachers

There is a serious problem in the Cuban city of Morón that the Ministry of Education cannot solve. Colleges in Morón are hit by the real exodus of teaches and also by the shortage of applicants wishing to train as teachers, Miriam Lama, president of the University of Morón, told a local radio station.   The problem could get worse at the end of the academic year as many teachers will leave the profession either because they are nearing retirement age or because of health problems, she explained in an interview to Radio Morón.

OTHER NEWS

08/05/2008

Government-Backed LGBT Conference Held in Cuba

The week-long anti-homophobia festival has ended. It featured unprecedented events for the communist island.  On International Day against Homophobia, May 17, activists of the LGBT community had their largest meeting ever in the country. The conference was attended by government officials.

This is a very important moment for us, because for the first time we can gather in this way and speak profoundly and with scientific basis about these topics, said President Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela, who organized the event. The festival featured book fairs, television programs, movies, theater, and public discussions. On Friday, May 16, Cuban state television gave prime-time play to the Oscar-winning film “Brokeback Mountain.”

Now the Cuban government is studying Mariela’s proposal to legalize same-sex unions. Speaking at the conference, Parliament head Ricardo Alarcon said the government needed to do more to promote gay rights. Participants in the conference were unanimous in their opinion that gay activists should opt for more subtle ways to reduce homophobia in Cuban society. So, Cuban homosexuals have no plans so far to stream out into the streets for a gay-pride parade.

18/05/2008
Cuba to Open 24-Hour TV Channel with Foreign Content

A new 24-hour television channel with foreign content will start broadcasting in Cuba beginning this summer, reported Cuban newspaper Juventud Rebelde.  The Cuban government has decided to open the new round-the-clock television channel with foreign content following the 8th conference of the Cuban writers and artists’ guild where intellectuals have strongly criticized the poor quality of television programming on the island.

They accused Cuban state television of frivolity and imitation of the worst foreign channels that cause boredom among viewers. Cuba has four government-operated national television channels, Cubavision, Tele-Rebelde, and two educational ones.

21/05/2008
Bush Allows Americans to Send Mobile Phones to Cuba

The United States will allow Americans to send mobile phones to Cuba under a change in policy that President Bush announced on Wednesday. In late March, 2008, Cuba’s President Raul Castro lifted restrictions on mobile phone service in Cuba, allowing ordinary citizens to buy cell phones. However, this reform is in practice a token gesture unaffordable for most Cubans. The Cuban telephone
monopoly ETECSA sells cell phones to Cubans for $120, charging additional $10.80 for calling cards, which is six time the average monthly salary on the island.

“If he [Raul Castro] is serious about his so-called reforms, he will allow these phones to reach the Cuban people,” Bush said on Wednesday. The new U.S. policy will first of all benefit Americans who have relatives in Cuba.  Announcing this change in policy, Bush urged the Cuban government to loosen restrictions further, saying if Cubans can be allowed to own mobile phones, “they should be trusted to speak freely in public.”

17/05/2008
Floridians Challenge Restrictions on Cuba Travel

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) affiliates in three states joined a lawsuit on May 16 seeking an end to Bush administration travel restrictions which limit the ability of Cuban exiles to visit relatives on the island.

Under restrictions imposed in 2004, citizens and residents who have close relatives in Cuba can only travel to the island for family visits once every three years instead of once a year as before. Restrictions make no exceptions even for family emergencies.

In early March, a group of Cuban Americans living in Vermont sued the federal government over the restrictions. The lawsuit claims the restrictions violate the plaintiffs’ civil rights. ACLU officials in Miami said their chapter along with those in Vermont and Massachusetts filed a “friend-of-the-court” brief in support of the Vermont lawsuit.

“The ability of Cuban Americans to visit relatives in Cuba, especially at crucial moments in the history of the family such as the celebration of marriages, or visiting a sick relative in the hospital, or attending a relative’s funeral, is essential to maintain family integrity,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the Florida ACLU. “The government should not be in the business of breaking up families by restricting their ability to visit each other.”


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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 prima@prima-news.ru or to idee@idee.org.