www.prima-news.ru/eng            www.idee.org
Cuba Chronicle of Events
Issue No. 55 • June 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, Xinhua, Associated Press, 7kanal.com, Miami Herald, UPI, Reuters, DPA.



Cubans Wouldn’t Vote for Raul Castro in Free Elections

Most Cubans would vote for an opposition leader if Cuba were to hold free and fair presidential elections today, according to a survey conducted in Cuba by the International Republican Institute (IRI) in March and April this year and released on May 3.

According to the results of the survey, 60.1 percent would cast ballots for an unspecified opposition leader, while 37 percent would support Raul Castro. The poll shows that 61.3 percent of Cubans would vote against Communist Party candidates if free elections were held today, and 62 percent support a change to a democratic system. More than 82 percent of Cubans do not believe things are going well in the country, and nearly 48 percent think things are going badly or very badly.

Interviewers from other Latin American countries engaged a total of 587 Cubans from all Cuban provinces with questionnaires. The survey has a margin of error of +/- four percent.


Plans to Build Monument to Victims of Tiananmen Massacre

An opposition group inside the island wants Cuba to erect a monument to the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing. The Cuban Movement of Youth for Democracy has issued a statement proposing to build a monument to the Tiananmen martyrs in a future free and democratic Cuba. The document was also signed by other peaceful opposition organizations.

Ladies in White Protest in Havana

The Ladies in White, comprised of wives, mothers and daughters of Cuban political prisoners, gathered together to demand the release of all political prisoners and to pay tribute to the father of fellow activist
Alejandrina García de la Riva, who died recently.

As is their tradition, activists of the Ladies in White movement attended Mass at Santa Rita’s Church in Havana on Sunday, June 8 and afterwards marched on a main avenue in Havana and called on Raul Castro to free peaceful opposition members who are still languishing in jails. They also paid tribute to the father of Alejandrina García de la Riva, the 65-year-old farmer who died recently in Colón, Matanzas province.


Cuban Writer Believes His Country Faces the Beginning of the End

Cuban exile writer Abilio Estevez, who has just written the novel El navegante dormido (The Sleeping Sailor), said that in Cuba “the end began in a vague way, almost without moving, with the military high command itself knowing that change is inevitable.”  In an interview with the Spanish agency EFE, the author, who lives in Barcelona, expressed optimism, believing that change in Cuba is inevitable. He compared the Cuban regime to rusty machinery that cannot last much longer. In his opinion, there could even be people inside the regime that want change, but breaking through the inertia is difficult and should be done with all the caution in the world so that the country doesn’t come tumbling down like a house of cards.


Dissident Plans to Return to Cuba

A Cuban dissident has said that he plans to return to the communist-run island after seven months’ absence to fight for the freedom of political prisoners. Héctor Palacios, who was in Puerto Rico for a two-day visit from his current home in Spain, told reporters that he and his wife Gisela Delgado, also a Cuban dissident, would soon travel back to their Caribbean homeland to resume leadership of his outlawed opposition group, Liberal Unity. Palacios, now 66, was arrested in 2003 on charges of undermining Cuba’s communist system and sentenced to 25 years in jail. He was released on medical parole in December 2006 and left the country with his wife in November 2007 to receive medical treatment without any promise they could return.

“We want a country where people can live in peace,” Palacios said Tuesday. He said he is willing to meet with President Raul Castro, who succeeded his elder brother, Fidel, in February. “Change is going to happen,” he said. Palacios does not fear being imprisoned again in Cuba and that he looks forward to helping liberate an estimated 230 political prisoners on the island. “It will be a hard fight,” Palacios said in an AP story. “There’s one obstacle. Fidel is alive.”


Dissidents Call for EU to Work for the Benefit of Cuban People

The Cuban opposition alliance “Agenda for Transition” has urged the European Union to work for the benefit of the Cuban people and not for the benefit of the island’s government. The group stressed in an open letter that more than 200 dissidents are still languishing in Cuban jails.

Agenda for Transition leader Vladimiro Roca told EFE they would take the letter to the French Embassy ahead of the EU meeting to review sanctions imposed against the Cuban regime in 2003. The European sanctions were imposed following a wave of arrests of Cuban dissidents in spring 2003 and include a freeze on visits by high-level officials as well as inviting dissidents to national day celebrations at embassies of the EU member states in Havana. They were formally suspended, not permanently lifted, in 2005. Martí Noticias writes that the Cuban regime pushes for the end of these so-called sanctions, but at the same time continues its repressive policies against dissidents. Agenda for Transition wonders what will happen after “normal relations” with the communist regime in Cuba are restored.


Cuban Opposition Requests Meeting with Uruguay’s President

Members of the Cuban opposition have requested a meeting with Uruguay’s President Tabaré Vázquez during his upcoming visit to Havana to share with him their concern over the lack of freedoms and human rights violations on the island. The opposition coalition Agenda for Transition, comprised of leaders of different political and social groups, has lodged the request with the Embassy of Uruguay ahead of Vázquez’s visit to Cuba on June 17-21.

In the letter, Agenda leaders Vladimiro Roca and Martha Beatriz Roque expressed willingness to meet with the Uruguayan president. A similar request came from another prominent Cuban dissident, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement.

In an interview with the Uruguayan daily El País, Paya, winner of the European Union’s Andrei Sakharov Prize for human rights in 2002, said Tabaré Vázquez should bear in mind that there is not only the government exists in Cuba, but also a wide spectrum of various opinions and positions. He said Latin American countries like Uruguay that lived through periods of dictatorship shouldn’t forget how they had lived under tyranny.


Dissidents Say Ending Cuban Sanctions Will Punish Civilian Society

Human rights activists in Cuba told the European Union that ending sanctions on Raul Castro’s communist Cuba would only do harm to civil society on the island.

In an open letter given to Agence France-Presse and other mass media on Tuesday, June 10, opposition leaders Martha Beatriz Roque and Vladimiro Roca warned that what the Cuban government wants is for the opposition to be ignored so it can continue trampling on fundamental freedoms without fear of being rebuked by the European Union. Any process to normalize relations between the EU and Cuba must take into account the Cuban people. Otherwise, it would mean punishing all of civil society and especially those who are fighting for democracy, the letter said.

The letter was sent at a time the European Union states are nearing agreement on relaxing their policy on Cuba.


Cuban Regime Arrests, Charges Journalist

The Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) condemned the Cuban government for the arrest of and threats made to independent journalist Carlos Serpa Maceira. In a telephone call to the IAPA, Serpa Maceira, head of the Sindical Press news agency, said State Security agents arrested him on June 6 in the Old Havana district of the capital and took him to a police station.

Serpa Maceira was charged with engaging in provocative and mercenary acts under the guidance of the United States Interests Section in Cuba. Serpa Maceira reported that he was ordered by officials to stop working as a journalist and warned that he would be sent to the Island of Youth, where he was born, because he lacked permission to live in the Cuban capital.

Gonzalo Marroquín, chairman of IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, said, “It’s about time that the government of Cuba called a halt to its reactionary methods and put into practice tolerance of freedom of the press and free speech. One first step should be the release of the 25 independent journalists that remain in prison for exercising their right[s].”

Student Beaten, Expelled from College for Wearing Cambio Bracelet

Lisandra Domínguez Mora, a student at a vocational school for young adults in Buenaventura, Holguín province, who is also a human rights activist with the Miguel Valdes Tamayo Pro Human Rights Movement, was beaten and expelled from school for wearing a white bracelet bearing the word CAMBIO (“Change”) on May 30.

That morning as Lisandra arrived at school, she was attacked in an “act of repudiation” — a mob — organized by school authorities. Her notebooks were ripped into pieces as well as a book on human rights she was carrying. Agents of the National Revolutionary Police and State Security arrived at the scene and savagely beat her. “They shoved their fingers in my mouth and cut my lips trying to get me to stop shouting,” stated Lisandra to the Cuban Democratic Directorate, which is based in Miami and sponsoring the CAMBIO campaign on the island.

The school authorities, among them leaders of the Young Communists Union and the Federation of University Students, informed the young woman that she had to leave the school grounds immediately due to her activism and because she wore a CAMBIO bracelet.

Fellow activists Delmides Fidalgo López, a Christian minister from Buenaventura, his wife Damaris Velázquez Arévalo, and José Luis Cabrera Cruz, who came to support the young woman, were also beaten and subsequently arrested by the police.  “I will continue going to school even if they beat me and persecute me. I will continue to demand my rights as a student,” declared Lisandra on May 30 in a telephone interview to Florida-based Radio República.

Peaceful Opposition Activists Detained in Havana

At 1:00 a.m. on June 4, agents of the Cuban Interior Ministry’s task force to prevent sabotage against Cuba raided the flat of oppositionist Carlos Cordero, a member of the “Pedro Luís Boitel” Society of Political Prisoners, and ordered ten members of the peaceful Cuban opposition who were present to collect their belongings and follow them.

The activists were detained to prevent them from holding a public march in solidarity with the peoples suffering from totalitarianism, the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre in China, and the dissidents languishing in Chinese jails, and in Cuba, explained ex-political prisoner Jorge Luís García Pérez “Antúnez,” one of those detained. In addition to “Antúnez” and Cordero, those detained included Iris Pérez Aguilera, Blas Fortún Martínez, Ana Margarita Perdigón Brito, Bienvenido Perdigón Pacheco, Benito Ortega Suárez, Nitza Rivas Hernández, and Ernesto Mederos Arrozarena. According to Ortega Suárez, a former political prisoner, they were put in several cars with private license plates and taken to two different police stations.

At around six o’clock in the morning, the detained were put in police vehicles and driven to their places of residence in the provinces of Matanzas, Sancti Spíritus, and Villa Clara.



Cuban Political Prisoners Face Increasing Abuse

Relatives of opposition activists Claro Sánchez Altarriba and José Daniel Ferrer García who have been in jail since spring 2003 told of increasing punitive and intimidation measures taken by prison authorities against the two political prisoners. The prisoners, they said, are facing systematic harassment and ill treatment. Both Claro Sánchez Altarriba and José Daniel Ferrer García have been transferred to prisons far from their homes.

Cuban Prisoner of Conscience Holds Hunger Strike

Prisoner of conscience José Daniel Ferrer García, a member of the Christian Liberation Movement, started a hunger strike to protest against abuses and inhumane treatment by prison officials. Ferrer García is an activist of the Varela Project, a civic initiative launched in 1998 by Oswaldo Payá and other dissidents calling for constitutional amendments and reform of laws to guarantee individual freedoms. The country’s constitution allows petitions having signatures of at least 10,000 eligible voters to be presented to the National Assembly for consideration. Ferrer García is one of the 75 dissidents arrested in the Black Spring of 2003. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison for collecting signatures on the petitions of the Varela project. He is currently being held in an isolation cell in the provincial prison in Las Tunas, known as El Típico.

Cuban Prisoner of Conscience Stops Hunger Strike

Prisoner of conscience José Daniel Ferrer García stopped a hunger strike he held for one week to protest against inhumane treatment in prison after prison authorities agreed to meet his demands. On June 10, Ferrer phoned Movement leader Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas at home and in a brief exchange with his sister Ana Belkis Ferrer García, said that prison authorities at El Típico in Las Tunas province agreed to end the inhumane treatment of prisoners.

EU, U.S. Urge Cuba to Free Political Prisoners

The European Union and the United States urged the new Cuban leadership on Tuesday, June 10, to free all political prisoners to show how serious its intentions are to improve the human rights situation on the island. In comments at a press conference following the EU-U.S. summit in Slovenia, U.S. President George W. Bush said, “Before relations should go forward, all political prisoners ought to be freed. If the Castro administration really is different, the first way to show that difference to the world is to free the political prisoners.”

Soon after Raul Castro took over as president on February 23, Cuba signed two U.N. pacts on fundamental freedoms, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Fidel Castro had strongly opposed. In a joint statement after the EU-U.S. summit, both sides welcomed Cuba’s signing of the conventions and urged the government to ratify them and “demonstrate its commitment by unconditionally releasing all political prisoners.


Seven Cubans Land in Miami, One Waits for Police

Seven Cuban migrants made it to shore at Rickenbacker Causeway in Miami on Monday morning, June 2. Six in the group scattered, but the seventh, Yenisel Alonso, asked passersby to call police and then waited patiently for the U.S. Border Patrol to arrive.

The 32-year-old woman said she left behind a 5-year-old son in Camagüey, her home in Cuba, and has a godfather who lives in Miami. Under the U.S. government’s wet foot/dry foot policy, Under the U.S. government’s wet foot/dry foot policy, Cuban migrants who make it to dry land are allowed to apply for asylum while those intercepted at sea are sent back.

More Cuban Migrants Arrive in Miami

For the second time in a week, a group fleeing Cuba has landed in South Florida, officials in Miami said. Eight Cuban migrants arrived at Virginia Key on the morning of June 3 in a boat they said they built themselves. The Cubans said they spent five days at sea before reaching the United States.

34 Cuban Migrants Detained off Mexico

Mexico’s Navy said it has detained 34 Cuban migrants who were in a yacht off Cancun’s coast. According to a navy official, they found 28 men, four women and two children in the yacht during a routine patrol near the Mexican resort. The migrants told authorities they left Cuba on a makeshift boat and while at sea were spotted by two men in a yacht who offered to take them to the United States.

Cuban Baseball Player Defects to U.S.

Cuban baseball’s brightest star Dayán Viciedo has fled Cuba and is now in Miami, following the lead of other talented Cuban athletes who have found their way into the major leagues. Viciedo, a 19-year-old third baseman, is compared to Omar Linares, the most well rounded player to emerge from the Cuban leagues since 1959.

Viciedo left Cuba on a boat bound for Mexico on May 20, accompanied by his family. Several days later, he crossed the border from Mexico and traveled to Miami to reunite with friends and relatives. According to a source within the Cuban Baseball Federation, authorities there already knew of Viciedo’s escape to Mexico. His name was not included in the list of 43 players chosen to represent Cuba at the Beijing Olympics this summer.


OAS Secretary General Hopes for Cuba Return

Addressing the 38th annual OAS General Assembly on June 2, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, expressed hope they would soon see Cuba “integrated” into the OAS. Insulza said that given “difficulties” in Cuba’s relations with the OAS, other nations of the region should adopt a “flexible position” on the country’s readmission and pursue an active dialogue with Cuba to avoid unwelcome arguments among member states. The OAS, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., has 35 member states and 60 permanent observers. In January 1962, Cuba was expelled from the organization during its 8th Consulting Meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs. The 38th annual meeting opened in Medellin, Columbia on the evening of June 1 with the theme “Youth and Democratic Values.”

Defying U.S., EU Mulls Ending Cuban Sanctions

European Union states are closely studying ending sanctions on Cuba despite U.S. calls for ongoing pressure for democratic reform on the communist-run island. Closed-door talks on the subject continued between host EU leaders and U.S. President George W. Bush during a farewell summit in Slovenia. EU foreign ministers will decide on the sanctions at a meeting of EU foreign Ministers in Luxembourg on June 16.

The European sanctions were imposed after a crackdown on dissent in spring 2003 and include a freeze on visits by high-level officials. They were formally suspended in 2005. The EU sees an outright reversal of policy — despite the continued imprisonment of 56 of the original 75 dissidents sentenced during the “Black Spring” — as a way of encouraging Cuba’s new leadership after the February 24 retirement of Fidel Castro.

“The time could be right because of changes undertaken by Cuba’s new leadership,” an EU diplomat told Reuters. Changes include new rules allowing Cubans to buy cell phones, rent rooms in hotels once reserved for foreigners, and an increase in public debate. “Sanctions could be lifted,” another EU diplomat said of the ongoing talks, “but linked with dialogue, with a review. We are working on finding the exact formula.”

Former colonial power Spain has led the calls to end the EU sanctions, which unlike the 1962 U.S. embargo do not prevent trade and investment. But the change has met resistance from the 27-member bloc’s ex-communist members, notably the Czech Republic, which is skeptical of the signs of progress in Cuba and wants a “dual-track” approach under which high-ranking EU delegations would be obliged to raise concern over human rights and democracy during any visit and to meet opposition groups. “This is our condition for the negotiation [on ending sanctions],” a Czech spokesman said in Brussels. Prague also is concerned that lifting the sanctions now would put the EU at odds with the U.S. over Cuba policy.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez urged Europe last week to uphold the measures in order to prevent Cuban authorities from being able to claim that human rights were improving on the island. “The so-called reforms or so-called changes that have taken place in Cuba, we believe are somewhat cynical,” Gutierrez told Reuters in an interview. “It is surprising that the world would rather talk about the fact that Cubans can now visit their own hotels and not talk about the fact that there are political prisoners starving in their own jails,” he said.

Cuba, Venezuela to Lay Underwater Cable

Cuba and Venezuela have agreed to lay a 1,550-km highway of underwater fiber-optic cable linking the two countries in an effort to break through restrictions imposed by the U.S. commercial embargo against the island. With a total capacity of 640 Gigabytes, the cable will potentially increase the island’s international communications capacity by 3,000 times upon its completion, explained a project consultant from Venezuela.

The cable will break the U.S. blockade that forces the island to use more expensive and slow satellite services for connections abroad, said Wilfredo Morales, who heads the Gran Caribe Telecommunications Co., a joint venture created to manage the project. The Cuban government has blamed technological problems, such as lack of speedy telecommunications cable, for causing it to restrict Internet access. However, the government did not say if internet restrictions would be eased once the underwater fiber is finished,


Cuban Delegation Rejects FAO Declaration for Lacking Reference to U.S. Embargo

The Cuban delegation objected to a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) declaration on combating soaring world food prices because it did not mention the U.S. trade embargo. The declaration was issued after a three-day summit of the U.N. agency in Rome.

Delegates from 180 countries signed a final document pledging to reduce trade barriers and boost agricultural production to tackle the food crisis. The declaration calls for helping farmers in the developing countries that desperately need seeds and fertilisers for the next planting season. But several Latin American countries attacked the declaration. Argentina objected to criticism in the declaration of export curbs it had imposed to shield consumers from food inflation.

The U.S. has become Cuba’s main supplier of food since allowing exports of food, farm products, and medical supplies as exceptions to the trade embargo. Since December 2001, the Cuban government has spent $2.4 billion purchasing 7.8 million metric tons of food from American farmers. The Cuban food import agency Alimport struck another deal in May with American agricultural producers worth $119 million.

Cuban Farmers Demand Recognition of Their Rights

Independent farmers’ groups in Cuba are demanding that the Cuban government restructure agriculture in line with the aspirations of peasantry and society in order to avoid an acute food crisis on the island.

On June 4, the groups delivered a common Project of Rural Civic Development in Cuba to the Council of State that calls for immediate measures to introduce a free market agricultural system.

The document demands that farmland be returned to farmers and their heirs who are employed at rural production cooperatives after they file appropriate application. Pedro Alonso Pérez, a private farmer who is general director of the project, delivered the document to the Council of State where he was received by a Council official and got a notice of receipt duly stamped.

The petition was signed by the National Alliance of Independent Farmers in Cuba, the Latin American Federation of Rural Women, the Union of Rural Youth, and the Center for Agricultural Studies and Research.


Cuba Protests U.S. Human Trafficking List

Cuba rejected U.S. claims that it does not do enough to combat human trafficking in a statement issued on Sunday, June 8. It claims that Washington “has a lot to learn” about life on the island.

U.S. authorities “are unfamiliar with and distort” Cuban reality, the Foreign Relations Ministry said in a written response to the U.S. State Department’s annual “Trafficking in Persons Report,” which was released on June 4.

The report tracks human trafficking for use in the sex trade, coerced labor, and the recruitment of child soldiers and outlines efforts by governments to fight it, including prosecution, sentencing, and programs to help victims. The U.S. listed Cuba among the world’s worst offenders, stating that poor women and children on the island are often forced into prostitution by family members out of economic desperation. But it also noted that human trafficking cannot be properly measured in Cuba, given the government’s refusal to cooperate with independent observers.

Cuba Approves Sex-Change Operations

The Cuban government has authorized sex-change operations, a specialist at the National Center for Sex Education said on June 6.
The specialist, who asked to be anonymous, said the Public Health Ministry approved the surgery this week and Cuba’s health care system will perform it free of charge to qualifying citizens. Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela Castro, who heads the Center, spearheaded the changes. According to her, at least 28 people want the surgery. She said Cuban doctors were training with Belgian surgeons to prepare for the operations.


Santa Clara Residents Unhappy Over High Rice Prices

For several days, residents in Santa Clara, especially women, have been voicing discontent over the price of rice at local markets. Their outrage has spilt out in various public places in the central town of Villa Clara province.

Before May 30, state-run grocery stores sold rice for 3 pesos 50 centavo a pound. On June 1, rice completely disappeared from shops to re-appear on agro-markets at the price of 8 pesos per pound. Magdalena Payrol, a local housewife, said “The Alimport chief makes a mockery of the truth, saying on television Cuba has enough rice to feed its people for one year while everyone knows that seven pounds of rice our ration cards allow us to purchase won’t last that long. And with the current prices and the wages we receive, we can hardly afford to buy any other food.”

Protests at Railway Depot

The decision of the National Railway Company of Cuba (Ferrocarriles de Cuba) to cut wages of engine drivers at the locomotive depot in Morón forced the locomotive engineers to tender their resignations and sparked hot protests at the human resources department. With the resignation of experienced engine drivers, less-skilled assistant drivers now have to do their job. The decision to cut wages was taken by the management of the locomotive depot and local Communist Party and municipal officials at a meeting to discuss the shortage of modern locomotives. The locomotives in stock at the Morón depot were built in the 1950s and are in bad repair, which creates serious problems for rail passengers.

Factory Workers Suffer Degrading Routine

Workers at a meat factory in Holguín continue to go through a degrading routine of being required by the factory’s guards to strip naked when they leave work. The search, they complain, is done outside of any established rules. The victims of this procedure have repeatedly raised the issue with the trade union committee and factory authorities but haven’t got any response.


Che Guevara’s Children Decry Commercialization of Father’s Image

Children of legendary revolutionary terrorist Ernesto “Che” Guevara said during an Internet forum they were tired of seeing their father’s image on ads and emblazoned on T-shirts. “A man who fought and died trying to overthrow capitalism and material excess should not be used to sell British vodka, French fizzy drinks and Swiss mobile phones, among other travesties. It’s embarrassing. And we are tired of that,” they said.

Guevara’s children participated in the
Internet forum sponsored by Cuba’s government ahead of what would have been their father’s 80th birthday on June 14. Though ordinary Cubans are now allowed to own personal computers they still don’t have open access to the Internet. That’s a privilege reserved only for some government employees, academics and heads of major state-run companies. Other Cubans have to go a few cybercafés for foreigners where the charge for one hour’s connection is just a bit less than the average monthly wage of a Cuban worker.


Cuban Spies’ Defense to Move for New Trial in U.S.

A lawyer for the five Cubans convicted in 2001 in the United States for spying announced on June 5 that the defense would appeal a ruling of the Atlanta-based U.S. Court of Appeals issued the previous day upholding the convictions of their clients.

In its ruling on Wednesday, June 4, the appellate court upheld the guilty verdicts of all five Cuban spies and affirmed sentences of Gerardo Hernández and René González. The sentences of the three other men, Ramón Labañino, Fernando González and Antonio Guerrero, were remanded for re-sentencing proceedings.

Attorney Leonard Weinglass said the defense team still has legal options available and on June 24 can ask the judges to reconsider their decision based on the errors they committed in their own ruling. If they don’t reconsider this reasoning then we have the right to go to the Supreme Court of the United States to reconsider all or some of the issues we have presented, he added.

•   •   •

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].