www.prima-news.ru/eng            www.idee.org

Cuba Chronicle of Events
Issue No. 57 • July 1-15, 2008

Cuba Chronicle of Events is produced by the Prima Human Rights News Agency in Moscow in cooperation with the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe, based in Washington, D.C. This edition is based on reports from: PRIMA-News, CubaNet, Puente Informativo Cuba Miami, Martí Noticias, Directorio Democrático Cubano, Estado, ITAR-TASS, Associated Press, music.com.ua, Aftenposten, Blagovest-info, Reuters, Corrierre Della Serra.


Cuban Dissidents Warn of Possible Repression Coming

After a Cuban Foreign Ministry statement accused the United States of fomenting Cuban opposition to organize an action on July 4, America’s Independence Day, Cuban dissidents and human rights activists warned that this may presage a new wave of repression. Laura Pollán from the group Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) said that the authorities would justify previous and future arrests based on these false claims. Marta Beatriz Roque of the Asamblea Para Promover la Sociedad (Civil Assembly to Promote Civil Society) also stated her belief that preparations are being made for mass arrests of the opposition [see below]. U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack stated on July 2 that these accusations are a good illustration of what kind of regime exists in Cuba today. It is one of the few countries in the world where peaceful assembly is seen by the government as a threat to security, he said.

Cuban Dissident Continues Hunger Strike

Dissident Néstor Rodríguez Lobaina, who is chairman of the Movimiento Cubanos por la Democracia (Cuban Movement for Democracy), declared a hunger strike on July 7 demanding freedom of movement. He is placing responsibility for his life and health on the Cuban government. The government is denying him the right to travel to Havana.

France Called On to Express Solidarity with Hunger Striker

Vladimiro Roca and Martha Beatriz Roque, representatives of Agenda para la Transición (Agenda for Transition), are calling on the French embassy to defend an opposition member who has started a hunger strike to protest limitations on his freedom of movement. They asked that French embassy personnel travel to Guantánamo and bring the opposition member, Néstor Rodríguez Lobaina, to Havana. Such an action, they said, would be in keeping with the latest decisions of the European Union encouraging diplomatic representatives of  EU states to establish contact with representatives of the democratic opposition on the island.

Cuban Opposition Recalls Victims of the Tugboat March 13

Various Cuban opposition groups observed a day of memory for the victims of the tugboat March 13, which was sunk on July 13, 1994 by the Castro regime. Forty-one of the seventy-two passengers attempting to flee Cuba, including ten women and children, were murdered. Events were held in Pinar del Río, Havana, Matanzas, Villa Clara, Camagüey and Las Tunas. Former political prisoner Francisco Chaviano was detained in Havana by the police on his way to an action in memory of the Cubans who died on the Malecón seashore. He was later released.



Dissidents Arrested in Cuba

Cuban authorities arrested about seventeen dissidents on Thursday, July 3, Reuters reports, citing sources in the Cuban opposition. The police stated that the United States was using those people to organize anti-government activities. Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights, told journalists that fourteen people were later released. Sanchez confirmed that the arrests were a direct action following accusations against the U.S. heard a day earlier at the Cuban Foreign Ministry. MartiNoticias.com reported that the arrests were carried out to prevent the opposition group Agenda para la Transición (Agenda for Transition) from gathering.

Arrests in Baraco

Police arrested Néstor and Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina on Friday, July 11while at their home in Baracoa municipality, Guantanamo Province. Néstor has been on a hunger strike to protest denial of free movement. The news was provided to Radio Martí by Julio Antonio Monet Borrero, a former political prisoner and chairman of the Movimiento de Derechos Humanos “Miguel Valdés Tamayo (Miguel Valdés Tamayo Movement for Human Rights).


Request to Free Political Prisoner Because of His Health

The family of Ignacio Ramos Valdés from Pinar del Río, has asked President Raúl Castro to free Valdés immediately and unconditionally due to a life-threatening condition. Ramos Valdés was sentenced to 19 years’ imprisonment for piracy and attempting to leave the country illegally.

Concert for Cuban Political Prisoners Will Be Held in Miami

A concert in support of well-known Cuban dissident Oscar Elías Biscet and seven other political prisoners will take place on July 20 in Miami, reports the Florida-based El Nuevo Herald newspaper. The concert is being organizing by the Movimiento Yanquilandia Unido de América — YUMA, which holds cultural events in various Latin American communities in the United States. YUMA president Alexánder Domínguez told the newspaper that the concert would be a show of solidarity with the 46-year-old Biscet and the other prisoners of the Cuban regime. YUMA says that a large number of prominent bands and performers will take part in the concert. Proceeds will go to relatives of Biscet and the seven other prisoners.

Ingrid Betancourt Asked to Express Solidarity with Political Prisoners

The Ladies in White have sent a letter to Ingrid Betancourt applauding her release after six years as a hostage to FARC guerrillas and urging her to express her solidarity with Cuban political prisoners. The letter was released on July 10 in Havana. Solidaridad Española con Cuba (Spanish Solidarity with Cuba) sent a similar letter to Ingrid Betancourt on July 11. The Spanish organization states that Cuban prisoners of conscience are also hostages of terrorists.



Raúl Castro Presides over National Assembly Session

Raúl Castro presided over the session of the Cuban National Assembly that began Friday, July 11 and will focus on changes the government will undergo after a critical study of the situation on the island. This is the first full session of the one-party parliament with its new membership formed in January. Its inaugural meeting on February 24 elected Raúl Castro chairman of the State Council, or president, to replace his brother Fidel. After a weeklong study of the economic and social conditions in the country by parliamentary commissions, General Castro is expected to announce measures to solve problems with food production, a housing shortage and deteriorating healthcare and education systems.



Russian Cathedral Will Be Ready for Consecration in Autumn

The Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Cuba’s capital will be consecrated this autumn, reports Vladimir Klyuev, the head of Havana’s Kazan Church. The Cathedral of the Icon of Our Lady of Kazan has been under construction in Old Havana, the historical center of the city, beginning in November 2004, when the Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad consecrated the building site. It lies on the shore of Havana Bay at Calle San Pedro and Avenida Santa Clara.

The first service held in Cuba by Russian Orthodox priests was in 2001. First services were held in the Russian trade mission in the embassy and then in a Catholic church. According to Father Vladimir Klyuev, there are about 14,000 Russians living in Cuba today, 3,000 of them in Havana. They are representatives of the Russian government, specialists working on the island and Russians who have married Cuban citizens.


Cuban Refugees Spent a Month on the Open Sea

Thirteen Cubans fleeing their homeland in a boat spent an entire month on the open sea. They were discovered on Friday by the crew of the Norwegian tanker Berge Danuta after traveling 235 nautical miles from the coast of Cuba. The only equipment they had left was a single oar. The Cubans strayed off course as they tried to reach the United States and ended up in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, 260 nautical miles from Florida. The day after their rescue, the refugees were placed on board an American Coast Guard vessel that came for them from Florida.

Illegal Cuban Immigrants Arrested in Mexico

On Tuesday, July 1, Mexican police arrested 20 illegal immigrants from Cuba, among them eighteen men and two women. Police raided two houses in Cancun on suspicions of narcotics trafficking. Instead of drugs, the police found the illegal immigrants and arrested them.


Foreign Ministry Accuses U.S. of “Counterrevolutionary Activities”

Cuban authorities issued a protest against American diplomats for “instigating provocative public actions” in Cuba. According to Castro’s foreign relations agency, the U.S. Interests Section in Havana has escalated its “illegal activities” in violation of international law, Cuban law, and Cuban-American agreements.  In its statement, the Foreign Ministry listed several of the latest activities involving “counterrevolutionaries” organized by the U.S. Interests Section. The statement also notes that American diplomats supply money, cellular phones, computers and counterrevolutionary material to dissidents.

These activities are part of Washington’s strategy aimed against the Cuban revolution, the statement claims. The Cuban government called on the White House to respond to its accusations of illegal actions and demanded that the U.S. Interests Section in Havana cease organizing, leading, financing, and coordinating domestic counterrevolution. The statement says that Cuban authorities will not tolerate further provocations and illegal activities by American diplomats in Havana. Responsibility for any future consequences lies with the U.S. government.

U.S. State Department: Cuba Suffers from Dictatorship, Not Conspiracy

In response to Cuban government accusations against Washington that it instigates opposition activity on the island, the U.S. State Department asserted that the people of Cuba do not need support from the outside to strive to free themselves from the Cuban dictatorship’s oppression.

French Government Condemns Arrests in Cuba

The French Foreign Ministry, speaking on behalf of the European Union, has condemned recent arrests of members of the Cuban opposition on July 3 and 4 and has declared that France, which is currently chairing the European Union, and other EU member states are preparing a response to the situation.  French Foreign Ministry representative Eric Chevalier made the statement in response to a journalist’s question about whether the arrests show that the lifting of sanctions last month against Cuba had been ineffectual. The EU lifted diplomatic sanctions placed on the Cuban regime after a wave of repression in 2003 and decided to begin a dialogue with Havana, but also called on the government to improve the observation of human rights. The arrest of opposition members was aimed at preventing a meeting of the Agenda for Transition and preventing dissidents from attending a reception at the U.S. Interests Section on July 4.

The Italian Radical Party Calls for Harder EU Stance on Cuba

In response to a mass detention of dissidents in Cuba on July 3 and 4, Italian members of the European Parliament representing the Transnational Radical Party called for a harder policy toward the regime in Havana at a plenary session of the parliament in Strasbourg. The arrests occurred after the EU lifted the diplomatic sanctions imposed on the Castro government in 2003.


Cuba Asks for Help from Petrobras

The head of the Cuban state oil company stated that the government of Cuba is hoping to sign an agreement soon with Brazilian energy giant Petroleo Brasileiro (PBR), or Petrobras, on geological exploration, according to the Brazilian information agency Estada.

Fidel Rivero, president of Cubapetroleo, or Cupet, told Estada that the parties are in the final stages of negotiations. The details of the agreement may be made known in the coming months.

Cuban Minister of Industry Yadira García also confirmed that an exploratory contract with Petrobras will be signed within the next year. According to the minister, Cuba needs the technology for conducting geological exploration and development of oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico and also hopes the Brazilians will aid in the construction of a lubricants factory.

Plans Agriculture Reform

More than half the agricultural lands in Cuba are not being used or are not being used to full capacity, according to a report by the National Statistics Bureau. The volume of unused land grew to 55 percent last year, compared to 46 percent in 2002.

To counteract this tendency, the Cuban government announced plans earlier this year for the restructuring of the agriculture ministry. As part of that program, the government has also started to allot plots of unused land to farmers and has raised the prices at which it buys milk and meat.

Those actions, the report notes, are being carried out against a background of a world food crisis and rising raw materials prices. Cuba is thus trying to reduce its dependency on imported products. This year, the government plans to spend almost $2 billion on food imports.

Cuba Isn’t Paying Its Oil Bill

The state enterprise Cubapetróleo has been unable to pay its debt to a foreign partner for fuel supplies since the beginning of the year. According to a press release issued by the Canadian company PERBERCAN, the Cuban government is due to pay $118.9 million by November of this year. As of today, Cubapetróleo has paid only $2 million of the $39 million it was obligated to pay in April and May of this year under the agreement between the two companies.

Private Taxis Permitted in Cuba for the First Time since 1999

Cuban authorities have announced their intentions to remove the nine-year-old ban on new private taxis, thus creating one more opening for private enterprise in communist Cuba and giving hope for the legalization of thousands of classic American cars that serve as illegal taxis in Cuban cities. Cuban state radio reported on Tuesday, July 8, that Transportation Minister Jorge Luis Sierra stated before a parliamentary commission that permits for new private taxis would soon be issued again.  Radio Rebelde did not specify the number of permits that will be given out for the length of their validity. The move is a break with the policy of Fidel Castro, who frequently expressed dissatisfaction even with the existence of legal taxis. He frequently accused illegal taxis of supporting the black market and of personal enrichment.


Population Is Aging and Decreasing Due to Emigration, Low Birth Rate

According to the National Statistics Bureau of Cuba (NSB), the population of Cuba declined last year from 11,239,043 to 11,237,154. That occurred despite a slight up tick in the generally low birthrate compared to 2006.

In fact, the population of Cuba is now the oldest of all Latin American countries, the NSB reported after conducting its latest research on the aging of the republic’s population. It states there are more than 1.8 million people over 60 in the country of 11.2 million. By 2030, that figure will reach about 3.5 million. Experts forecast that, due to the low birthrate, the number of elderly will exceed the number of children for the first time in the republic’s history in 2020.

One of the main reasons for the decrease in population in Cuba is the high and steady rate of migration, mainly to the United States. Between 15,000 and 20,000 people receive the right to leave for the U.S. every year through official channels. There is a significant flow of Cubans who succeed in leaving the island illegally. Overall, more than one-tenth of the Cuban population has left the island since the Revolution in 1959.

Raises Pension Age

Cuban authorities plan to increase the age of pension eligibility for workers by five years to counteract the aging of the population, the Canadian newspaper The Vancouver Sun reports, citing official media in Havana. Under a draft law introduced into the National Assembly on July 11, the pension age for men would be raised from 60 to 65, and for women, from 55 to 60.

It is estimated that 25 percent of the Cuban population will be over 60 by 2025. Already, it has the highest proportion of elderly in all of Latin America.


Sepultura Will Play Cuba

The Brazilian band Sepultura will become the second Western rock group after Audioslave to appear in Cuba. The group will perform in two concerts, in Havana on July 18 and Santa Clara on July 20. The Cuban Rock Agency and the League of Communist Youth invited the group. Audioslave visited Cuba in 2005. A recording of their performance in Havana, before an audience of more than 70,000, was released on DVD as Live in Cuba.

Fidel Castro Declared “Best Journalist” in Cuba

Fidel Castro has received the Jose Marti National Prize for journalism by the official journalists union, which voted unanimously on July 5 to nominate the former head of state for the prize. Castro was the most popular candidate of 23. The chairman of the election commission, Juan Marrero, noted that Fidel received “the first prize, thanks to his faithfulness to ideas and the truth and to the irreproachable ethics” of his publications. Fidel Castro, 81, has been publishing in the local press and on the Internet. In his articles, he has touched more than once on the most important problems at home and abroad and has regularly criticized U.S. policy. There are still 26 Cuban independent journalists imprisoned for expressing their opinions or distributing uncensored information about events on the island.

Castro to FARC Terrorists: Free Hostages, Don’t Lay down Arms

In columns on July 3 and 5, Fidel Castro, 81, sharply criticized the Marxist partisan group FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) for its cruel methods of kidnapping and holding hostages in jungles and congratulated the Colombian military on its successful operation to free the hostages. But he advised FARC just as strongly not lay down their arms. He writes that rebel groups that have stopped fighting in the last half century “have not seen peace.” The columns appeared several days after the freeing of hostage Ingrid Betancourt, who was held by FARC for about six years. Several hundred people remain hostages of the FARC rebels.

Che Guevara’s Diaries Declassified

The diaries of Che Guevara have been declassified in Bolivia and may be seen in full for the first time. A yellow envelope marked “state secret” was brought out of safe in the Central Bank in the Bolivian capital of La Paz, where it had been kept since 1986. A large part of the contents are already known, having been published by Feltrinelli in 1968 in 39 editions. The diaries were first retrieved from Ernesto Guevara’s backpack by the military, secretly copied and then sent to Cuba. They then mysteriously disappeared only to turn up at a London auction. The diaries were returned to La Paz 20 years ago and the material will now be published in its current state and made available October 10.

.S. Lawmakers Propose to Allow Travel to Cuba

A U.S. Senate committee has approved a law that would remove the restrictions on travel to Cuba imposed by the Bush administration in 2004. Under the new bill, Americans of Cuban origin will be able to visit their relatives once a year. They will be allowed to spend no more than $160 per day. Under the law passed in 2004, travel to Cuba was limited to 14 days in three years and spending was limited to $50 per day. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) characterized the 2004 law as “nonsense.” The bill has already been approved by the U.S. House of Representatives.

•   •   •

The Cuba Chronicle of Events is produced by the Prima News Agency in Moscow  in cooperation with the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe, based in Washington, D.C.. 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].