Cuba Chronicle of Events
Issue No. 58 • July 16-31, 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, Bitacora Cubana, CubaNet, Puente Informativo Cuba Miami, Martí Noticias, Directorio Democrático Cubano, AP, CyberSecurity.ru, Asian Age, Izvestia, BBC, music.com.ua, LIGABiznesInform, Interfax, Newsru.com.
Cuban Dissident Socialists Prepare for First National Conference Despite Threats
The Cuban opposition coalition Arco Progressista will hold its First National Conference on July 19 and 20 in Havana in order to work out its strategy and projects in support of Cuban social democracy and to take steps toward uniting various organizations in one party. Organizers hope that Socialist and Social Democratic parties and politicians from Europe, Latin America and other parts of the world, and Socialist International representatives, will attend the event.
Campaign “With the Same Coin” Continues in Havana
Activists of FLAMUR (the Latin American Federation of Rural Women) continue their campaign “With the Same Coin” demanding the elimination of the dual currency system and introduce the single-currency system on the island. On July 17, FLAMUR activists staged an act of civil disobedience at a dollar pharmacy in Old Havana where they demanded to pay in the Cuban national peso for their purchase, according to FLAMUR chairman Belinda Salas Tápanes.
Oppositionist Sentenced to 2 Years in Prison
On July 10, peaceful democracy activist Jorge Ramírez was sentenced to two years in prison on charges of “disrespecting authority.” According to Ramirez’s wife Nélida Lima Conde, the trial, held in Trinidad, Sancti Spíritus province, began at nine in the morning and was held behind closed doors. Only four relatives of the defendant were allowed in the courtroom. Calderón is the representative of the 30th of November Democratic Party in the municipality of Trinidad.
Arrests in Cuba on the Tugboat Massacre Anniversary
Cuban opposition sources report that five pro-democracy activists were briefly arrested and sixteen others detained for questioning following memorial events held across the country on July 13 to mark the 14th anniversary of the 13 de Marzo tugboat massacre. A press release issued by Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello and Vladimiro Roca on behalf of the opposition alliance Agenda for Transition stated that detentions took place in Havana, Villa Clara, Guantánamo, and Cienfuegos. Events in Santa Clara, Sancti Spíritus, Havana and Holguín occurred without police interference, including silent marches and signing proclamations.
Dissidents Detained in Guantánamo
Dissidents Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina and Néstor Rodríguez Lobaina were detained again by Cuban authorities in the province of Guantánamo while meeting at a bus stop, reported MartiNoticias.com, citing independent Cuban journalist Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez. The brothers, who live in Baracoa, faced police repression after Néstor went on hunger strike demanding the right to move freely within his own country. He ended the strike only after government officials promised him his movements within the country would not be restricted.
Escalation of Repression Reported in Cuba
Activists of Cuba’s Pro Human Rights Party, affiliated to the Andrei Sakharov Foundation, said in Havana their party was facing increasing repression from state security agents and police.
Abuses in Holguín Prison
Alfredo Domínguez Batista, a prisoner of conscience from the Group of 75, reported abuses by guards in Holguín provincial prison. On June 23, a prison guard named Alberto, nicknamed “terrorist,” attacked and beat Osmany Pozo Núñez, who was crying out from unbearable pain for medical help. A few days earlier, the prisoner self-inflicted two, 10-cm deep, cut wounds.
Holguín Political Prisoner Herrera Acosta Sews Up His Lips
Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, a prisoner of conscience from the Group of 75, has stitched his lips together to protest maltreatment and the refusal of officials in Holguín provincial prison to listen to his demands. The protest started on July 18 when Herrera declared himself on hunger strike; on July 21, he raised his protest to another level by sewing his mouth shut.
Herrera Acosta said he is determined to press on until his demands are met and he was not going to tolerate any longer the abuse of his rights and harassment by prison authorities. He is serving a 20-year prison term. This report came from an inmate at the prison who remained anonymous for fear of reprisals. It was confirmed by Ileana Danger, wife of Herrera Acosta. She expressed concern about her husband’s health.
Holguín Political Prisoners Go on Solidarity Hunger Strike
Three oppositionists from the Group of 75 held in the Holguín Provincial Prison, have started hunger strikes to protest maltreatment in jail and to support the demands of Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, a prisoner of conscience who has sewn his lips together and has been on hunger strike since July 21. The three prisoners, Alfredo Domínguez Batista, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, and Luis Mariano Delís Utria, have joined the hunger strike in solidarity.
President Bush Demands Release of Cuban Political Prisoners
President George W. Bush has renewed his call for the release of Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet and all other Cuba prisoners of conscience. Bush said the U.S. and the international community should express solidarity with those who yearn for liberty and noted that his government had persistently exposed tyrannical regimes around the world. He put a spotlight on the lack of freedom in Cuba in a speech in Washington on July 24 to mark Captive Nations Week. During his speech, Bush asked those present to recognize the mother of independent Cuban journalist Normando Hernández González., who is in jail for speaking the truth about Cuba.
Violence against Prisoner of Conscience
Iván Hernández Carrillo, a prisoner of conscience from the Group of 75, reports that his life is at risk in Guamajal prison in Santa Clara, Villa Clara province. He is serving a 26-year jail term. According to Asunción Carrillo, mother of the prisoner and an activist of the Ladies in White movement, her son was threatened and insulted on July 14 by common criminal Mario Oswaldo. Brandishing a stick, the abuser shouted that he would kill Carillo. Prison guards didn’t intervene.
Castro Says Cubans Must Be Prepared for Crisis
In a speech marking the 55th anniversary of the Moncada barracks attack in Santiago de Cuba by Cuban revolutionary rebels, President Raul Castro urged Cubans to be prepared for the consequences of the current global economic crisis. He said that developing countries had already felt the effects of the crisis. The Cuban leader warned that Cubans must be prepared for tough times ahead as rising oil and food prices take a toll on the island’s economy.
Castro also had a message for the United States. “We shall continue paying special attention to defense, regardless of the results of the next presidential elections in the United States,” he said. President Castro had been expected to announce new economic reforms, but did not do so.
Sports Defectors Should Be Allowed to Return, Say Cubans
Agence France-Presse has interviewed a number of baseball fans in Havana, and all of them said that athletes who defected were still Cubans and should have the right to return to the island.
The subject of defection is frequently featured in “Reflections of Comrade Fidel,” essays the former Cuban leader has been writing during his long months of recuperation and appearing in Granma and other state media. According to AFP, some of the defectors expressed willingness to visit Cuba and even would like to play for Cuba. Among them were Orlando `El Duque` Hernández and René Arocha.
Luis Wong, a 74-year-old retired accountant, says he disagrees with Fidel Castro who shut the door on these people. Every person has the right to decide his own future. A Cuban is Cuban wherever he goes, he said. Another fan with wide knowledge of the game, Andrés, said the issue is a huge problem. He remains convinced that punishing defectors won’t solve the problem. To deal with it, he explains, Cuba must satisfy the economic needs of sportsmen. “We are all Cubans,” Andrés says.
Europe’s Internet Providers To Be Bound Not to Cooperate with Repressive Regimes
Reporters Without Borders urged the European Parliament on July 16 to back a proposed directive which would prevent Europe’s Internet companies from being forced to cooperate with repressive regimes in censoring and monitoring the Internet as happens in Cuba, China, and North Korea. The press freedom watchdog reminded the parliament that freedom of expression is under threat in Cuba. Telecom Italia owns part of the Cuban telecommunications company ETECSA, the only Internet service provider available on the island.
The group also mentioned the French ISP Orange which is involved in China, Egypt, and Vietnam, and the German company KCC Europe which supplies North Korea with Internet access. All these countries are on the Reporters Without Borders list of “Internet Enemies.
The proposal submitted by Dutch MEP Jules Maaten urges European telecommunication companies to assume their responsibility to uphold the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and requires them to locate their servers outside repressive countries.
Russian Military Jets Could Be Stationed in Cuba Again
“While they are deploying the missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, our strategic bombers will already be landing in Cuba,” Russian newspaper Izvestia reported on July 20, citing an unnamed “highly placed source.”
“In theory, our long-range strategic jets can get to any corner of the globe. In terms of technical capacity, both supersonic missile carrier Tu-160 and strategic bomber Tu-95MS are able to reach Cuba. But the technical capacity won’t suffice here, there would have to be a political decision,” the newspaper pointed out. “Such discussions exist, but this is mere talking and nothing more,” the highly placed interlocutor in the headquarters of long-range strategic aviation told Izvestia. However, the source admitted the rumors had not appeared from out of thin air.
U.S. General Warns against Russian Bombers in Cuba
A top U.S. Air Force official warned that Moscow “would be crossing a red line” if it were to use Cuba as a base for nuclear-capable bombers. General Norton Schwartz, whose nomination to become the Air Force’s top military officer is being considered by the Senate, made this statement at his confirmation hearing.
When asked by a senator how he would advise the U.S. president and Congress if Russia were to proceed with such a plan, Schwartz said, “I certainly would offer advice that we should engage the Russians not to pursue that approach. And if they did, I think we should stand strong and indicate that that is something that crosses a threshold, a red line for the United States of America.”
Russia’s news agency Interfax this week quoted a “well-informed military diplomatic source in Moscow” as saying that Russian Tu-160 and Tu-95MS strategic bombers could use an airfield in Cuba for refueling during flights for air patrol over the Atlantic, according to the BBC. Would there be such a political decision, Russian specialists have already done reconnaissance and preparatory work, according to a Russian news agency’s unidentified source. Russia’s daily Izvestia cited the same day an unidentified military aviation source as saying, “While they are deploying the anti-missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, our long-range strategic aircraft already will be landing in Cuba.”
Experts, however, say it seems unlikely that Russian jets could have reached Cuba without being detected by U.S. surveillance systems. Russia shut down its last military facility in Cuba, a radar station in Lourdes, in 2002. Some Cuba watchers are doubtful that Havana would risk the ire of Washington and allow Russian military jets to land on its territory.
Fidel Castro Speaks Out on Russian Bomber Issue
Cuba does not have to explain or ask forgiveness about reports that Russian bombers might land in Cuba for refueling, asserted former Cuban leader Fidel Castro. According to Ekho Moskvy radio station, the elder Castro didn’t address whether these reports were true or false, and the current Cuban leadership remains silent on the issue. Fidel Castro made this statement in a brief essay posted on a government web site. This week Russia’s newspaper Izvestia reported that Russia is thinking of using Cuba as a refueling base for its nuclear-capable Tu-160 bombers.
Russian Missile Carriers Made No Flights to Cuba since Soviet Times
Russian strategic bombers have made no landings on airfields in Cuba in recent time, a highly-placed source in Russia’s Defense Ministry said on July 24. “The last time our bombers flew to Cuba was in Soviet times,” the unnamed official said in response to reports that Russian military jets have allegedly made landings in Cuba.
AvtoKrAZ to Set up Assembly Plant in Cuba
Ukrainian heavy hauler manufacturer AvtoKrAZ plans to set up an assembly plant in Cuba in September. The company’s marketing plans feature deliveries of heavy-duty trucks to Venezuela, Panama, and Nicaragua.
Cuba Will Be Connected to the Internet via Venezuela
A document released by Wikileaks.org, a site which is developing an uncensorable Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis, reveals that Cuba will get access to the World Wide Web via Venezuela, circumventing the United States. The bilateral contract to this effect was signed by Cuba and Venezuela in 2006, but has not been made public. Wikileaks sources claim the document posted on the site isn’t a sham and the contract has been independently verified. Wikileaks also revealed technical details and pictures of the cable, maps, costs, and a schedule of construction. The cable will give Cubans access to the World Wide Web, and allow for the transmission of data, video and voice (VoIP).
Cuba is situated a mere 120 km off the coast of Florida, but the U.S. trade embargo forces it to lay an undersea, 1500 km long, fiber-optic cable from the island to Venezuela, according to the report. Jamaica, Haiti and Trinidad will also benefit from the new cable. The work is being carried out by Venezuelan and Cuban telecommunication companies, CVG Telecom (Corporación Venezolana de Guyana) and ETC (Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba).
Cuba to Lease Vacant State Land to Private Farmers
The Cuban government is to put some state-controlled farmland into private hands, in an effort to combat the island’s increasing food deficit, decreed Raul Castro, President of the Cuban Council of State. Private farmers who do well will be able to increase their land holdings by up to 40 hectares for a 10-year period that can be renewed. The decree said that farmers would have to pay taxes on their production, but it didn’t say how much. Until now most agriculture has been placed in the hands of large, state-owned enterprises that have proved highly inefficient.
Economic, Social Situation Worsens in Cuba
Cuba is undergoing a period of severe economic and social crisis, said Cuban economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe. Most of the population suffers great disappointment, seeing futility of their hopes for opening up those very few opportunities for advancing private enterprise and solving a host of day-to-day problems of ordinary Cubans, the prominent Cuban dissident said in a telephone interview to Radio Martí on Thursday, July 17.
Arrests and Persecution of Homosexuals Continue in Cuba
Boris Dittrich, Human Rights Watch Advocacy Director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (LGBT) Program, said in a statement the Cuban government continued to arrest and persecute members of the gay community on the island. Dittrich made the statement after the Cuban delegation abstained in a vote to grant two LGBT organizations consultative status at the United Nation’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) this week.
Garbage Collectors Quit Their Jobs
A dozen garbage collectors who gathered residential solid waste in the Managua and Frank País neighborhoods in the municipality of Arroyo Naranjo in Havana quit their jobs, citing low wages. The average monthly wage is 325 pesos (roughly $16), said one worker. “It’s much less than garbage men earn in other places in Havana,” he added. After several days with no garbage pickup, municipal authorities in Managua mobilized young soldiers to deal with the problem, while garbage remains to be piling up on the streets of Frank País neighborhood.
Problems in Education
Cuba’s Ministry of Education conceded that there are problems in the sphere of education. This conclusion was reached by the ministry at their final meeting reviewing the 2007-2008 school year. The meeting, held on July 17 in Havana and chaired by José Ramón Fernández, vice president of the Council of Ministers, identified the main problems to be addressed by the government, placing high priority on the shortage of 8,192 teachers.
Cuban Cyclist in Coma Following a Car Crash
Cuban cyclist Pedro Pablo Perez, who had qualified for the Olympics in Beijing, is in a coma following a car crash. The 31-year-old athlete suffered severe cerebral lacerations and will miss the 2008 Games. The car accident occurred on Monday, July 15. It’s not known whether Perez was a driver or passenger in a vehicle in the crash. His wife Yoanka Gonzalez, herself the 2004 world champion in scratch cycling, was not present at the time of the crash. Perez competed in the road race at the 2000 Sydney Games, collected medals at the 1999 and 2003 Pan American Games, and this year won his fifth Tour of Cuba.
Fidel Castro’s Son to Go to Olympics with Cuban National Team
The son of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro will go to the 2008 Olympics with the national baseball team. Antonio Castro, 39, is a doctor for the Olympic championship team and has already gone to South Korea to the current training base. The Cuban team will arrive in Beijing on August 7. Antonio Castro is also vice-president of the Cuban Baseball Federation.
The Cuban baseball team will spend some time in South Korea to acclimatize to the time difference ahead of the Olympics and play several friendly games with local professional baseball clubs. Baseball joined the Olympics in 1992. Cuba has won three gold medals (1992, 1996, and 2004) and a silver (in 2000, when it lost to the United States).
After Beijing, baseball will be dropped from the Olympics’ schedule because, as Fidel Castro said, “that’s what the rich and powerful masters” of the Olympics have decreed. Speaking about the Cuban team performance at the 2008 Olympics, Fidel Castro advised fans not to criticize members of the team in case of defeat.
Retro Car Parade Surprises Tourists, Not Cubans
A parade of retro cars was held in Cuba. Organizers of the event even talked Cuban owners of vintage Fords and Cadillacs into signing up for the rally of antique cars. The rally turned out to be a treat for foreign tourists. Locals get no thrill out of this spectacle since nearly every second car in Cuba has been restored to life from scrap metal by improvising Cubans. Government restrictions make it practically impossible for ordinary Cubans to buy a new car and force them to nurse what they have. That is why American cars built before 1959 dominate Cuban roads.
Rock Band Sepultura Performs in Cuba
Brazilian thrashers Sepultura were the second Western rock group to visit communist Cuba in the past three years. They performed an outdoor concert in Havana on July 19, at the Anti-Imperialist Tribune, a square where cultural and political rallies take place and where their predecessors, the American hard rock group Audioslave, performed in May 2005.
Over 60,000 Cubans gathered for a Sepultura’s concert. “It’s an honor to be in this country, and to have the opportunity to perform at this historic venue,” said the rock musicians at a press conference held before the concert. The concert of Audioslave three years ago drew a crowd of 50,000. The British group, the Manic Street Preachers, was the first biggest Western rock band to play the Communist state in 2001.
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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].