Cuba Chronicle of Events
Issue No. 60 • September 15-30, 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, ITAR-TASS, NEWSru.com, Miami Herald, Radio Mayak, Associated Press, Interfax, RIA Novosti, Reuters.
Independent Libraries Continue Collecting Donations
Independent libraries in Cuba continue collecting donations to help victims of Hurricane Ike, a campaign they started the previous weak. The users of the José Ignacio Oropesa Hernández Library, located in the Guiteras neighborhood of East Havana, joined in a generous response, bringing large amounts of clothing to be distributed among the needy in Cuba’s eastern provinces, on the Isle of Youth, and in Pinar del Río province.
Democratic Solidarity Party Blames Cuban Government
The Democratic Solidarity Party’s national executive committee issued a statement on September 11 in Havana to Cuba’s internal opposition and the international press that blames the Cuban government for failure in response to Hurricanes Ike and Gustav. The document, entitled “Enough!” (¡Basta ya!), offers a detailed analysis of the scope of the disaster based on official estimates and of social and economic impacts of the natural calamity. The document slams Raul Castro’s government for “absurd politicization” of the problem at the recovery stage, particularly for Cuba’s rejection of a U.S. offer of humanitarian aid.
Cuban Dissident Returns to His Homeland
Cuban Héctor Palacios arrived on September 20 in Havana after ten months abroad receiving medical treatment in Spain. “What struck me the most when I came back to the island is the desperate situation of Cubans in the wake of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike,” Palacios told El Nuevo Herald in a telephone interview.
According to him, people he was talking to don’t understand why the government should have the right to decide for them whether to accept or not to accept foreign aid. The Cuban government has rejected offers of storm aid from the United States and the European Union.
Héctor Palacios, one of the 75 government opponents jailed in spring 2003, was paroled on health grounds in 2006. In late 2007, he left for Spain at the invitation of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s government.
Prisoner’s Trial Postponed
The trial of peaceful oppositionist Orlando Zapata Tamayo has been postponed due to lack of witnesses.
Orlando Zapata, who has been in custody since March 2003, was brought from the provincial prison in Holguín to a municipal court in the same province for trial on a charge of “disobedience to authority.” However, the nonappearance of witnesses put off the trial.
Paya Holds Cuban Government Responsible for Biscet’s Safety
Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, national coordinator for the Christian Liberation Movement, has once again urged the Cuban government to immediately stop repression of political prisoners held in Combinado del Este prison in Havana.
Payá focused special attention on the plight of Oscar Elías Biscet González, a human rights activist who suffered an attack by a common criminal while in jail.
Political Prisoners Go on Hunger Strikes in Canaleta Prison
Prisoners of conscience Adolfo Fernández Saínz, Pedro Argüelles Morán, and Antonio Díaz Sánchez who are being held in Canaleta prison started hunger strikes on September 19. They had not taken food for 80 hours as of September 22, said Yoana Fernández Núñez, daughter of Adolfo Fernández Saínz. They resorted to hunger strikes to protest abuses of prisoners’ rights by prison authorities.
After a conjugal visit on September 16, Julia Núñez Pacheco, wife of Adolfo Fernández Saínz, left a parcel for him, including religious literature, photos, and personal correspondence. Having returned to Havana, she learned from a phone conversation with her husband that prison officials hadn’t given him the items.
According to prison authorities, an officer who was supposed to deliver these things to the prisoner was on leave at the time. Later, Adolfo was allowed to get hold of his personal correspondence, but not the religious literature, which, they said, was a forbidden item. Perhaps the new prison officer was overzealous in doing his job or it might have been an order from above, said Yoana Fernández Núñez.
The hunger strikes are putting the prisoners’ health at risk. Adolfo Fernández Saínz, 60, has high blood pressure, prostatic hypertrophy, pulmonary emphysema, and is 20 kg underweight. The prison administration and State Security will be responsible for any worsening in his health, according to Sainz’s daughter.
Political Prisoners Urge Pressure on Raul Castro’s Government
Knowing of the desperate situation the Cuban people in the wake of monster Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, political prisoners Abel López Pérez and Aurelio Morales Ayala have called on the international community to put every possible pressure on Raul Castro’s government to accept offers of humanitarian assistance from the United States and the European Union.
Three Inmates Go on Hunger Strike
Political prisoners Benito Ortega Suárez and Arselio López Rojas held in La Pendiente prison in Villa Clara province have been on a hunger strike since September 25 to protest against prison authorities preventing them from seeing their families. A common criminal is said to have joined the hunger strike started by the political prisoners.
Military Exercises Postponed Due to Hurricanes
The Cuban government is postponing military exercises called “Bastion ‘08” so that soldiers can focus on helping the country recover and rebuild following the two devastating hurricanes, the Cuban Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces said in a statement on September 13. Raul Castro put off the large-scale military maneuvers, scheduled for autumn as combined-arms strategic exercises, after receiving a rough estimate of the damage caused by Ike and Gustav. All members of the Communist Party leadership, the government, and all public organizations and community groups must focus on hurricane recovery efforts, the statement said.
Local experts said the losses from both storms could reach $10 billion in Cuba. The hurricanes damaged or destroyed more than 500,000 homes, and dealt a severe blow to the country’s agriculture and infrastructure.
Hugo Chavez: I Met with Fidel Castro in Havana
During a visit to Beijing, Hugo Chavez told journalists about former Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s good health. Before coming to Beijing, “we stopped in Havana first and I talked with Fidel for a while, a good while,” the Venezuelan president said, adding that they had a chat about the international situation. Earlier, Cuba’s state media reported only that Chavez had met with the President of the Council of State of Cuba, Raul Castro, saying the two discussed “issues on the agenda of this important visit,” but offered no details of the Venezuelan leader’s visit to Cuba. Of his meeting with Fidel, he said, “We walked . . . we analyzed the situation in the world, in Latin America.”
Police Sweep Farmer’s Market
In the early morning of September 24, police launched a big operation in the neighborhood of Regla in Havana. Officers from the Department of Investigation and state inspectors raided a farmer’s market located on 24 February Street and seized products offered there for sale. Those who failed to give convincing reasons for why they were selling their produce were taken, together with their goods, to a local station of the National Revolutionary Police.
Eight Oppositionists Gone Missing
Eight Cuban oppositionists who fled the island have gone missing, according to their families who say they haven’t heard from them since August 15. The wife of Osmani Ricardo Segura García, one of those missing, publicly appealed to human rights organizations and public opinion to make inquiries in Mexico, the Bahamas, and at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay to find traces of what might have happened to beloved relatives. Osmani Ricardo and a group of seven Cubans fled the island on August 15 on a makeshift boat, sailing off from the Cuban coast in Alamar, a neighborhood in the northeast of the city of Havana.
Twelve Illegal Cuban Migrants Detained in Mexico
Twelve undocumented Cubans who had been kidnapped by traffickers were detained on September 24 after escaping from their captors and were walking in downtown Cancún, a resort city in Mexico.
Celeste Salaya, a spokesman for Mexico’s police, confirmed the information, saying the twelve Cubans, all of them men, were taken to the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic for questioning.
Local media reports said the Cubans had sneaked into Mexico by sea, near Cancún. As soon as they reached the shore, they were seized by a group of armed masked men (allegedly from a violent criminal organization that smuggles Cubans into the United States through Mexico). The assailants then took the Cubans into a guarded house in an unknown locality.
According to Radio Caribe, the smugglers demanded that the Cubans’ relatives in Miami pay the smuggling fee. The Cubans ran away on the night of September 23 when their captors got drunk.
Havana Supports Russia’s Invasion, Awaits $2 Billion in Russian Investments
The new Cuban Ambassador to Russia Juan Valdés Figueroa stated in Moscow on September 12 that Havana supports Russia’s actions in the Caucasus. He accused the United States of being behind the latest events in the region. On September 11, three days after the start of hostilities in Georgia, Cuban President Raul Castro voiced his country’s support for Russia’s action.
Some experts expect that Cuba will recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. However, Havana does not seem in a hurry to follow the lead of Nicaragua, the unrecognized republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, and the radical Islamic movement Hamas as the only entities willing to recognize the independence of Georgia’s breakaway regions.
The Cuban diplomat also urged Russian business community to boost investments into Cuba’s economy. He said Russia’s investments may reach $2 billion and identified high technologies and nuclear energy as promising areas for business cooperation between Russia and Cuba.
Cuba Again Refuses U.S. Disaster Aid
The Cuban government has again declined the U.S. offer of $100,000 in relief aid to repair the damage caused by monster hurricanes Ike and Gustav according to a statement issued by the Cuban Foreign Ministry and released to the foreign press on September 14. The statement was read the next day on Cuban state television. “Our country cannot accept a gift while under a U.S. blockade,” it read, but the Cuban government is ready to accept a different kind of assistance from the United States: Cuba wants to be allowed to buy construction materials from U.S. companies and to gain access to credit lines. According to the statement, Cuba would require this assistance for at least the next six months.
U.S. Regrets Cuba’s Refusal of Humanitarian Aid
The Bush administration expressed regret that Cuba has rejected its offer of up to $5 million in aid to deal with the consequences of Hurricane Gustav. “We regret that Cuban authorities have not accepted this offer of humanitarian assistance for the Cuban people,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on September 15 in Washington.
On September 13, the United States formally informed the Cuban government that the U.S. was committed to providing up to $5 million dollars in relief assistance for Cuban hurricane victims, saying it could fly emergency relief supplies to Cuba as soon as the Cuban government authorizes such assistance.
“On September 14, just yesterday, the Cuban government informed us that they would not accept a donation from the United States,” McCormack said. Since September 7, when Gustav slammed into Cuba, McCormack stated that the United States had licensed agricultural exports to Cuba worth $250 million, including such “indispensable materials” as lumber for reconstruction.
Russian Government Delegation Arrives in Cuba
Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin arrived in Cuba to assess the damage Hurricanes Gustav and Ike had inflicted on the island nation and to strengthen economic ties between the two counties. Sechin was accompanied by representatives from several Russian ministries and large Russian companies. Hurricanes Ike and Gustav caused about $11 billion in combined damage in Cuba according to government estimates.
Cuba Ready to Resume Dialogue with the EU
Cuba has conditionally accepted the resumption of formal political dialogue with the European Union, the Cuban Foreign Ministry said in a letter sent in early September to EU headquarters in Brussels and the French Embassy in Havana. The letter said Cuba “accepts your proposal . . . once the foundations and bases are established by joint agreement.”
Some diplomats expect that the establishment of a formal dialogue, following the lifting of EU sanctions last June, could be the first step toward full normalization of relations between the EU and Cuba.
Russia to Help Cuba Build Space Center
Russia intends to share its space technology with Cuba and has already begun discussions on building a space center in this Latin American country, according to Anatoly Perminov, chief of Russia’s Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos). He was in Havana during a tour of Latin America as part of a delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin.
“We looked into the order of fulfilling agreements reached at a meeting of the Russian-Cuban intergovernmental commission about two months ago. Primarily, this involves the preparation of an agreement of cooperation in the field of peaceful use of space. The second element is the preparation of an agreement on the GLONASS navigation system, and, third, the order of deployment of the navigation system on the Cuban territory,” Perminov said. “With our Cuban colleagues, we discussed the possibilities of jointly using earth remote sensing satellites and space-based telecommunication systems.”
“We have held preliminary discussions about the possibility of building a space center in Cuba with our help,” the official continued. He said Cuban specialists would soon visit Russia’s Roskosmos, science-and-research institutions and plants to be shown state-of-the-art space technology and equipment. Perminov said Russia was doing business with the island’s ministry of transport, since it lacked a space agency.
Cuba Makes No Response to EU Hurricane Aid Offer
The European Union is ready to provide financial assistance to Cuba in the wake of the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike but so far has received no response from Raul Castro’s government to its offer, European Union’s Development Commissioner Louis Michel said on September 18.
U.S. Extends Fourth Offer of Aid to Cuba
In its latest attempt to help the people of Cuba following Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, on September 19 the United States offered another $6.3 million in aid to Cuba through nongovernmental organizations. The U.S. Agency for International Development made a previous offer of U.S. government humanitarian assistance, stating its willingness to release $5 million through international relief organizations to help 135,000 Cubans affected by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. The first U.S. response, on September 3, offered $100,000 in aid to Cuba to be distributed through humanitarian organizations on the island as well as a team of experts to help in assessing the damage and needs in Cuba. On September 12, the U.S. government repeated the offer, while on September 13, it offered, without any conditions, $5 million in relief funds to appropriate humanitarian organizations. Cuba has rejected all offers of assistance.
Hugo Chavez Arrives in Cuba, Meets with Raul Castro
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez arrived Sunday, September 21, in Cuba for a brief visit as part of a global tour, reported Cuba’s state-run newspaper Granma.
“The Venezuelan leader was greeted at Jose Marti International Airport by Cuban President Raul Castro. The two leaders discussed issues on the agenda of this important visit,” the Cuban government said in an official statement.
The newspaper did not divulge details of the Venezuelan leader’s visit to Cuba, which occurred in the wake of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. Venezuela is Cuba’s main trade partner. Under a bilateral agreement, Venezuela ships daily 95,000 barrels of subsidized oil to the island.
Russia Reiterates Call for Lifting U.S. Embargo on Cuba
Russia has consistently called for ending the blockade on Cuba and a full integration of the country into the system of international relations, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement following Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s meeting with his Cuban counterpart Felipe Pérez Roque. The meeting took place on September 26 during the 63rd Session of the UN General Assembly in New York.
The Cuban Foreign Minister “thanked Russia on behalf of the Cuban leadership for assistance to deal with the aftermath of the recent hurricane.”
During the meeting, the parties stressed the importance of stepping up efforts to deepen the bilateral political dialogue, increase trade and economic cooperation, and develop joint projects. They also spoke of the necessity to increase bilateral cooperation in the United Nations and other international organizations, and to boost human rights cooperation, although the last point is difficult to grasp considering the fact that Cuba is one of the most criticized countries for its dismal human rights conditions.
Cuban Government Begins Farmland Distribution
The Cuban government has said that on September 17 it would begin a massive lease of underused farmland to individual farmers and agricultural cooperatives, reports the Cuban state-run newspaper Granma. “The measure is to revive food production in the shortest possible time and to put idle farmland to better use. This task is of strategic importance,” said the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture in a statement published by Granma.
Farmland distribution has been prompted by the urgency and the necessity to recover the country’s economy after hurricanes Gustav and Ike devastated Cuban farms this month, read the document. The new law allows individual farmers and cooperatives to lease from 13.4 hectares to 40.6 hectares of land for 10 to 25 years. All crops produced on these lands remain the property of landowners. The land grants can’t be sold or transferred to third parties. The farmers are required by law to pay an undisclosed land tax.
Cuba to Reactivate Soviet-Era Oil Pipeline
The Cuban government is considering the reactivation of a pipeline linking the city of Mantanzas, on Cuba’s northern coast, to the city of Cienfuegos, on the island’s south coast. The Soviet-era project will be renovated with the assistance of Venezuela, government officials said on September 21.
The “Druzhba” pipeline was constructed in the 1980s with the help of Soviet specialists. The pipeline was to link Cuba’s chief port cities, making it easier to distribute oil from Matanzas to Cienfuegos where an oil refinery was built. The Cienfuegos refinery was built in the late 1980s with the Soviet Union’s technical assistance, but stopped operating soon after without reaching the full capacity. After the Soviet Union’s collapse, Cuba froze the facility.
Following a renovation effort carried out by Venezuelan specialists, the refinery was restarted in December 2007. Today the refinery is processing about 72,000 barrels of crude oil supplied by Venezuela, but is expected to eventually increase its capacity, pushing the daily production to up to 150,000 barrels a day.
Cuba, Russia Boost Cooperation in Oil Production
Cuba and Russia are stepping up cooperation in oil production, which opens up good prospects for the country’s economy, said Cuba’s Minister of Basic Industry Yadira García Vera.
Cuba’s oil production infrastructure dates back to Soviet times and we have good reason to be interested in renewing ties with Russia in this field, said the Cuban official, who stated Cuba’s expectation that the Russian oil company Zarubezhneft would assist with onshore prospecting and extracting oil in the Gulf of Mexico off the northwestern coast of the island.
Cuba Resumes Nickel and Cobalt Production after Storm
According to reports from London on September 23, two of three Cuban nickel and cobalt plants are scheduled to open at the end of September, as the industry struggles to resume full production after Hurricane Ike hit the island at the beginning of September.
The state-owned René Ramos Latour plant is Cuba’s oldest, having a 10,000 to 15,000 ton capacity. The Pedro Sotto Alba plant is a joint venture run by Cubaniquel and Canadian Sherritt International. It produces 33,000 tons of unrefined nickel plus cobalt per year. Cuba is one of the world’s largest producers of nickel at 75,000 tons of unrefined nickel per year. It supplies ten percent of the world’s cobalt.
Cuban Farmers Seek Solidarity
The Rural Citizens’ Project of Cuba (Proyecto Civico Rural Cubano) has launched an emergency appeal, urging international organizations and individuals across the world to show solidarity with the Cuban people hit by hurricanes Gustav and Ike and to send humanitarian aid of any kind to the island nation.
Items in big demand include powdered milk, home water purifiers, diapers for babies and the elderly, various clothing, soap and other personal hygiene items, said the group. People in Cuba are also in urgent need of antidiarrheal medicine, especially in rural areas.
World Food Program Triples Aid Deliveries to Cuba, Haiti
The United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP) has tripled aid deliveries to Haiti and Cuba after being hit by several hurricanes over the past month, said Marie Okabe, spokesperson for the UN Secretary General. WFP has delivered to Haiti 1,000 tons of food, fresh water and basic essentials. Nearly 54 tons of high-energy biscuits and canned fish will be delivered from Ecuador to the Island of Youth in Cuba, where people are still unable to prepare their own food.
The World Health Organization is buying and distributing medical supplies and equipment, as well as providing maternal and child health care in western Cuba, where medical facilities have suffered extensive damage.
Garbage Crisis in Guanabacoa
Residents in the De Beche neighborhood of Guanabacoa municipality in Havana are gripped by fear that mounds of garbage that had accumulated in the streets before Hurricane Ike’s heavy rains may cause a disease outbreak. “Rotting garbage is all around. The stench of garbage is overpowering day and night, and municipal authorities do nothing to solve the crisis. They say they have no transport to remove the garbage,” said Orlando Mone, who lives in the neighborhood.
Scandal at Local Administration
A scandal broke on September 23 at the local administration in the town of Regla, near Havana involving victims of Hurricane Ike.
A 35-year-old woman known among locals as Panchita staged a protest inside the administration building. She was frustrated by the authorities’ decision to demolish her storm-damaged house and to move her to a shelter for people left homeless. The woman wanted the local administration to allow her to buy construction materials and repair her house. Panchita, the mother of two small children, was shouting, threatening to seek “legal help” if local authorities continued to trample her rights.
Officials called police to deal with Panchita and her supporters from among other visitors to the local administration. Police officers threatened to take the woman and her supporters to a police station and give them a good thrashing if they didn’t stop the brawl, but the angry crowd stuck to their guns.
The crowd dispersed only after the head of the local administration personally assured all those present their demands would be thoroughly studied and Panchita’s house wouldn’t be demolished.
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The Cuba Chronicle of Events is produced by the Prima News Agency in Russia in cooperation with the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe. Items are reproduced with permission and attribution from other news agencies. Please direct inquiries and comments to Editor, Cuba Chronicle of Events, Prima-News at [email protected] or to [email protected].