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Cuba Chronicle of Events
Issue No. 61 • October 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, Russian News Service, ZAKS.Ru, Gazeta.Ru, BBC, RTTNews, Reuters, EFE.


Opposition Group to Produce List of Dissidents Affected by Hurricanes

Cuban opposition leader Martha Beatriz Roque said in Havana that the opposition group she leads, Agenda for Transition, has been trying to track down those who can provide direct humanitarian assistance to Cuban dissidents affected by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

They put great effort into this work because the Cuban government frequently refuses to give aid to people who are deemed politically unreliable, leaving members of the Cuban pro-democracy opposition without support, as Cuban independent journalists have repeatedly reported.

Payá: Only Dialogue between Cubans Is Morally Acceptable

The Christian Liberation Movement led by Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas has issued a statement ahead of the expected meeting between the European Union and Cuba, stating that the European Union must understand that no dialogue is morally valid if it doesn’t include dialogue with all Cubans.

The document recalled that the Cuban government used repression, imprisonment, and defamation to stamp out the democracy movement and particularly the Varela Project.

The Varela Project has twice in five years collected the required number of signatures on petitions calling for a national referendum on human rights. It is now starting a third petition campaign, the statement continued.

The only changes that we accept are the changes that guarantee all rights for all Cubans and the release of all political prisoners, the statement said.

Yoani Sánchez Takes Virtual Participation in IAPA Session

Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez took “virtual” part in a session of the 64th General Assembly of the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA). In an 11-minute speech through video-conferencing, Sánchez said the Internet represented an extremely destructive force for the Cuban government’s monopoly on information.

Yoani Sánchez, who runs a blog called Generación Y, said the presence of the Internet allowed Cubans to learn many things of what had happened in the country in the last 50 years that were hushed up by the government, including the “Maleconazo” uprising of 1994. According to the blogger, the Internet, although rudimentary, is helping Cubans communicate with their compatriots living abroad and with writers that sunk into oblivion. It reaches ordinary Cubans and gives them a vital tool to fight apathy, inertness, and discontent accumulated over many years, said Yoani Sánchez.

Dissidents Accuse Government of “Deceitful” Signing Human Rights Pacts

A Cuban opposition group charged on October 14 that the government signed UN human rights pacts only as a “deceitful strategy” and has no intention to implement what is in the agreements. A statement issued by the Cuban National Liberal Party declared that the signing of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights this past February was an attempt to court international public opinion and to lend legitimacy to the new president, Raul Castro.

The group stated that the group asked Cuba’s National Assembly on August 7 to make public the contents of the UN agreements and to foster a national debate on them so that Cubans are aware of their political rights. But 68 days later, there has been no answer, according to the party statement. This fact, the document concluded, points to the paralysis of the political will of Cuba’s rulers and the lack of interest in honoring its international legal obligations.


Pro-Democracy Activist Detained in Havana

Rodolfo Ramírez, head of the peaceful opposition group Movimiento Línea Pacífica Democrática Corriente Martiana, was detained on September 28 in Havana. “Rodolfo was detained by State Security agents to prevent him from attending a Prayer for National Unity to be held that day in a church in Santiago de las Vegas, in Havana’s Boyeros municipality. Since then we haven’t heard from him,” said Moisés Leonardo Rodríguez Valdés, a fellow dissident. “Oppositionists intended to stage a brief demonstration after the mass, and that, certainly, was the reason for his arrest,” he added.

Campaigners for Human Rights Detained

Two Cuban rights activists were detained in the city of Camagüey as they took part in a vigil for the release of political prisoners, part of an ongoing campaign. According to Carlos Serpa Maceira, an independent journalist, two members of the Julio Tang Texier Cultural Civic Project, Orestes Martínez Pérez and Ricardo Martínez Betancourt, were taken to a police station and held for two hours. Agents of the Cuban political police questioned, threatened, and humiliated them.

Spanish Aid Worker Detained in Cuba

Cuban authorities have detained on October 6 Gracia Regojo Bacardí, a Spanish aid worker associated with church after she arrived in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba to help Cuba’s storm victims resettle, reported RTT News.  The Spanish mission in Havana said it had no idea why Regojo Bacardí was detained. She is being held at Havana’s Jose Marti international airport by immigration officials to be flown back to Madrid, Spanish consulate said.

Meanwhile, in Madrid, a senior leader of the Popular Party, the main opposition party, Jorge Moragas said Regojo Bacardí had been held in custody in Cuba for 15 hours. Moragas said that his party came to know of the detention through the family of the woman, who works for a non-governmental organization that collaborates with the Cuban Catholic Church.

Cuban Government Holds in Check Foreign Aid Workers

The Spanish group Cuba in Transition reports that Gracia Regojo Bacardí was just the latest in a long line of workers from non-governmental organizations who had been questioned and expelled from the island by Cuban authorities. At least a dozen NGO employees have been ordered to leave the country for doing humanitarian work without the Cuban government’s permission, reported the group that seeks to draw public attention to what’s going on in Cuba.

Spanish Government to Lodge Protest with Cuba

Javier Fernández-Lasquetty, Counselor on Immigration and Cooperation, Community of Madrid, has urged Spain to lodge a protest with the Cuban government against the arrest of Spanish aid worker Gracia Regojo Bacardí, who arrived in Santiago de Cuba to help hurricane victims and was detained at Havana’s Jose Marti international airport by immigration authorities for unknown reasons.


Political Prisoners Face Growing Repression

Oppositionist Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, national coordinator for the Christian Liberation Movement, has drawn attention of the international community to human rights violations of political prisoners in Cuban jails. Payá Sardiñas is citing especially the cases of Luis Enrique Ferrer García and Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta.

Spanish Popular Party Urges Western Democracies to Support Democrats in Cuba

The Spanish Popular Party has called on world democracies and, especially, Spain’s ruling Socialists, to show support for and solidarity with fundamental change in Cuba. The Popular Party has urged the Spanish government to press Cuba to let the International Committee of the Red Cross visit political prisoners held in Cuban jails.

Political Prisoner Goes on Hunger Strike

Political prisoner Abel López Pérez, who is serving his prison term at the Combinado de Guantánamo, started a hunger strike to protest against physical and psychological tortures, the awful food and the lack of medication.

López Pérez, a member of the Martiana Resurgence Movement sentenced to three years in prison for “disrespecting” Fidel Castro, sewed his mouth shut on October 9. The prison administration is now going to bring a new, similar charge against him.


Fidel Castro: Government Members Have Heads in the Cloud

Cuban ex-President Fidel Castro has criticized the government for what he called its ineffective bureaucratic work, reported the Cuban state-run newspaper Granma.

In an essay carried by Granma on Friday, the retired leader insisted that government members were required to do much more under the difficult circumstances in the wake of hurricanes.

“Some of our comrades really dream of meeting all the ‘unbridled’ demands of our people.  What we need in our state is a strict discipline and an absolutely rational order of priorities,” said the former Cuban leader.


Cuba, EU to Meet Shortly

Spain’s Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos announced on September 30 that the European Union and Cuba would meet shortly to open the political dialogue Brussels had proposed after it lifted the diplomatic sanctions on Cuba early this year. The first formal meeting would take place between Cuba and France, which currently holds the EU rotating presidency, Miguel Ángel Moratinos told the Spanish Senate Commission on Ibero-American Affairs. He did not give the time or the place of the meeting.

French and Cuban officials agreed to the meeting during informal contacts at the current UN General Assembly session in New York, he added. Moratinos hailed the start of a dialogue as good news, saying it strengthens a Cuba policy promoted by Spain within the EU. The EU agreed this past June to lift the diplomatic sanctions imposed on Cuba after a crackdown on dissent in 2003 and to open an unconditional dialogue with the goal of improving Cuba’s political and human rights situation.

Russian Leftist Pro-Kremlin Party to Launch Cuba Solidarity Campaign

“There will be pickets on the streets of St. Petersburg to show support for Cuba,” said Oleg Nilov, head of the St. Petersburg branch of the Fair Russia party and coordinator of the Cuba Far, Cuba Near project, launched by the Party’s Central Council.

Nilov said the group should raise public awareness about Cuba and promote Cuban goods and tourist destinations in Russia. Every 200 rubles spent on Cuban goods is very helpful for ordinary Cubans, he said, considering the average salary in Cuba is $10-$12 per month.

The parliamentarian noted that because of the enormous devastation wrought by the recent hurricanes Cuba now needs significant material support. Special bank accounts will be soon opened so that people who sympathize with the plight of Cubans could make donations to help restore the country’s agricultural sector hit by natural disasters, Nilov said. To focus attention on Cuba, a billboard campaign has been launched in St. Petersburg placing signs all across the city telling people about life in Cuba and citing account numbers for public donations.

Cuba Welcomes British Royal Navy Tanker

A Royal Navy backup ship has visited Cuba for only the second time since the country’s revolution 50 years ago. Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Wave Ruler docked in Havana Bay on Friday for a five-day stay. The trip is a courtesy visit, linked to the battle against the illegal drugs trade in the Caribbean.

Cuban Parliament Seeks World Support for Its Annual Call against U.S. Embargo

Cuban lawmakers have called on parliamentarians across the world to demand that the U.S. Congress and government lift the country’s trade and economic embargoes on Cuba. In a statement issued on October 14, the Parliament of Cuba said Washington must “respect the legitimate and sovereign right of the Cuban people to build their own destiny.” The United Nations General Assembly has overwhelmingly approved similar resolutions for 16 consecutive years. Meanwhile, the government of Cuba has rejected for six times in a row a U.S. offer of considerable funds to help Cubans affected by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

As it has done many times before, in mid September Cuba presented a draft resolution to the UN General Assembly entitled “Necessity to put an end to the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.” The Assembly will vote on the draft resolution on October 29 in New York. Last year, a similar document against the ban was approved by 184 UN member states (of a total membership of 197).

French Foreign Minister to Discuss Human Rights with Cuban Counterpart

France has said that the European Union would continue to pursue its dialogue with Cuba’s civil society and that French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was to raise the issue of human rights during his meeting with his Cuban counterpart Felipe Pérez Roque on Thursday in Paris. Eric Chevallier, a spokesman of the Foreign Ministry of France, the current rotating EU chairman, made the statement at a press conference in Paris on October 15.


Russia Helps Cuba Overhaul Transport System

Russia has been rendering considerable aid to Cuba to reanimate the transport sphere, said Cuban Deputy Transport Minister Damián Fernández. According to him, 200 Russian buses, which are being used already for passenger transportations, were delivered to Havana this year. The deputy minister didn’t rule out that new contracts in the transport sphere would be concluded with Russia in the near future, saying that he means both automobile and railway transport.

Spain Pledges 24.5 Million Euro in Storm Aid for Cuba

Spain is to give 24.5 million euro to aid Cuba in the wake of two monster hurricanes. Spain’s Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos made the announcement after meeting with his Cuban counterpart Felipe Pérez Roque in Madrid on October 14.

Hurricanes Gustav and Ike caused great damage to the country’s economy. According to rough estimates, the losses from both storms could reach over $5 billion in Cuba. The hurricanes destroyed more than 500,000 homes, devastated nearly one third of crops, and prompted evacuation of more than three million people from hurricane-prone areas.

Cuba Begins Leasing Land

Cuba’s communist government has begun leasing land to private farmers, cooperatives and state companies for the first time since after the Cuban revolution in the late 1950s.

The move could not come at a better time, local economists said, as the country struggles with food shortages after Hurricanes Ike and Gustav devastated crops in September. The first 33 parcels of vacant land totaling 350 hectares have already been handed over in the southeastern province of Granma, reported Demajagua, the provincial Communist Party newspaper. The local weekly said applications had been submitted for 76,675 hectares of state lands in Granma.

Cuban Sugar Industry Seeks Foreign Investment

Cuba is open for direct foreign investment and we hope to receive proposals, Cuba’s Sugar Minister Ulises Rosales del Toro said. Addressing the 10th International Congress on Sugar and Its Derivatives in Havana on October 14, the minister said the current global financial crisis has not affected the sugar industry in Cuba. The government has set a sugarcane production target at 1500 thou tons for 2008-2009, to meet last year’s level.


No Government Benefits for Dissidents Affected by Ike

Government help to victims of Hurricane Ike comes with “political” strings attached, said two Cuban dissidents George Delgado Pérez and Miguel Santana Breffe, residents of Gibara and Antilla municipalities, respectively. According to opposition sources inside Cuba, Cubans still expect Raul Castro’s government to accept humanitarian assistance offered by many foreign countries, including the United States, to adequately deal with hurricane devastations.

Ike Victims Refuse to Live in Temporary Housing

Government and education ministry’s officials in Antilla municipality, Holguín province, told Ike victims to pack up and leave a makeshift shelter set up at the Rubén Martínez Villena secondary school and to move to barracks deemed unfit to live in.

According to human rights activists, these people have chosen to return to their storm-damaged houses rather than move to a local tobacco plant to serve as temporary housing, without proper living conditions.

Spanish TV Channel Shows Documentary about Child Prostitution in Cuba

Spanish TV station, Telecinco, showed a new documentary about child prostitution in Cuba. Footage shot on the island show Cuban girls as young as 12 years old having been raped, and others, a bit older, selling their bodies for a mojito or a beer.

The documentary focuses attention on how easily money corrupts school teachers, police officers, and members of Castro’s security agencies for whom this has become a profitable business. It reveals that child prostitution is, in practice, allowed to flourish on the island with impunity.


Reporters Without Borders Stands Up for Cuban Journalists

Reporters Without Borders has called on UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to intercede on behalf of two Cuban journalists accredited to cover the United Nations, who have been denied entry to the United States after a brief vacation back home.

The Paris-based advocacy group said in a statement this measure was incomprehensible and asked “since when could journalists who have been accredited to the United Nations for three years suddenly pose a threat to the United States?” Reporters Without Borders wrote the UN Secretary General’s Office that it must demand an explanation from the U.S. State Department and ensure that the Cuban journalists are able to return to their posts.

United States Grants Visas to Prensa Latina Journalists

The United States has reversed its decision and allowed two Cuban journalists from the Cuban news agency Prensa Latina to return to their posts in New York, the U.S. State Department reported.

“In accordance with our U.N. headquarters agreement, we have decided to issue visas to the two individuals in question,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters during a daily briefing.

The State Department’s original decision to deny re-entry to husband and wife team Tomás Granados Jiménez and Ilsa Rodríguez Santana had drawn condemnation from the press advocacy groups Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Auto Mechanic Refuses to Work for the Army

Yansi Cárdenas, 27, a self-employed mechanic in the Isle of Youth, complained to the local branch of the National Independent Workers’ Confederation of Cuba (CONIC) that the chief of the regional Military Committee, Lieutenant Espinosa, threatened to throw him behind bars for refusal to serve in an army reserve unit.

“They took me to the Committee’s office. The Lieutenant pressed me why I was refusing to join an army reserve unit as an auto mechanic. He said they would pay me 231 pesos in salary. I responded that I myself name the price for my job, saying that I am a free man and don’t work for the military.”

Cuban military law stipulates that men under 50 can be called up for various jobs in the army even if they had done mandatory military service.

Renowned Cuban Musicologist Dies

Helio Orovio, a renowned Cuban musicologist and author of the acclaimed Dictionary of Cuban Music from A to Z, has died of a malignant tumor in Havana and was buried there on October 7. He was 70.

Orovio died on October 6 in Santiago de las Vegas, in the municipality of Boyeros, in the city of Havana, where he had lived all his life, studying the music of his homeland. A poet and TV host, Orovio was also a percussionist in his youth, taking the place of the legendary Tata Güines with the Los Jóvenes del Cayo band.

Orovio authored several books, including “300 Boleros of Gold” and “The Latin Bolero.” He also wrote verses, publishing collections of poems such as “This is Love,” “Against the Moon,” “The Hurricane and the Palm Tree,” and “The String between the Fingers.”

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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].