Cuba Chronicle of Events
Issue No. 62 • October 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, CubaNet, Puente Informativo Cuba Miami, Martí Noticias, Directorio Democrático Cubano, Xinhua, BBC, Radio Mayak, RIA Novosti, NEWSru.com, Washington Times, Expert Online, BBC News, EFE, Reuters, France Info, Deutsche Welle.
International Forum in Prague: No Change in Cuba
Participants in the Twelfth Annual Forum 2000 Conference held in the Czech Republic were in consensus that there has been no significant change in Cuba since Raul Castro took over the country’s presidency. Prominent intellectuals and public figures from around the world discussed important political topics, including the relationship between the European Union and Latin America. Among the participants was the well-known Cuban writer Carlos Alberto Montaner.
The Forum 2000 is a foundation and conference of the same name held in Prague since 1997 under the auspices of former Czech President Václav Havel. Over the years, these annual gatherings have attracted various personalities from all over the world to discuss global issues.
Laura Bush Holds Video Teleconference with Ladies in White in Havana
U.S. First Lady Laura Bush and Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutiérrez spoke on October 16 by digital video conference to members of the Ladies in White in Cuba.“These women show a courage and determination that is deeply moving and their stories are an important reminder that dictatorship cannot crush the spirit of freedom,” a White House press release quoted Mrs. Bush. The statement continued that “the United States will continue to shine a light on the abuses of the Castro regime, which has imprisoned the husbands, sons, and brothers of the Ladies in White, as well as other Cubans who attempt to exercise their fundamental human rights.”
Laura Pollán, a spokeswoman of the group, told Radio Martí that their conversation with Laura Bush and Carlos Gutiérrez also discussed the issue of humanitarian assistance Cuba desperately needs after Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.
Aid Campaign for Cuban Rocker Launched
The Independent Libraries in Cuba Project has begun a campaign to help Cuban rock singer Gorki Águila pay a fine imposed by a Cuban court on the charge of insubordination to authority.
Czech Embassy in Havana Receives Cuban Dissidents
The embassy of the Czech Republic in Havana received several Cuban political dissidents while EU commissioner Louis Michel was in Cuba on a visit. Former political prisoner Oscar Espinosa Chepe stated in an interview with Radio Martí that the embassy invites Cuban dissidents to its events every year. He expressed his appreciation to Prague for that show of support, adding that the step taken by the Czech embassy is a demonstration of its respect for democracy and the protection of human rights. The invitation had particular significance this year, Chepe said, because EU commissioner Louis Michel refused to meet with dissidents or the foreign press during his visit to Havana. Michel met only with Cuban leader Raúl Castro and his foreign minister Felipe Perez Roque and signed an agreement with them restoring cooperation between Cuba and the European Union.
Antúnez and Idania Yánez Contreras End Hunger Strike
Former political prisoner Jorge Luis García Pérez (Antúnez) reported from Placetas municipality in Villa Clara province where he lives together with his wife that and another opposition activist, Idania Yanes Contreras, have ceased the hunger strike they had conducted during the last several days.
OAS Rapporteur Says No Freedom of Expression in Cuba
Catalina Botero Marino, the newly appointed OAS Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, told Radio Martí that the government of Cuba was preventing its citizens from exercising this fundamental human right. Dr. Botero Marino, a former judge on the Constitutional Court of Colombia, was recently elected the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States. As such, she is responsible for safeguarding the protection and promotion of freedom of thought and expression in the region.
Arrests, Threats Made Against Human Rights Activists
Miguel Santana Breffe, a representative of the Cuban Liberal National Party in Antilla municipality, Holguín province, was detained, fined and threatened with imprisonment if he continued his opposition activities and the promotion of human rights in Cuba. Santana Breffe was detained as he was talking to victims of Hurricane Ike. He was taken to a police station and held there for two hours. On Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth), oppositionist Lázaro Ricardo Pérez García was threatened with jail for sending abroad information about the situation in the country after the wrath of Hurricane Ike and for his opposition activities.
Independent Journalist’s Wife Arrested
Independent journalist Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez has reported that his wife was arrested by Cuban police in Havana on October 21. She is six months pregnant. Guerra Pérez stated that he would hold a hunger strike in front of the police station where his wife is being detained until such time as she is released. The journalist did not specify any reason for her arrest.
Cuban Government Steps Up Repression of Its Citizens
Representatives of the peaceful civic opposition in Cuba have raised an alarm about the new wave of government repression in the eastern regions of the island, referring to arrests and other sanctions in recent weeks in response to alleged “calls to criminal behavior” after Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. Several human rights activists have been threatened with imprisonment for reporting abuses of the public by the authorities and discrimination in the provision of humanitarian aid to victims of the natural disaster.POLITICAL PRISONERS
Dissidents Say Louis Michel’s Visit Allows the Cuban Regime “To Dictate Terms”
Representatives of the Cuban opposition say that the visit of European commissioner Louis Michel to Cuba will serve to enable Cuba to dictate terms to the European Union. Oswaldo Payá stated that the renewal of restoration of relations between Cuba and the EU is taking place according to rules set by the Cuban government, since it has done nothing to alter the basic conditions that caused the break in 2003. Manuel Cuesta Morúa of Arco Progresista stated that the dialogue and the aid provided by the EU has great positive significance, but that it would have been more correct to hold meetings with the democratic opposition in Cuba. Economist and independent journalist Oscar Espinosa Chepe stated that Michel’s visit was a disappointment.
Costa Rican Parliamentarians Demand to Release Cuban Political Prisoners
A group of 18 congressmen of Costa Rica have called on the Cuban government to release political prisoners and cited especially the sentence of Iris Tamara Pérez Aguilera from Villa Clara province. An activist of the human rights movement, the woman was charged with “resisting authority” after she intervened to protect a young man, Melquíades Hernández, who was being beaten by police on a street in Placetas municipality.
The “Group of 75” Prisoners of Conscience Criticize Renewal of Relations between Cuba and the European Union
Cuban prisoner of conscience José Daniel Ferrer García criticized the renewal of cooperation and political dialogue between the European Union and Cuba. Cooperation between Cuba and the EU was broken off in 2003 after a wave of repression known as the “Black Spring of Cuba,” which led to the imprisonment of 75 human rights activists and independent journalists on the island. Since then, twenty have been released, many into forced exile. The agreement between the EU and Cuba includes emergency humanitarian aid of 2 million Euros, which will be used for recovery from Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.
FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE
Havana’s First Russian Orthodox Cathedral Opens
Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, head of the external relations department of the Moscow Patriarchate, arrived in Havana on October 19 leading a large delegation of church and state leaders. He consecrated the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan and led the first liturgy there. The cathedral, which was recently completed in Havana’s Old Town not far from the seaside, was filled with members of the Russian community, Russian diplomats and other guests. Cuba was represented at the opening ceremony by President of the Council of State Raúl Castro, speaker of the National Assembly Ricardo Alarcon, and other dignitaries.
By decision of Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexy II, Fidel Castro was awarded the Order of Glory and Honor “for his great contribution to the development of religious cooperation and in honor of the opening of the cathedral,” the metropolitan announced. Cuban head of state Raúl Castro received the Order of Blessed Prince Daniel of Moscow, first class, “for assistance and cooperation in the construction of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan in the Cuban capital.” The delegation of Russia did not mention any issues of restrictions on religious freedom in Cuba and the longstanding repression of religious freedom by the Cuban state.
Cuban Rafters Arrive in Honduras
Honduran immigration authorities reported that 13 Cubans arrived in the country after spending two weeks at sea in a makeshift boat. The group of eleven men and two women left Cuba on September 25. They sailed from Manzanillo in Granma province, having a small supply of water and dog biscuits. They landed on October 11 in Puerto Cortés on Honduras’ Caribbean coast.
Mexico Concludes Agreement with Cuba on Deportation of Illegal Cuban Immigrants
Mexican authorities have agreed to deport illegal Cuban immigrants to their homeland, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque announced in Mexico City, where he is on an official visit. The agreement was signed in that city on October 20. The Cuban official noted that the agreement would also lead to the return of illegal immigrants who are trying to make their way through Mexico to the United States. Mexican authorities say that about 10,000 Cubans enter the country illegally each year.
Condoleezza Rice Accuses Cuba of Encouraging Illegal Immigration
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, while on a visit to Mexico, has accused Cuban authorities of encouraging illegal immigration to the United States. She said that the reason Cubans are forced to flee the island is that the authorities are unable to provide their citizens with minimal goods and services.
Spanish Prime Minister Could Visit Cuba Next Year
Spain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that the country’s prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, has agreed to visit Cuba. If Rodríguez Zapatero decides to make this trip, he would become the first Western leader to travel to Cuba since the Ninth Ibero-American Summit in Havana in 1999, which was attended by his Conservative predecessor José María Aznar. The first Spanish head of government to visit Cuba in 1986 was Felipe González.
Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque, who is now in Madrid, expressed hope that the prime minister’s visit would take place in 2009, saying the Spanish side “has accepted the invitation in principle,” but the date of the visit is yet to be agreed.
Spanish Head of Government Disproves Foreign Minister’s Statement
Contradicting his own foreign minister, Spanish head of government José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero said on October 14 that he has received Raul Castro’s invitation to visit Cuba, but hasn’t decided whether to accept it or not.
Spain’s Foreign Minister, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, had several hours before stated that Zapatero has accepted the invitation to visit the communist-ruled island next year. Rodríguez Zapatero, however, told a news conference that “there is a proposal” and “we’ll see when the time comes if it is carried out and how it is carried out.”
Community of Madrid Slams Government for Aiding Cuban Regime
The Community of Madrid has denounced the Cuban government for banishing a Spanish employee of the CUME Humanitarian Foundation, Gracia Regojo Bacardí, from the island and demanded that Spain respond accordingly. Javier Fernández Lasquetty, Counselor on Immigration and Cooperation of the Community of Madrid, met with Mrs. Regojo Bacardí on October 15.
He also expressed regret that the Spanish government led by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has decided to give 400 million Euros to aid Cuba in spite of the incident. Fernández-Lasquetty recalled that the government promised to take appropriate measures against the expulsion of the Spanish aid worker, but decided instead to give Cuba more money to prop up Castro’s policy of tyranny.
The Spanish official expressed doubt the money would ever reach the Cuban people. Fernández-Lasquetty said he felt ashamed that Zapatero has taken the money from Spaniards and thrown it away to aid the dictatorship, which has been silencing and jailing dissenters for 50 years.
China to Give Cuba 11 Million Yuan in Aid
The Chinese government will provide humanitarian assistance to Cuba worth some 11 million Yuan ($1.62 million) to cope with the two hurricanes’ aftermath. The agreement was signed on October 16 in Havana by Chinese Ambassador to Cuba Zhao Rongxian and Cuban Foreign Investments and Economic Collaboration Minister Marta Lomas. Under the newest agreement, China will supply to Cuba a batch of galvanized zinc tile, worth 11 million Yuan, to help it repair houses damaged by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. Previously, the Chinese government had already provided aid to Cuba twice, with a total value of $1.3 million.
EU and Cuba Have Officially Restored Diplomatic Relations
The European Union and Cuba officially restored diplomatic relations on October 23, after a five-year break in them. An agreement was signed by Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque and EU commissioner Louis Michel at a ceremony in Havana.
Cuba and the EU severed diplomatic ties after sanctions were imposed by the EU in response to the arrest of 75 dissidents on the island in 2003. The sanctions were suspended in 2005. They were suspended two years ago but remained formally in force until June 19 of this year.
A Russian Military Delegation Visits Cuba
A military air defense delegation of the Armed Forces of the Russia Federation will arrive in Cuba for an official visit, headed by chief of staff Lieut. Gen. Alexander Maslov.
“Representatives of the military delegation of the air defense forces of the Russian Armed Forces will hold consultations on the organization of air defenses, management systems, communications, and electronic combat in Cuban air defense and will study the condition of repair facilities to make recommendations on the repair of military hardware,” reported Col. Igor Konashenkov, aide to the infantry to the chief commander of the infantry forces.
On the agenda for the delegation’s visit are working meetings with Army Corps General Álvaro López Miera, the Chief of Staff of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of the Republic of Cuba, and Brigadier General Pedro Mendiondo Gomez, Chief of the Anti-Aircraft Defense and Revolutionary Air Force.
“The Russian delegation will familiarize itself with the personnel and the organization of battle readiness in air defense units of the Cuban infantry forces and provide assistance in the use of Osa-AK antiaircraft missile systems, Kvadrat [missile systems], portable Igla anti-aircraft missile systems and P-18, and P-19 radar systems,” Konashenkov said. Konashenkov added that questions “encouraging the strengthening of ties established between the Russian Armed Forces and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba.”
“During the visit, the sides will exchange experience in the organization of air defense forces and preparation of the officer corps and study the possibility of training Cuban servicemen in the educational and air defense forces training centers in the modernization of Russian-produced equipment,” Konashenkov added.
Cuba May Join Top 20 Oil Producing Nations
The state-owned Cuban oil company announced on October 17 that the country might have more than 20 billion barrels of oil in its offshore fields — more than double the previous estimate. Cubapetroleo’s exploration manager Rafael Tenreyro Perez said drilling in the offshore wells would begin as early as the middle of 2009.
Cubapetroleo’s estimates are based on comparisons to known oil reserves found within similar geological structures off the coasts of the United States and Mexico. The company said Cuba had undersea geology “very similar” to that surrounding Mexico’s giant oil fields in the Bay of Campeche. Cuba’s share of the Gulf of Mexico was established in 1977, when it signed treaties with the United States and Mexico. If the Cuban experts’ estimates are correct, Cuba’s reserves would place it among the top 20 oil producing nations, nearly the same as those of the U.S. (21 billion barrels) and nearly twice the size of Mexico (11.7 billion barrels).
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) recently estimated that as much as 9 billion barrels of oil and 700 billion cubic meters of natural gas could lie within that zone, in the North Cuba Basin. But Cubapetroleo’s exploration manager Rafael Tenreyro Perez said his company’s estimate was higher because it had better information about Cuba’s offshore geology. “I’m almost certain that if [USGS officials] ask for all the data we have, their estimate is going to grow considerably,” he told a news conference in Havana.
Such oil and gas reserves could generate unprecedented wealth for the small Communist-run state. Cuba currently produces 60,000 barrels of oil a day and receives an additional 93,000 barrels a day from Venezuela as part of a barter arrangement for educational and health services. Tenreyro said he expected the first production well to be drilled before the middle of next year by a consortium led by the Spanish oil company, Repsol, and that more wells could be started before 2010.
Cuban Government Buys Chinese Great Wall Off-Road Vehicles
The first shipment of 1,500 off-road vehicles was recently sent to Cuba by cargo ship from Tianjin under a contract concluded in June of this year between the Cuban government and China’s Great Wall Motors for the delivery of 4500 vehicles to Havana. The remainder of the vehicles will be delivered by the end of the year. The vehicles will cost the government $44 million and will be used by Cuban state agencies. The deal was the largest ever reached by the Chinese concern.
Cuban Nickel Plants Running at 81% of Nominal Capacity after Hurricane
The Cuban nickel industry has not recovered from the damage caused by Hurricane Ike six weeks ago. Several of the main nickel plants in the province of Holguin were operating at a combined production level of 81 percent in mid-October. The most productive of the other producers, Pedro Sotto Alba, a joint venture between the Cuban government and the Canadian Sherritt International that produces 33,000 tons of unrefined nickel per year, is operating at design capacity.
Cuba is one of the main producers of nickel in the world, delivering about 75,000 tons of the nickel on the market and 10 percent of the world’s cobalt production.
Since the year 2000, nickel exports have produced the greatest income for the country. Almost all of the nickel it produces is delivered to Canada, China and European countries. In 2007, income from nickel sales was $2 billion.
Residents in Antilla Resist Eviction
Several families with children, living in Antilla municipality, Holguín province, who have been made homeless by Hurricane Ike, have refused to obey an order to vacate plots of land they occupied in Pueblo Nuevo neighborhood.
The present difficult situation doesn’t justify actions by municipal housing inspectors, they told Radio Martí. Not only were they fined, but they also demanded the families to leave the plots where they had managed to build makeshift homes. Municipal authorities want the six families to be evicted and resettled in a swampy and practically uninhabitable area.
Public Suffering from Lack of Agricultural Produce
Independent journalist Alejandro Tur Valladares reports from Cienfuegos that the people of that province are greatly troubled by the severe shortage of agricultural goods being experienced in the markets and stores in the province.
Construction Plans Approved for the Cuban Memorial in Miami
Spokesman of the Cuban Memorial organizing committee Emilio Solernou announced the approval of the construction plans for the Cuban Memorial at Tamiami Park in Miami, Florida.
Members of the committee expressed their gratitude to the South Florida community for their continued support and to everyone who has contributed their time, talent and donations towards realizing this very special landmark monument honoring the victims of the Castro regime. The monument was designed by architect Willy Borroto. Actual construction of the monument will start in 2009.
Russian Film Festival Kicks Off in Havana, Cubans Won’t See Films
A Russian Film Festival got underway on October 18 in Havana as part of activities called the Days of Russia in Latin America. The event covers another three Latin American countries: Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. The festival includes screenings of films like “The Return,” “The Stroll,” “Peter FM” “The Star,” “The Island,” “The Cuckoo,” and “The Wanderer.” However, unlike other Latin American countries, in Cuba viewings will be private, only for Russians working on the island. Ordinary Cubans won’t see the films.
Cuban Yoani Sanchez Is a Finalist in International Blogging Competition
The finalists have been determined in the BOBs international blog competition conducted by German radio station Deutsche Welle. The winners will be chosen by a jury and by Internet users. The competition is an attempt by Deutsche Welle to support freedom of speech and free media around the world.
This year, more than 8,500 blogs were submitted to the competition from around the world. That is 1,500 more than last year. The international jury, made up of leading bloggers, selected eleven blogs as finalists in each category. Internet users can vote on the finalists they like best (from 176 candidates) at www.thebobs.com and thus determine the winner of the People’s Choice Award.
Among the finalists working for freedom of expression on the Internet is Cuban dissident Yoani Sanchez.
• • •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].