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Cuba Chronicle of Events

No. 63November 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, AFP, GNsystems.net, eTurboNews, Interfax, ITAR-TASS, AIN, NEWSru.com, Izvestia, RIA Novosti, SecurityLab, REGNUM, The Wall Street Journal, Associated Press.

 

OPPOSITION

01/11/2008
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Highlights Situation in Cuba  

In an interview to Radio Martí, Paolo Carozza, Chairman of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, expressed concern over human rights violations in Cuba.

Carozza said he had acquainted himself with a testimony of independent Cuban labor leader Pedro Pablo Álvarez Ramos during the latest session of the OAS legal team. According to him, the testimony is very important as it confirms their findings. In its annual report on human rights, the Commission expressed concern over persistent violations of human rights and the lack of fundamental freedoms in Cuba.

The Commission will use Álvarez Ramos’ testimony among others to produce a comprehensive assessment of the situation on the island to be incorporated into its annual report on human rights, which will be presented to the forthcoming OAS General Assembly, said Carozza.


06/11/2008

Obama’s Election Victory Draws Mixed Reactions from Cuban Dissidents

While some were apprehensive and others hopeful that his victory might lead to political dialogue with the Raul Castro government, Cuban dissidents on the island saluted the election of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. All of them have urged the newly elected President to show support for the release of political prisoners.

Oscar Espinosa Chepe told Radio Martí that the election victory of the African-American Senator “is very encouraging” for Cubans, while Gisela Delgado Sablón hailed Obama’s victory as the triumph of the universal idea of democracy. Oswaldo Paya Sardiñas, however, stated that change [in Cuba] would not come from Obama and that only the government and the Cuban people could initiate the process. Héctor Palacios Ruiz described Obama’s win as a great event for the world and a big problem for the Cuban regime.

 
07/11/2008
Arco Progresista: Obama’s Election Proves Castro Regime Is Lying about Racism in U.S.

Arco Progresista, a dissident group in Cuba, said Barack Obama’s election victory has opened a “new era of global post-racism” and proves that the Castro government has been lying about racism in the United States.

If the collapse of the Berlin Wall changed the world, the election of the first African-American President in the United States would deal a crushing blow to political exclusion based on racial, ideological, religious and cultural discrimination, Manuel Cuesta Morúa, a spokesman of the group, wrote in a statement.


POLITICAL REPRESSION

06/11/2008
Pro-Democracy Activists Arrested for Solidarity with Political Prisoner on Hunger Strike

A group of peaceful activists from the Cuban Youth for Democracy movement were detained on November 5 in the city of Guantánamo for showing support for political prisoner Julián Antonio Monés Borrero. Monés Borrero was arrested on September 30 after a communist thug assaulted him on the street for wearing the T-shirt with the emblem CAMBIO, or “change.” To protest the arrest, Monés Borrero started a hunger strike.

According to the movement’s executive secretary, Jannet Mosquera, the activists were arrested while visiting Nerys García Fournier at his home. Three of the detained, she said, were released later that day, while the whereabouts of the rest of the six activists remain unknown.

POLITICAL PRISONERS
07/11/2008
Political Prisoner’s Mother Worries about His Health

Amada Hernández Ravelo, a member of the Ladies in White whose son, José Miguel Martínez Hernández, has been imprisoned since the Black Spring of 2003, urged Cuban authorities to provide necessary medical treatment to her son. The health of the prisoner of conscience has deteriorated dramatically because he doesn’t get the medical treatment he requires.

GOVERNMENT

10/11/2008
Russia, Cuba Unite against Microsoft

Russia and Cuba have agreed on cooperation in information technology, including joint work to develop free software. Russian Minister of Communications Igor Shchegolev and Cuban Information Technology and Communications Minister Ramiro Valdés Menéndez signed a memorandum on cooperation in information and communication technologies. A key aspect of Cuba’s IT policy is to end the island nation’s dependency on Microsoft.

Introducing free software into government and state-funded institutions is to be a priority of the Russian-Cuban endeavor. According to the Russian Ministry of Communications, it hasn’t yet been decided what projects the parties will undertake, but experts say this point of the agreement has serious political implications, citing the benefit  of “Cuba’s membership in the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) and other regional economic organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

In recent times, Cuba has articulated its software priorities as getting rid of software from Microsoft, the “bulwark of capitalism in IT.” The island nation is going to join Venezuela in using open source software, Linux, in its public offices. China, Brazil and Norway have already moved to Linux, pushing the open-source operating system for a variety of reasons.

Minister Valdés Menéndez repeatedly called the world’s IT systems a “battlefield” where Cuba is fighting against imperialism. Earlier, Cuba had announced it was working on its own version of Linux, called Nova, based on the Gentoo Distribution. Nearly one hundred students from the Cuban University of Information Sciences are working on this project, combining education and software development. Hector Rodriguez, who oversees their work, said that in three years half of the public administration would shift to an open source operating system.


REFUGEES

01/11/2008
Cuban Doctor Defects from Uruguay Post

A Cuban ophthalmologist who has been working in Uruguay under Operation Miracle, a program started by Cuba that provides free surgery to low income patients, has abandoned his medical team to seek permanent residence in the host country.

Vladimir Villamil, the 38-year-old eye doctor from Holguín province, told El País on November 1 that he did a lot of thinking before taking his decision and sacrificing his family — a 10-year-old son, his mother, and other relatives. He said that he had all necessary Uruguayan documents, a place to live provided by the country’s government, and proven qualifications in ophthalmology and plastic eye surgery. 

The ophthalmology clinic that Cuba built and equipped in Uruguay in November 2007 was opened only in February this year because the Ophthalmology Society of Uruguay has demanded all Cuban doctors prove their qualifications.

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

30/10/2008
UN General Assembly Tells the U.S. to Lift Embargo on Cuba

UN member states have once again voted overwhelmingly to urge the United States to lift its economic embargo against Cuba, imposed over 45 years ago. The UN resolution was passed by 185 countries.

Three countries, the United States, Israel and Palau, voted against repealing the embargo. Micronesia and the Marshall Islands abstained. The UN General Assembly has issued annual call for an end to the U.S. embargo for the 17th time in a row, but Washington has consistently ignored the demand. 

The United States introduced an economic embargo against Cuba in 1962. Opponents of the embargo claim the measure hurts ordinary Cubans, not the Cuban regime.

 
07/11/2008
EU: Further Dialogue with Cuba Depends on Progress in Human Rights Situation

EU Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the resumption of relations with the Castro government was an important step, but warned that the process of political dialogue and cooperation would continue only if Cuba speeds progress toward human rights and civil liberties on the island.  Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner stressed that the European Union will build its relations with Cuba in a different way than the United States, stating that we have to wait and see whether Washington change its policy toward the island nation.

 
07/11/2008
Cuban Exiles in
Miami Hope Obama Will Change U.S. Policy on Cuba  

There is an air of expectation among Miami-based Cuban exile groups who believe that President elect Barack Obama will make good on his promise and change the U.S. policy toward Cuba.

Janisset Rivero of the Cuban Democratic Directorate stated that Obama will likely keep his campaign promises and will support those who fight for democracy inside Cuba. Obama has a choice to go behind the people’s back for a bargain with a persistently repressive government or to offer support to those on the island seeking democracy, said Rivero.

Jaime Suchlicki from the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami, is certain the Cuban exile community will split under the incoming Obama administration, particularly over the trade embargo against Cuba.

Ángel de Fana, a member of Plantados, a group of former political prisoners, said his organization had enjoyed support from George W. Bush in the last years, as well as from his predecessor Bill Clinton, and expects to get the same treatment from Obama.

 
06/11/2008
Cuban Foreign Minister Will Travel to Russia

Cuba’s Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque will visit Russia on November 8-12 to “discuss topical problems in world politics.” The visit will help further augment political dialogue between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Cuba and strengthen mutually beneficial cooperation in different fields, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko stated on November 6.

“Serving as the basis for this is the desire uniting Russia and Cuba towards the realization in practice of democratic principles in dealing with topical international problems; towards the strict observance of international law, primarily the UN Charter; and towards the strengthening of the central role of the United Nations and its Security Council as a universal tool for the maintenance of peace and for resolving conflict situations,” noted Nesterenko. “Also close are the sides’ positions on the main human rights issues and on the key aspects of the disarmament process.” He didn’t elaborate on what makes Cuba, which holds several hundred political prisoners, so similar to Russia in terms of human rights. 

Nesterenko lauded Cuba for its approach to international issues. “The Cuban leadership was among the first to support Russia’s actions in connection with Georgia’s offensive in South Ossetia and our efforts aimed at settling the crisis in the Caucasus,” he said.

Russia annually supports the resolution called ‘The Necessity of Ending the Economic, Commercial and Financial Blockade Imposed by the United States of America against Cuba’ at UN General Assembly sessions, and adheres to the line on the inadmissibility of the application of unilateral measures of an exterritorial character in international relations,” said the Russian foreign ministry official.

08/11/2008
Russia to Help Cuba Build Natural Hazards Center

Russia will assist Cuba in building its own hazards and disaster preparedness center, reported Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin. As Cuba’s geographical location gives it a high and recurrent risk of natural calamities, Sechin said that Russia offered Cuba to build a natural hazards center at a meeting of the Russian-Cuban Intergovernmental Commission for economic-commercial and scientific-technical cooperation in Havana.


10/11/2008

Cuba Rules Out Russia’s Military Presence on the Island

Moscow and Havana haven’t discussed the possible deployment of a Russian missile system in Cuba.

 “We have cooperation with Russia in all fields — political, economic, cultural and scientific,” said Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque during his visit to Moscow. “And our bilateral cooperation will never be directed against any third country.”

According to the minister, Cuba acknowledges the right of Russia to take response measures and to reply to the growing aggression of the United States and NATO. However, he has ruled out installing on the island of a planned Russian missile defense system and re-establishing Russian military presence in the country.

After the sudden decision by Russia to shut down the Lourdes radar base in 2001, the Castro brothers appeared to be unwilling to cooperate with Russia in military endeavors.

The Soviet Union built its military intelligence-gathering installation in a suburb of Havana in 1964. The Lourdes facility allowed Russia to intercept practically all communications and electronic messages on the most part of U.S. territory, to monitor U.S. submarines’ moves and ensure instant communications of Russian submarines with their command center all across the Western Hemisphere. 

In July 2000, the U.S. Congress passed a bill that included a ban on restructuring Russia’s debts unless it closed the Lourdes facility. The outpost was shut down in December 2001. Fidel Castro expressed upset at the decision, which was taken without asking for his opinion and without consultation with Havana.
 
10/11/2008
Havana Hasn’t Discussed Recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque told reporters on November 10 in Moscow that “We haven’t yet discussed the issue of recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but I want to make it clear that Cuba denounces the aggression against Ossetia and the West-incited aggression against Russia. We also condemn NATO’s approach to Russia’s borders and are against the U.S. plans to build a missile shield in Central Europe, which will target Russia,” said the Cuban minister.

 
08/11/2008
Obama’s Election Could Ease Cuba Sanctions

The election of Barack Obama opens the door for the U.S. to relax sanctions against Cuba for the first time in more than a decade, stated an article published in The Wall Street Journal on November 7.

In a campaign speech in Miami in May, Obama went where presidential candidates have long feared to go by promising to lift restrictions on family visits and remittances by Cuban-Americans seeking to help relatives on the island.

At one time, the Cuban-American voting bloc in Florida overwhelmingly supported the U.S. policy of isolating Cuba’s Communist leadership. But during the 2008 elections on November 4, Obama got 35% of the usually solid Republican Cuban-American vote in Florida, mostly from the younger electorate.

The article states that Obama is likely to roll back sanctions put in place by President George W. Bush in 2004 and 2005, advisers say. Those moves restricted Cuban-Americans from visiting family on the island more than once every three years, and narrowed the list of family members to whom they can send remittances. “We'll have to see some signals from the Cubans,” said a person who has advised Barack Obama. “It takes two to tango. Mainly a good first signal is freeing political prisoners. It took us 50 years to go where we are with Cuba policy. We can’t change that in five days.”

The United States relaxed sanctions during the Clinton administration, only to see relations become tense again in 1996 when Cuba shot down two unarmed planes flown by members of Brothers to the Rescue, a Cuban-exile organization. It was after that incident that the embargo became part of law rather than simply presidential policy.

11/11/2008
Russia-Cuba Military Cooperation Is Important but No Agreements Yet in Moscow

“Military-technical cooperation is an important component of our close partnership with Cuba,” stated Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after talks with his Cuban counterpart Felipe Pérez Roque in Moscow.

Russia builds military-technical cooperation with Cuba, as with any other country, solely on the basis of respect for its international obligations and the norms and rules in the area of export control. Our Cuban partners act likewise. I believe that this is an important component of our close partnership,” stressed the minister.

Pérez Roque, in turn, noted that “cooperation between Russia and Cuba in the military- technical sphere is developing normally . . . and every country has the right to define with whom it will develop such cooperation.”

“Cooperation between Russia and Cuba in this area will always be directed to widening the defense capabilities of Cuba, and will never be directed against any third country,” reassured the Cuban official. The Cuban minister also added that “no documents on military-technical cooperation will be signed during his visit to Moscow.”

ECONOMICS

30/10/2008
Russia Invites Cuba to Join Satellite Navigation System GLONASS

Russia’s Communications Minister Igor Shchegolev, who arrived on October 30 in Havana for a working visit, has officially invited Cuba to join its satellite navigation system, GLONASS. GLONASS is designed to tackle various tasks in national economy, Shchegolev said. It’s a global system, and any country will benefit from it, the Russian minister added.


30/10/2008

Hurricanes Haven’t Taken Their Toll on Cuban Destinations, Says Tourism Ministry

Cuba has received more than 700,000 tourists to date and the “conditions exist for the year to end with a total of one million visitors” for the first time in the history of tourism on the island, according to Cuban authorities. Cuba’s Ministry of Tourism says its beach resort Varadero has been strengthening its position as a tourist destination. Varadero has a total of 17,300 hotel rooms.

The recent hurricanes, Gustav and Ike, have caused severe damage to the country’s economy, but their toll on the tourism industry itself was insignificant and already dealt with, Cuban tourism officials claim. The toppled roofs have been repaired, the disturbed landscape reshaped, and the famous Cuban beaches beefed up with sand. Work is underway to upgrade roads and other amenities, such as lighting, and to improve the quality of services provided. “We are completely back to normal and are ready for the high season,” said Cuban tourism agency officials.


06/11/2008

Cuba Buys 150,000 Tons of Canadian Wheat

Cuba’s state-run food import agency Alimport signed a contract with the Canadian Wheat Board to buy 150,000 metric tons of wheat, reports Cuban news agency AIN. The value of the contract was not disclosed. In the 2007-2008 marketing year, Cuba imported 203.7 thousand metric tons of wheat from Canada, and in 2006-2007, 98.9 thousand metric tons.

 
05/11/2008
Russia to Grant $330 Million Loan to Cuba

The Russian government announced it has granted Cuba a credit line worth over $330 million for the purchase of Russian goods and services.  Russia and Cuba signed an intergovernmental agreement on the loan two years ago, but the Russian government advised its finance ministry not to approve it until this year. According to previous reports, Russia has proposed a 5 percent interest rate over 10 years. The funds will be used for rebuilding Cuban enterprises.

OTHER NEWS

31/10/2008
Last Master of Cuban Modernist Painting Dies

Cuban artist and sculptor Cundo Bermúdez died on October 30 in Miami at the age of 94, reports MartiNoticias.com, citing his artistic representative, painter Conrado Basurto.

Bermúdez was considered to be the last master of the modernist generation from Cuba. Born in Havana on September 3, 1914, he studied painting in Cuba and Mexico.

Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros said in 1943 that Bermúdez “was an important force in the chromatic spectrum of contemporary Cuban painting.”

In 1944, Bermúdez took part in an exhibition of Cuban paintings at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. His two pieces, The Balcony and Barber Shop, are in the permanent collection of MoMA.

His works were shown at museums in Kansas City, California, Mexico, Argentina, Connecticut, and Haiti. He had been honored with awards in Texas, Paris, and at the headquarters of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington, DC. In 1994, the premier auction house Sotheby’s organized a special event to celebrate his 80th anniversary.

Bermúdez left Cuba in the late 1960s to live in Puerto Rico and later in Miami, Florida.

In 1995, the artist took part in protest actions, calling for the release of political prisoners in Cuba.

 
09/11/2008
Hurricane Paloma Hits Cuba, 500,000 Evacuated

Hurricane Paloma slammed into Cuba’s southern and eastern parts. According to local authorities, Paloma made landfall near the town of Santa Cruz del Sur in Camagüey province, the residents of which had been evacuated ahead of the storm. No deaths or injuries were reported in the province.

Paloma hit Cuba as a Category 4 storm on the five-point international scale, bit weakened into a Category 2 as it moved across the island. Paloma brought torrential rains and powerful winds. The storm caused considerable damage to the island’s crops, housing and communications infrastructure. There was storm-surge flooding in some parts on Cuba’s southeastern coast.

Forecasters predict Paloma will move northeast and head toward the Bahamas.

Cuban officials have taken large-scale preventive measures ahead of the storm’s landfall, evacuating nearly 500,000 people from vulnerable areas, including foreign tourists.  

10/11/2008
Hurricane Paloma Destroys Hundreds of Houses in Cuba

Hurricane Paloma that hit Cuba on November 9 has destroyed hundreds of homes and downed power and telephone lines.

The hurricane made landfall in southern Cuba, near the town of Santa Cruz del Sur. The storm’s winds, which reached 215 km per hour, toppled trees. The storm surge is said to be pushing further into the coastal area, covering it by one kilometer of water in some places.

Hurricane Paloma weakened further from a Category 2 to a Category 1 over Cuba (according to the five-step Saffir-Simpson intensity scale). But a hurricane warning is still in effect in some parts of the country. The government has evacuated 500,000 people from vulnerable areas.

Although no official estimate on the losses is available, the damage is clearly extensive. According to some estimates, the losses from Paloma can be compared to Hurricanes Gustav and Ike that inflicted $9.8 billion in economic damage in Cuba.

 10/11/2008
United States to Send Emergency Assistance to Cuba

Operation U.S.A., a Los-Angeles-based nongovernmental relief group, announced on November 9 it will send emergency aid to Cuba in response to Hurricane Paloma.  “As a result of the hurricane, nearly 440,000 homes were damaged and almost two million people were displaced into temporary shelters,” said Richard Walden, president of Operation U.S.A. “We’re rushing aid to Cuba, including water purification materials and medical supplies,” he said.  

     

 

The Cuba Chronicle of Events is produced by the Prima News Agency in Russia in cooperation with the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe. Please direct inquiries and comments to Editor, Cuba Chronicle of Events, Prima-News at prima@prima-news.ru or to idee@idee.org with the mark “Cuba Chronicle of Events.”


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