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Cuba Chronicle of Events
No. 64 •
November 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, Associated Press, Lenta.Ru, ITAR-TASS, Xinhua, Reuters,, Echo Moskvy, BBC, and Deutsche Welle.


Ladies in White Gather for Traditional March in Havana

As they do every Sunday, Ladies in White held a prayer in Havana on November 23 for the release of Cuban prisoners of conscience. The Group’s activists and their supporters from other women’s organizations attended a Mass at Havana’s Santa Rita Church, and then silently marched down Havana’s Fifth Avenue. Fifteen women took part in the peaceful protest on behalf of political prisoners and their families. Ladies in White was formed in 2003 by wives, mothers, and other female relatives of the dissidents imprisoned in Cuba’s “Black Spring.”

Ladies in White Expect Support from Chilean President

Ladies in White hope Chilean President Michelle Bachelet will show solidarity with them when she visits Cuba in February. A spokeswoman of the group, Laura Pollán said in Havana that there are people in Cuban jails who have been imprisoned only for seeking to exercise their right for freedom of expression and freedom of association with the aim of advancing freedom, prosperity, and social progress of the Cuban people.

Dissident Says the Situation in Cuba Is Alarming

Cuban dissident Oscar Espinosa Chepe has said in Havana that the Raul Castro government has been refusing to acknowledge complaints about the situation of civil, political and economic rights. He laid the blame at the feet of the most conservative and inflexible minds in the Communist Party. The independent economist expressed frustration that as people’s expectations for change increase on the island, the reality is a cold shower.


Cuban Activist Sentenced to 3 Years in Prison

Cuban dissident Julián Antonio Monés Borrero, president of the Miguel Valdés Tamayo Human Rights Movement, was sentenced this week to three years in prison. The trial took place on November 26 in Baracoa in Guantánamo province. He was arrested on September 28 in Baracoa. The dissident’s wife, Matilde Duportais Acosta, informed Radio Martí of the news.


Cuban Political Prisoner Released on Health Grounds

Cuban political prisoner Abel López Pérez has been granted medical parole, according to the Cuban Democratic Directorate, based in Miami. López Pérez said his grueling hunger strike to protest being held under unjust charges played a role in his release.

Speaking to the Miami-based Cuban Radio República, the former political prisoner also stated that international solidarity was instrumental in achieving the objectives of his protest. While in Guantánamo prison, López Pérez went for 39 days without food, beginning October 5 of this year.

CPJ Awards Cuban Journalist

The Committee to Protect Journalists honored an imprisoned Cuban reporter held in Agüica prison in Matanzas province with its annual international Press Freedom Award. The journalist,

Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez was arrested in the “Black Spring” crackdown on independent journalists and other dissidents in 2003.

He received his award in absentia at an awards ceremony held at Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. The ceremony featured public remarks by representatives of television broadcasting companies from CNN, CBS, and NBC and The New York Times. All of them praised Maseda Gutiérrez for his journalistic work, and lauded other journalists working in extremely difficult conditions in Uganda, Afghanistan and Iraq.

In a letter to the CPJ, Maseda Gutiérrez wrote that he was proud to receive the 2008 Press Freedom Award and that it “truly inspires me to continue my efforts in the pursuit of freedom of expression in Cuba.”  Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters Without Borders have urged the Raul Castro regime to immediately release Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez.

risoner of Conscience Calls for Unity of the Cuban Opposition

Diosdado González Marrero, a prisoner of conscience from the Group of 75 who is serving a prison term in Pinar del Río province, has called on the Cuban opposition to join forces in their struggle for democracy against the ruling regime. In a statement read by him over the telephone from prison, González Marrero also said that only the United States could salvage his country.

Diosdado González Marrero, 46, president of the Party of Peace, Democracy, and Freedom, was arrested in the 2003 “Black Spring” crackdown on dissidents and is serving a 20-year prison term.

Committee to Protect Journalists Starts Campaign for Release of Cuban Journalist

Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s chief international correspondent, has launched a petition urging the Raul Castro regime to release Cuban journalist Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez. At a CPJ awards dinner on November 25, Amanpour presented the 2008 International Press Freedom Award to the Cuban prisoner of conscience, who is serving a 20-year-term in Agüica prison in Matanzas province.  During the ceremony held at New York’s famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, the CNN correspondent asked the 800 persons present to read a letter Maseda Gutiérrez smuggled from prison in which he promised to keep “seeking the truth or die trying” and to sign the petition she was initiating.


Fidel Castro’s New Book Criticizes Columbia’s FARC Rebels

A new book by Fidel Castro was released on November 12 at a Havana ceremony that did not include the Comandante, although one of his sons was there.

The 256-page book, which Castro reportedly spent more than 400 hours working on, is called La Paz en Colombia (Peace in Colombia) and it explores Cuba’s role in attempts to end Colombia’s civil war. In it, Castro criticizes Colombia’s communist FARC guerrilla group that has been waging war against the Colombian state. FARC has never had formal backing from the Cuban government.

First Photograph of Fidel Castro Released in Four Months

A new photograph of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro was published on November 14 on the official website of the Russian Orthodox Church.  The picture was taken on October 20 during the meeting of Fidel Castro with the Russian Orthodox Church’s senior official, Mitropolitan Kirill during his visit to Cuba. It shows Castro standing in a track suit and holding Mitropolitan Kirill’s arm for support, 

The last official image of Castro was released on June 17, 2008 from a meeting with Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez. He has not been seen in public since summer 2006, when he underwent emergency intestinal surgery.

Fidel Castro: Obama Won’t Change Anything in U.S. Policy

President-elect Barack Obama will not bring change to the United States and will not change anything in U.S. policy, Fidel Castro said in an Internet column. “Many dream that with the simple change in the leadership of the empire, it will be more tolerant and less bellicose,” Castro writes.  According to him, it would be naive to believe the good intentions of “one intelligent person could change what centuries of interests and selfishness have created.”  Castro was dismissive of U.S. President George Bush’s statement that the G20 summit in Washington will be able to accomplish a “new financial world order.”


Cuba Becomes Official Member of Rio Group

Cuba has become a full member of the Rio Group of Latin American and Caribbean Nations, a Mexican Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman said on November 13. Cuba joined the Group at a foreign ministers meeting in Zacatecas, central Mexico, according to local media. The meeting was attended by Cuba’s Vice Foreign Minister Abelardo Moreno.

Russian President Medvedev to Visit Cuba

Russia’s presidential spokeswoman Natalia Timakova revealed that President Dmitry Medvedev would visit Cuba on November 27. Cuba is the last stop of Medvedev’s tour of Latin America, which includes taking part in the APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit in Peru.

Chinese President Hu Jintao Arrives in Cuba; Meets Fidel

President of the People’s Republic of China Hu Jintao arrived on November 17 in Cuba for an official visit as part of a Latin American trip. Just before his departure from Costa Rica for Cuba, Hu Jintao said that during his visit the two countries would sign a dozen bilateral agreements to “further expand” ties between the two countries and would exchange views on international issues of mutual concern. This is Hu’s second visit to Cuba since assuming full leadership in November 2004.

Hu Jintao Meets Fidel

On November 18, Fidel Castro had a “fraternal meeting” with visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao showing that Cuba and China have “friendly ties.” According to official press reports from Cuba, the parties discussed the current “complicated situation” in the world as well as new bilateral agreements between Beijing and Havana. Cuban state television broadcast a picture of Fidel Castro meeting with Hu Jintao. It showed the elder Castro standing next to the Chinese leader, wearing a red, white and blue track suit -- the colors of the island nation’s flag.  Castro formally stepped down as the leader of Cuba in February this year, citing a critical health condition, and he was succeeded by his brother Raul.

Cuban President to Make First Visit to Venezuela

Raul Castro’s first official trip abroad since assuming Cuba’s presidency will be to Venezuela. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez received a letter from Castro stating his intention on November 17 and will announce the date of his Cuban counterpart’s visit soon. Chavez said he was pleased Castro had chosen Venezuela over Brazil, China, Russia, and other countries as his first destination abroad.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet Accepts Invitation to Visit Cuba

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has accepted an invitation by the Cuban government to visit the Havana International Book Fair in February 2009. Bachelet will be Chile’s first president to visit Cuba since the trip of Socialist Salvador Allende, who ruled the country from 1970 to 1973.  Chilean politicians are divided over what their policies should be toward the Cuban regime. Some politicians believe that engagement with communist Cuba will force it to open up, while others say Cuba’s poor human rights record should argue against changing policy.

Cuba, EU Sign Agreement

The European Union and the government of Cuba signed an agreement on November 26 that the EU will donate over 32 million Euros to Cuba next year to repair homes ravaged by recent hurricanes and to bolster environmental protection and disaster preparedness. Stefano Manservisi, head of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Development, and Ricardo Guerrero, Cuba’s Vice Minister of Foreign Investment, signed the document in Havana.

The agreement follows a formal resumption of diplomatic relations between the EU and Cuba in October, following five years of sanctions and suspended relations due to Cuba’s imprisonment of 75 dissidents in March 2003.

Raul Castro Is Open to Meeting Obama at Guantánamo

Raul Castro is open to meeting U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, Raul Castro said in an interview with U.S. actor Sean Penn for The Nation, a left-wing weekly magazine.

The Cuban leader said he would prefer to meet Obama “on neutral ground” and suggested the American naval base at Guantánamo Bay. Cuba’s main focus in such a meeting would be on normalizing trade, Castro said. “We’ve never had anything against the American people. Good relations will benefit both countries,” he added. Raul Castro gave this interview before the U.S. presidential election of 2008 took place.

Earlier, Obama had said he would be willing to meet with Raul Castro without preconditions and that after taking office he would lift restrictions on family travel and remittances to Cuba, but would keep the trade embargo on Cuba. Fidel Castro, who stepped down from the presidency in February for health reasons, called Obama the most progressive candidate for U.S. president.


Russian President Dmitry Medvedev Visits Cuba

’s President Dmitry Medvedev arrived in Havana from Venezuela on November 27. The Russian president and Cuban President of the Council of State Raul Castro are expected to sign agreements on offshore oil exploration and nickel processing. Unlike a visit to Venezuela, Medvedev’s tour to Cuba will be mainly about trade and investment, not military cooperation.

Russian companies are willing to be involved in oil drilling offshore Cuba and to invest in a nickel-processing plant. According to recent reports, Moscow might offer Cuba to help renovate its crumbling Soviet-era air defense system. But Cuba may not be willing to risk worsening relations with the United States at a time when the new tenant is going to take over the White House. Before Medvedev’s visit to Cuba, Raul Castro said in an interview that he would be willing to meet President-elect Barack Obama at the American naval base at Guantánamo Bay.

Medvedev’s visit to Latin America comes on the heels of a trip by Chinese President Hu Jintao.


Cuba Expects to Achieve Annual Record for Its Tourism Sector

Cuba expects to set a new record this year for foreign vacationers, said First Deputy Minister of Tourism Alexis Trujillo, who attended a symbolic ceremony to welcome Cuba’s 2 millionth tourist of 2008. According to Trujillo, Cuba’s most famous beach resort, Varadero, will for the first time attract 1 million foreign visitors alone this year.


U.S.-Cuba Trade Thriving Despite the Embargo

Despite the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, the island has spent a record $536 million for American agricultural goods through the third quarter, announced the U.S. Trade and Economic Council, based in Washington D.C. Last year, Cuba bought $437.6 million in farm commodities from the United States, up from $340.4 million in 2006. From 2002 to 2005, Cuba’s purchases of U.S. food — mostly wheat, corn, soy products, rice and chickentotaled $1 billion.


Russian Kamaz Trucks to Be Assembled in Cuba

Russian car maker OAO KAMAZ is considering setting up an assembly line to produce 500 trucks annually in Cuba.  “To further develop the automobile business in Cuba and strengthen KAMAZ’s place on the country’s market, we and the Cuban side are considering the possibility of establishing a trade and service company to sell, service and repair KAMAZ trucks, as well as an assembly facility with a production capacity of 500 trucks a year,” KAMAZ said in a press release. In 2008, 203 KAMAZ trucks were delivered to Cuba as part of a Russian loan.


Russian Firms Plan to Search for Oil, Nickel Offshore Cuba

Moscow is negotiating major investments in Cuba’s oil and nickel industries, Russian Ambassador to Cuba Mikhail Kamynin told the Cuban weekly Opciones. He made his comments days ahead of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s official visit. Kamynin said there were deals under consideration with specific Russian firms to search for hydrocarbons in Cuba’s exclusive economic zone in the Gulf of Mexico as well as to build oil tankers and pipelines.

Kamynin said Russian firms would like to help Cuba build crude oil storage tanks, modernize pipelines, and play a role in Venezuelan efforts to refurbish a Soviet-era refinery in the port city of Cienfuegos. Cuban scientists claim the country may have over 20 billion barrels of recoverable oil in its offshore fields in the Gulf of Mexico. Cuba has signed joint operating agreements with companies from several countries to explore Cuban waters. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva visited Cuba in October for the signing of agreements freeing state-run Petroleo Brasileiro SA to invest $8 million initially for a deep-water exploration project north of the famed beach resort of Varadero. If reserves are confirmed, Brazil would produce oil and natural gas recovered there over the next 25 years.


Cuba Owes Billions in Debt to the Paris Club

Cuba’s hard-currency debt to the Paris Club is $29.7 billion, making it the biggest debtor in Latin America and the second largest in the world, the group of creditor nations said in a statement. According to its web site, Cuba’s debt to the Paris Club is several times more than Argentina’s. Peru ranks third among Latin America’s debtors, followed by Brazil, Ecuador, and Mexico.

It was the first time the Paris Club has released such figures since the informal group of lending nations was formed 50 years ago. The group said the gesture was meant to “enhance transparency on debt data and to encourage all creditors to engage in a comprehensive debt reporting and disclosure process.” The figures provided were as of September 1, 2008.


Movie “Che” to Be Shown to Cubans 

“Che,” the movie about legendary Cuban revolutionary leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara, will be shown in Cuba in December at the New Latin American Film Festival. The New Latin American Film Festival will show 114 films this year from countries throughout Latin America. “Che will be a special presentation not eligible for any of the festival awards.

Festival president Alfredo Guevara said in July that “Che” would not be shown if it included any “attacks” against Castro, the ailing 82-year-old who led Cuba for 49 years after taking power in the 1959 revolution. His brother Raul Castro replaced him as president in February after serving a year-and-a-half in a temporary capacity.  

According to Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque, the U.S. government, which has a 46-year-old trade embargo against Cuba, would not allow the director, Steven Soderbergh, to make the movie on the communist-led island. The film was shot in Spain and Bolivia. Puerto Rican-born actor Benicio Del Toro played the title role and won the best-actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival in May, where the film premiered. 

Over 2,000 Homes Flooded in Eastern Cuba

Heavy rains caused a river in eastern Cuba to overflow its banks, flooding highways and more than 2,000 homes. The storm led authorities to evacuate nearly 20,000 people, according to regional authorities. The nickel and cobalt mining operations in the region have not been affected, authorities said.

United States Uses NGOs to Send Aid to Cuba

Connections among major U.S.-based humanitarian groups and humanitarian groups in Havana are helping to get relief assistance to Cubans who have endured a long and devastating 2008  hurricane season, said the Spanish-language service of the U.S. State Department. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has delivered over $1 million in disaster relief to Cuba, providing hygiene kits, medical supplies, food, and home repair materials to its partner, Caritas Cubana, which distributes the aid to Cubans affected by a series of hurricanes and tropical storms.

CRS receives donations collected by Catholic churches and volunteer groups in the United States. By November 14, with the help of the Daughters of Charity in Miami, CRS had sent 21 shipping containers of relief items. CRS also sent to Cuba 5,000 roofing panels. There are other groups that have sent emergency assistance to Cuba. Global Links sent six shipping containers to help Cuban hospitals recover from hurricane damage. Operation USA sent emergency assistance to Cuba’s pediatric hospitals. The Pan American Development Foundation used $100,000 donated by Bacardí Limited to provide emergency shelter, food and hygiene kits to Cubans.

Yoani Sánchez Wins in the Best of the Blogs Competition

Cuban dissident Yoani Sánchez won top award in the 2008 Best of the Blogs competition, or BOBs, for her blog Generación Y ( BOB, founded by Deutsche Welle, is the largest international Weblog contest.

Sánchez writes about daily life in Cuba, including the hardships and worries of ordinary Cubans, and gives voice to an entire generation of Cubans. This new generation has grown up midway between West and East and is seeking to find its place in today’s world. The Cuban blogger told Deutsche Welle in a telephone interview how difficult it is in Cuba to write her online diary entries. Sánchez was not permitted to attend the awards ceremony held in Berlin on November 27.


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 [email protected] or to [email protected] with the mark “Cuba Chronicle of Events.”

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