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Cuba Chronicle of Events

No. 65 • December 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, BBC, International Herald Tribune, InoPressa.Ru, RIA Novosti, Prensa Latina, EFE, Cuba Today, CNN, Lenta.Ru, ITAR-TASS.



Ladies in White Mark Anniversary of the Universal Human Rights Declaration

As the world marked the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, members of the Ladies in White from several Cuban provinces marched through the Vedado neighborhood of Havana to demand that the government release prisoners of conscience and confirm its commitment to fundamental rights. There was greater than usual plainclothes police on Havana’s streets, but the Ladies in White, made up of female relatives of political prisoners, still marched through Havana carrying gladioli. Ladies in White leader Laura Pollán made a statement emphasizing the unfair convictions of their jailed loved ones.


Oswaldo Payá Urges Havana to Respect Basic Human Freedoms

Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas has called upon the UN General Assembly to put pressure on the Cuban government to honor human rights, to publish the international human rights covenants that Havana has signed, and to release political prisoners. Payá, president of the Christian Liberation Movement, issued the statement on December 9, asserting that fundamental rights in Cuba aren’t safeguarded “transparently and fully,” and cannot be exercised by its citizens. The document calls upon the government led by General Raul Castro to release all political prisoners, revise laws for the benefit of human rights, stop persecution of rights activists and publish the full text of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Cuban Blogger Asks Raul Castro’s Daughter a Question

Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez writes about her brief encounter with Mariela Castro, daughter of President Raul Castro, during a conference on sexuality held at Havana’s Museum of Fine Arts.

After the conference Sánchez asked Mariela Castro why can Cubans now accept the right of another to choose with whom they make love, but the state continues to impose its ideological monogamy? The blogger postd a video of her conversation with Castro during which she asked Raul’s daughter if the entire campaign for society to accept sexual preference could, at some point, move to tolerance of political and ideological preferences. Mariela Castro evaded the question, saying she did not work in that area and it fell outside her responsibility.

Yoani Sánchez has been awarded the Ortega y Gasset Prize in digital journalism for her blog, called Generation Y, which she runs from Havana. She has also been named as one of the world’s 100 Most Influential People, by TIME magazine. 


Independent Alternative Option Movement Gathers for Commemoration

The Independent Alternative Option Movement held a meeting on December 10 in Pedro Betancourt municipality of Matanzas province to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The gathering took place at a private house, which was literally besieged by the mob of pro-government paramilitary activists, opposition member Juan Francisco Sigler Amaya told Radio Martí.


Anti-Castro Posters Appear in Cuba

Anti-government posters appeared on the front side of the museum dedicated to the Elián González in Cárdenas municipality in Matanzas province, causing a flurry of activity among local law enforcement. (Elian Gonzalez is the boy whose mother took him on a makeshift boat to the U.S. and, after she died on the dangerous voyage, became the subject of a legal custody fight ultimately won by his father, who returned him to Cuba. He has since been made a propaganda hero of the Revolution whose adherence to communism is followed closely.)



Police Beat Peaceful Oppositionists on Crowded Stree 

State Security agents wearing police uniform attacked several members of the opposition on a crowded street in Havana.

Independent journalist Belinda Salas Tápanes told Radio Martí a police patrol vehicle approached her and her husband as they were leaving the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. After her husband asked them to introduce themselves, they started beating him.

According to her, the husband was then dragged unconscious into the police van and taken to a police station. The incident occurred just a few hours before International Human Rights Day marked on December 10.


Two Cuban Exile Groups Report Arrests of Dissidents Inside Cuba

Twenty dissidents have been arrested in Cuba, reported two Cuban exile groups. 

Janisset Rivero-Gutiérrez, a spokeswoman for the Cuban Democratic Directorate, told EFE in Miami that the Cuban authorities were trying to prevent Cubans from celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

According to the dissident Council of Investigators of Human Rights in Cuba, government repression has been on the rise throughout 2008. From January to November 2008, 1107 arbitrary arrests were recorded on the island.

In addition, there were 139 house arrests, and 72 activists were charged and 58 prisoners died behind bars from beating and lack of medical aid. The Latin American Federation of Rural Women (FLAMUR) reported that three members of the group were detained and severely beaten just several hours before the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Czech Socialists Denounce Repression in Cuba

Members of the Czech Socialist Group in the European Parliament have strongly denounced recent acts of repression against rights activists in Cuba and that the wave of repression unleashed by the Cuban government leading up to the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was totally unacceptable.


Political Police Threaten Activists in Pinar del Río

Rights activists in the city of Pinar del Río have been threatened by political police, independent journalist Rafael Bueno Ramírez told Radio Marti. Police demanded they stay away from events commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Human Rights Watch Denounces Arrests in Cuba

Cuban authorities arrested more than 30 people in the days leading up to International Human Rights Day celebrated annually on December 10, a New-York-based human rights watchdog said on December 11. Human Rights Watch cited press reports and Cuban human rights groups as saying many of those arrested were trying to travel to Havana for marches on December 10, the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The organization said in a statement that some of those arrested had since been released and it was not known how many remained in detention. The rights group has urged the Cuban government to immediately and unconditionally free the dissidents who have been arbitrarily detained in recent days.


Release of Activists Detained in Santa Clara

Political oppositionists Idania Yanes Contreras, Alcides Rivera, Yesmi Elena Mena and Guillermo Fariñas have been released after being detained on December 10 and held at a police station in Santa Clara for several hours.


More Acts of Repression Reported on the Island

Peaceful opposition activist Orestes Suárez Torres reported from Ranchuelo municipality, Villa Clara province that in the last few days, he and his wife Nancy González García had been twice detained and beaten by police for their involvement in the civil disobedience campaign “I do not cooperate with the dictatorship.” The initiative has been picked up by many dissidents and opposition groups inside Cuba who are making a call for each Cuban to search for a way to stop cooperating with the regime.


Human Rights Watch Exposes Cuba’s Violations of Its People’s Rights

Human Rights Watch has issued a statement that in the days when the world celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the communist government of Cuba continues to violate basic rights of its own people. The Cuban government continues to restrict nearly all avenues of political dissent, limiting freedom of expression, association, assembly, movement, and the press.

Cuba’s laws and state-controlled institutions provide the foundation for these violations of basic rights, and criminal prosecutions, detentions, harassment, and surveillance are commonly used to repress opposition, stressed the human rights watchdog.  Human Rights Watch has expressed concern over the arrests of Cuban dissidents on December 10, which is International Human Rights Day, saying that this latest crackdown is further evidence that, despite the handoff of power from Fidel to Raul Castro, the Cuban government continues its policy of repression.


Monés Borrero Sentenced to Three Years

A court in the city of Baracoa sentenced Cuban dissident Julian Antonio Monés Borrero, leader of the Miguel Valdés Tamayo Opposition Movement, to three years in prison. The activist was convicted under charges of “offences against authority” on November 26.

His wife, Matilde Duporté, told Radio Martí the charges against her husband had been fabricated. According to her, several local opposition members were detained to prevent them from attending the trial.  After the trial, Monés Borrero was transferred to Boniato prison in Santiago de Cuba.



Cuban Political Prisoner Sends Message from Prison to Mark UDHR Anniversary

Cuban political prisoner Pedro Argüelles Morán, who is being held at Canaleta prison in Ciego de Ávila, has sent an appeal out of prison to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10.


OAS Tells Cuban Government to Safeguard Yordis García Fournier

In a letter to the Miami-based Cuban Democratic Directorate, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States wrote that it has called on the Cuban government to provide adequate medical treatment to jailed rights activist Yordis García Fournier in a way that is consistent with basic principles for the treatment of prisoners. García Fournier is currently being held in an isolation cell at Combinado prison in Guantánamo province. From October 11 to November 1, García was on a hunger strike to demand the right to wear civilian clothes instead of prison garb. According to his brother Niover García Fournier, family members have not been able to visit him since November 20.


Cuban Political Prisoners Get Support from Germany

A fundraising campaign kicked off in Germany for the benefit of two Cuban political prisoners, María de Los Ángeles Borrego and Normando Hernández, and two Chinese political prisoners.


Political Prisoner Stands Up for Fellow Inmate

Political prisoner Félix Navarro Rodríguez, who was arrested during the “Black Spring” crackdown in 2003 and is being held at Morón prison in Ciego de Ávila province, has called upon the free world to intervene on behalf of political prisoner Pablo Pacheco Ávila, who has been denied medical aid.



CDR Congress Concludes in Havana


“Revolutionary vigilance” against all kinds of illegal acts continues to be the main task of Cuban society, said Cuban President Raul Castro in a message to the VII Congress of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), which concluded in Havana on December 14.


In a written addressing to the participants, Castro said that the forum is a “special opportunity to analyze, in a critical way, the results thus far achieved and that, among the important tasks of the CDR, the defense of the Revolution continues to be the main mission of the organization.”

Castro did not attend the Congress. Instead, he left for Venezuela on his first overseas visit as president.


More than 1,000 delegates and 200 guests took part in the CDR Congress. The Committees for the Defense of the Revolution are the island’s largest grassroots organization whose main task is “to safeguard socialist achievements” through an intimidation network established within local communities. According to its own estimates, the CDRs embrace 7.6 million Cubans. The Committees for the Defense of the Revolution were founded in September 1960 to keep an eye on “enemies of the Revolution” and it serves as the eyes and ears of the security services. It is supposedly made up of volunteers over 14 years of age who form into 136,000 neighborhood committees countrywide. The organization of the CDRs by sectors and blocks follows the national-regional-province-municipality-block pyramid structure.



Cuban Government Mends Relations with Church

Cuba held its first official beautification ceremony ever on November 29 in Camagüey. The event was attended by thousands of Roman Catholics and Cuban President Raul Castro.

The beatification brought Friar Jose Olallo Valdés, a monk known as the “father of the poor,” one step closer to sainthood. The ceremony was broadcast on state-controlled television. Raul Castro’s unannounced appearance was greeted with applause, a sign of the growing rapprochement between Cuba’s communist government and the Church.

Portuguese Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the Vatican’s saint-making office, presided over a three-hour mass in the Plaza de la Libertad (Plaza of Freedom) in Camagüey. The ceremony was also attended by Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, Papal Nuncio Luigi Bonazzi, Camagüey Archbishop Juan Garcia Rodríguez and some two dozen more Cuban and foreign clergy. The ceremony included a procession of thousands, carrying the monk’s remains in a golden urn. To commemorate the occasion, officials released a collection of doves and rang church bells.

Friar Olallo, a member of the Hospitallier Order of Saint John of God, helped the sick and wounded during Cuba’s first war of independence against Spain (1868-1878). He was the sole Hospitallier on the island at the time, defying Spanish orders that barred religious orders from Cuba. While this was the first beatification ceremony to be held in Cuba, Friar Olallo is not the first Cuban to be beatified. Cuban-born Fray Jose Lopez Piteira was given the honor in 2007, but in a ceremony that took place in Spain where he died during the Spanish civil war.

Cuba was declared an atheist state after the Revolution. Many priests were expelled or sent to labor camps. But relations improved significantly after former leader Fidel Castro welcomed Pope John Paul II to Havana a decade ago. When Raul Castro assumed the presidency, his first foreign visitor was Cardinal Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State. The appearance at the Camagüey ceremony is the second time in a week Castro has been to a church. Last Thursday, he accompanied Russian President Dmitri Medvedev to the newly opened Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Havana.



Russian President Medvedev Meets Fidel Castr 

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met Fidel Castro during an official trip to Cuba. Medvedev was not originally scheduled to meet with the former Cuban leader, but after laying flowers at a monument to Soviet Internationalist Soldiers near Havana, the present Cuban president took Medvedev to visit his brother. According to Russian presidential press secretary Natalia Timakova, the meeting with Fidel Castro lasted for about an hour. The conversation focused on the issues of Russia-Cuba cooperation and global politics.

Medvedev is one of a growing number of world leaders to have been received recently by Fidel Castro, who still has not appeared in public since undergoing emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006. Besides Medvedev, Fidel has recently met with leaders of the left-leaning governments of Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, Uruguay, and China,    


International Herald Tribune: Fidel’s Choice

It was once said of Fidel Castro that his “stomach is in Moscow but his heart is in Beijing.” Now the opposite seems to be true, write foreign-policy experts Andrew Small and Carolina Ferrer Rincon in the International Herald Tribune. China nowadays does more to pay the bills, they write. When Chinese President Hu visited Fidel Castro last week, the ailing leader was happy to receive Beijing’s largesse. Cuba, however, remains unwilling to adopt Chinese lessons, according to the experts. In their view, the prospects for Cuba to follow a China model are dim as long as Fidel remains on the scene. Instead, “Medvedev will find the elder Castro in a Russophile mood,” citing Fidel’s recent praises to the Russian Orthodox Church (“a spiritual force...not an ally of imperialism”). In the authors’ views, Fidel undoubtedly went beyond the government’s official line to give his unequivocal support to Moscow over the Georgia conflict.


Ukraine to Provide Humanitarian Assistance to  

Ukraine will provide relief aid to hurricane-battered Cuba, according to a decree signed by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, published on the government’s web site. 

In November, Hurricane Paloma hit Cuba, following upon two monster hurricanes that passed through Cuba in September.  Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers has been instructed to ensure the delivery of relief aid. The decree doesn’t mention the value of the hurricane relief. 


Raul Castro to Visit Venezuela on First Trip Abroa 

Cuba’s President of the Council of State, Raul Castro, will pay an official visit to Venezuela on December 13, said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. It is Raul Castro’s first foreign trip since assuming the country’s presidency on February 24, 2008. Chavez didn’t elaborate on Castro’s agenda, but said that upon his arrival the Cuban leader would lay a wreath at the tomb of Venezuela’s nineteenth century independence hero Simon Bolivar in downtown Caracas. Venezuela is Cuba’s main strategic and economic partner. Venezuela sells Cuba over 100,000 barrels of crude oil per day on preferential terms. In exchange, the Cuban government sends thousands of Cuban doctors and teachers to work in Venezuela. 


Cuba-EU Relations Not Back to Normal 

Cuban Ambassador to Belgium Elio Rodríguez said at a press conference at Brussels that official Havana does not consider its relations with the European Union to have been restored to normal yet. For full normalization to occur, he said, the unilaterally adopted and intrusive 1996 EU Common Position on Cuba must be revoked. He made his remarks after attending an event marking the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Raul Castro Makes First Foreign Trip as Presiden 

Cuban President Raul Castro made his first trip abroad since being formally selected as  president in February 2008. Raul Castro arrived in Caracas, Venezuela, on the morning of December 14, and was met on the tarmac by President Hugo Chavez. Greeting Raul Castro, Chavez said “it’s a big honor to have you with us.” Castro, in turn, recalled his first visit to this country some 55 years ago, when he came as a student. After the visit to Venezuela, Castro is expected to attend a summit of Latin American and Caribbean leaders in Brazil.



Cuba Lowers Mobile Phone Access Fe 

The Cuban government has decided to lower the access fee for mobile phone service from $120 to $65. Earlier in the year, the government adopted a new policy allowing all Cubans to buy and use mobile telephones for the first time. Mobile phone service to the public is provided by Cuban telecommunications monopoly ETECSA. The new access fee is still quite expensive for ordinary Cubans, whose average salary is roughly $20 a month.


American Experts Predict Jump in Cuban Oil Production

While Cuba currently produces 51,000 barrels of oil per day, it has the potential to pump up to 700,000 barrels by 2015, according to estimates by Terry Maris, executive director of the Center for Cuban Business Studies at Ohio Northern University.

In a lecture at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Maris said that Cuba would need $20 billion in investment to reach that production level. He noted that the experience of Sudan and other non-democratic countries shows that foreign companies will likely invest in Cuba to develop its crude reserves despite Cuba’s human rights record and lack of free elections. If the United States were to lift its 46-year-old economic embargo against the communist-ruled island, however, Cuba’s oil transformation would be much faster, Maris said. The country currently consumes 145,000 barrels of oil a day with the balance supplied by subsidized imports from, Venezuela, Maris said.

State-owned Cuba Petroleo claims crude reserves in the North Cuba Basin stand at 20 billion barrels, but the U.S. Geological Service estimates these reserves at 4.6 billion barrels.



Villa Clara Authorities Ban Sale of Bee 

Residents of Placetas municipality in the province of Villa Clara have become increasingly frustrated with the Cuban authorities’ decision to ban individual traders to sell beef meat, both in bulk and individual cuts of beef. The measure aggravates existing food problems in Cuba. 



Cuban Government Propaganda Machine Expands Broadcasting in Russian

The Cuban state news agency Prensa Latina launched a Russian-language website in May 2008, and since early December, it has been reproduced by the major search engines of the Russian-language Internet sector, Google News, and Yandex.Novosti. Despite poor translation, pro-Castro propaganda materials are becoming more noticeable than before in the daily flow of information used by Internet users in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, the Baltic States and other ex-Soviet republics.

“It’s a pity it happens at a time when, due to a lack of funds, we have to close the online bulletin “Cuba Chronicle of Events” and the website CubaToday.Ru which were the only regular Russian-language source of information about real Cuba, not embellished by communist propaganda,” says Nikolai Khramov, chief editor of the CubaToday.Ru website.

“For three years, we have been the mouthpiece of Cuban dissidents and the Cuban people on the Russian web, or Runet. Sadly, the Castro family’s ‘broadcasting organ’ will now take our place on this Internet wave,” he added.


New Latin American Cinema Fest Wraps Up

The winners of the 30th International Festival of the New Latin American Cinema were announced in Havana. The Chilean film “Tony Manero” by Pablo Larraín nabbed the top award. The fiction jury granted the First Coral prize to the movie.

The second prize was given to the Brazilian film “Linea de Pase” (Pass Line) by Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas. The third-place Coral Award went to the Cuban movie “El cuerno de la abundancia” (Horn of Plenty) by Juan Carlos Tabio. Filmmakers from Argentina picked up several awards in various categories for “La rabia” (Rage). The festival’s non-competition program featured a special screening of Steven Soderbergh’s “Che,” to which Cuban authorities had strongly objected at first. The Cuban public gave its endorsement with a strong ovation.




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

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