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Cuba Chronicle of Events
Issue No. 6, January 10-20, 2006


The Cuba Chronicle of Events is produced by the Prima NewsAgency in Russia in cooperation with the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe.

OPPOSITION

Rights Activists Mark Martin Luther King’s Birthday

Members of the Cuban Party for Human Rights organized a vigil on January 16 to commemorate the 77th birthday anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr., an outstanding fighter for civil rights of Black Americans. Acting party secretary Modesto Leopoldo Valdivia Varela told the audience of Reverend King’s life and said that peaceful Cuban oppositionists who strive for democratic changes on the island should be guided by King’s statement that “We will take direct action against injustice despite the failure of governmental and other official agencies to act first. We will not obey unjust laws or submit to unjust practices. We will do this peacefully, openly, cheerfully because our aim is to persuade. We adopt the means of non-violence because our end is a community at peace with itself. We will try to persuade with our words, but if our words fail, we will try to persuade with our acts. We will always be willing to talk and seek fair compromise, but we are ready to suffer when necessary and even risk our lives to become witnesses to truth as we see it.”
 

POLITICAL REPRESSION

Anti-Government Activist Claims Threats Against Him

Manuel Román Alarcón, an activist of the Plantados for the Liberation of Cuba movement said he was being threatened and persecuted by state security, particularly, by officers named David, Roswell, Eliezer, and a Major Aramis. “These officers have threatened to throw me in jail and accuse me of posting anti-government leaflets on the official municipality notice board,” he said.

Siege of a Blind Oppositionist Continues

Starting from January 12 this year, the house of blind lawyer Juan Carlos González Leiva has been besieged by crowds of students and members of organizations controlled by the Communist Party, reported eyewitnesses. Juan Carlos is president of the Cuban Foundation for Human Rights, and he has been targeted for his peaceful opposition activity. Juan Carlos is a former political prisoner. After serving part of his prison term, he has been placed under house arrest. He lives in the province of Ciego de Ávila, 400 km east of Havana. Groups of youngsters gathered outside his house are shouting obscenities from morning till night and are chanting slogans praising the present regime. They also smash windows and break down the doors. People who tried to approach Juan Carlos’ home were physically assaulted, according to a PRIMA-News correspondent. Eyewitnesses believe the scale and duration of these repressive actions indicate that the regime spares no effort and means to crush dissent.

Cuban State Security Persecutes Opposition Activist

Daysi Lazara Suárez Martínez, an activist of the group Sons of the Virgin (Hijos de la Virgen) in the municipality of Regla, claimed that state security threatened to order rapid response brigades to stage an act of repudio outside her home if she does not stop her opposition activity.

Search at a Dissident’s House in Santa Clara

Three policemen conducted a search at the house of dissident Idania Yanes Contreras on January 14 and 15. An officer in charge of the search said they’ve got information about illegal storage of beef in the house. When asked about her husband, Yanes Contreras replied that the house was in her possession and that the accusations were false. The police officers checked the refrigerator and searched under the bed but discovered nothing.  Yanes Contreras is coordinator of the Marta Abreu women movement and a student of the Higher Institute of Medical Sciences.
 

POLITICAL PRISONERS

Number of Political Prisoners Growing In Cuba

The number of people held prisoner in Cuba for political reasons spiked to 333 in the year 2005. This information was revealed on Wednesday by the Cuban non-government Commission for Human Rights and National Accord. Amnesty International reports that 80 prisoners of conscience are being incarcerated in Cuban jails.

Prisoners of Conscience Being Moved to Other Prisons

Two prisoners of conscience Iván Hernández Carrillo and Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique have been transferred from the prison in Holguín province to two different prisons in central provinces in Cuba. Ramos Lauzurique communicated to his relatives that he is being held in Nieves Morejón prison in the province of Sancti Spíritus, and that Hernández Carrillo is still in transit to the juvenile prison in the town of Villa Clara.

Women in White Seeks Release of Her Husband

Dolia Leal Francisco, the wife of Cuban political prisoner Nelson Aguiar Ramírez, has so far received no response to her two letters to the State Council and to President Fidel Castro, sent respectively on August 9, 2005 and January 9, 2006. In her letters, she described the poor health of her husband, who has been incarcerated since March 2003, and asked for his early release for health reasons. Aguiar Ramírez suffers from proliferative arthritis, hernia of intervertebral disc, liver failures, high blood pressure, and prostate hypoplasia, among other illnesses. Dolia Leal Francisco has lost any hope that her appeal would be ever considered. “I fear for my husband’s life. They are slowly killing him,” she told PRIMA-News.
Aguiar Ramírez was arrested and sentenced to 13 years in prison in the March 2003 crackdown known as “Black Spring” in Cuba. Seventy five Cuban dissidents were arrested and condemned to long terms of imprisonment at the time. At present, Nelson Aguiar Ramírez is being held in the national prison hospital affiliated to Combinado del Este prison in Havana. Dolia Leal is a member of the organization called Women in White, made up of the wives, mothers, and daughters of Cuban political prisoners. In 2005, this movement was honored by the European Parliament with its annual Andrei Sakharov Prize.
 

FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE

At Least Three House Churches Shut Down By Authorities

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), at least three Protestant house churches were forcibly closed in Cuba after the government announced new tougher legislation against churches based in homes in 2005. Two in the western provinces of Guantanamo and Holguin were forcibly shut down in August and at the end of last year, respectively. The third one located in a suburb of Havana was demolished when church members gathered to celebrate the New Year. To justify this move, authorities claimed the churches were “illegal constructions.”

The new legislation, including Directive 43 and Resolution 46, was announced last April around the time of the Pope John Paul II’s funeral. These require all house churches to register with the authorities, but church leaders are concerned that the process of registration is so complicated as to be practically impossible. Many consider the law to be the beginning of a new wave of repression across the island against the house church movement.  CSW is concerned that the closing of the three churches might signal a new attack on freedom of conscience. CSW considered it likely that more churches were also closed, but no specific information had been received due to the difficulty of getting news from the island.
 

REFUGEES

87 Cuban Refugees Land; 15 Others Are Deported Amid a Hunger Strike and Legal Challenge

On December 31, 2005, 87 Cuban refugees landed on Florida beaches, reported AP. Two groups totaling 37 came ashore in Marathon, 28 to Miami Beach, 19 to the Florida Keys and three to the Dry Tortugas. According to the immigration police, they appeared well, but dehydrated and cold. In early January, however, American authorities deported 15 Cubans for attempting to smuggle into the country, according to the Coast Guard, who said they failed to reach U.S. soil. Under the so-called wet-feet, dry-feet policy, Cubans who reach U.S. coast may apply for asylum and be granted a residence permit, while those picked up at sea are sent home.

As of January 11, Ramón Saúl Sánchez from the Democracy Movement was continuing a hunger strike that he launched on January 7 outside a U.S. Coast Guard station in Miami to protest against the possible deportation of 15 Cuban immigrants who were found on a boat near the semi-destroyed bridge at the Florida Keys, but not on dry land. The activist said he would fast “day and night” to protest how Cubans are treated “like dirt.”

U.S. federal judge Federico Moreno said that the U.S. government had acted against logic in sending home15 Cubans who had alighted on an abandoned dilapidated bridge in the Florida Keys. He said that he would take no immediate decision on a lawsuit filed by a group of lawyers on behalf of the deported Cubans seeking their return to the United States. But he said he had some questions regarding the government’s motives in this case. The U.S. government stated that it had sent the rafters home because the bridge they landed on was no longer connected to dry land. Moreno noted that even those opposed to Cubans’ being granted special protection under the U.S. immigration legislation would find it difficult to understand the reasons behind the government’s decision. Moreno told assistant attorney Dexter Lee, “An average person will find the issue of whether the bridge is U.S. territory ridiculous.” The abandoned bridge was built by railway tycoon Henry Flagler and used until 1982. Should U.S. authorities allow the 15 Cubans to return to the United States, however, it is doubtful that Fidel Castro will permit it. But lawyers for the 15 Cubans and the pro-Cuban Democracy Movement asked the judge to clarify what constitutes U.S. territory under the so-called wet-feet and dry-feet policy.

The deported Cubans fled their native island on a small boat and thought they had reached dry land, and with it safety in the U.S., when on January 4, after a day-long voyage, they had reached the bridge. However, the bridge which ran side by side with a newly erected one was full of gaps. The immigrants had the misfortune to land on its section which was not connected to land.
Several days before the incident, a Florida delegation in U.S. Congress has called on the government to review the “wet-feet, dry-feet” policy. This law was introduced in 1995 to curtail the inflow of Cuban and Haitian immigrants striving to reach U.S. soil.
 

FOREIGN RELATIONS

Russia Intends To Strengthen Military Ties With Cuba

“Strengthening military ties with Cuba and giving them a new quality impetus is the key goal of my visit to this Caribbean state,” said the Chief of Russia’s General Staff, Army General Yuri Baluyevsky on December 27, 2005.  “I feel that we are duty-bound to maintain friendly relations with Cuba and not to abandon it at a difficult time for this country,” Baluyevsky said. He expressed hope that “contacts in the military field will be given new meaning.”

The Chief of the General Staff of the Revolutionary armed forces of Cuba, Alvaro Lopez Miera stated, in turn, that the visit would help significantly strengthen ties between the two countries’ military agencies. During his visit, Baluyevsky will meet with high-ranking Cuban military officials. He is also scheduled to meet with Cuban Defense Minister Raul Castro. The Chief of Russia’s General Staff will tour Cuban military units and installations. Baluyevsky's delegation is the highest-ranking to visit Cuba since 1998.

George W. Bush Extends Sanctions Against Cuba for One Year

George W. Bush has extended U.S. unilateral sanctions against Cuba for another year, reports the White House’s press service. This decision prolongs the legislation signed by President Clinton in 1996 in reaction to Cuba’s downing of two small U.S. private planes in international airspace north of Cuba. In February 2004, Bush added to it a new provision to “deny the repressive Cuban government financial and material support.”

On January 11 this year, Bush notified U.S. Congress about his decision to extend the embargo against Havana for another year. On February 24, 1996, two small U.S. registered civil aircraft “Cessna” operated by the Cuban émigré group Brothers to the Rescue based in Miami, Florida, were shot down while trying to carry out a humanitarian mission not far from Cuba. The planes were downed by two missiles fired by a Cuban air force fighter within an interval of 6 minutes. As a result, all four members of the Brothers to the Rescue on board the planes were killed. An investigation undertaken by ICAO showed that at the moment of shooting down the two “Cessna” planes were in international airspace.

Strategy to Support a Transition to Democracy in Cuba

The U.S. State Department has confirmed that a government commission would present next May a comprehensive strategy to assist the democratic transition in Cuba. This plan will be incorporated into a report to be prepared by the so-called Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba and might include recommendations on the revision of the “dry-feet, wet-feet” policy currently applied to Cubans fleeing from the island to the United States.

The Commission is chaired by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. It began its work on December 19 to give assignments to Commission’s task groups. In its first report, the Commission set forth a plan of action to accelerate the fall of the Communist government of Fidel Castro. Its goal is to empower Cuban society to oppose the government, to break its blockade on information, to deny financial resources to the Castro regime and to hinder Castro’s efforts to prepare his successor. The Commission will also give additional recommendations to help the Cuban people hasten the coming of the day when a free Cuba is a reality.

Russia Still Regards Cuba as Its Priority Partner in Latin America

 “Cuba is still a priority partner for the Russian Federation in the region of Latin America,” stated Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko on January 18 while speaking at a Moscow reception to mark the 47th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. “Russian-Cuban relations reflect twists and turns of the 20th century,” noted Grushko. “But they managed to successfully adapt to the present socio-economic realities.” The deputy foreign minister pointed out that the “political dialogue between Moscow and Havana is quite active,” and “Russia and Cuba have common or close positions on issues of the international agenda.” “For Russia, the most important task is to achieve a breakthrough in bilateral economic relations, and we have a potential for that,” Grushko said.
 

ECONOMICS

License Fee for the Self-Employed Raised

A license fee for self-employed photographers has been raised from 100 to 150 peso in the city of Moron, Ciego de Ávila province. José Manuel Caraballo Bravo, an independent journalist and photographer, said his pay book for this year contains an unlawful rise. A female officer of the tax authority (ONAT) said in a telephone interview that the decision had been taken by the Administrative Council of People’s Power and that it applied to other professions as well, including private taxi drivers and carpenters. However, since his fellow photographers knew nothing about the license fee increase, Caraballo Bravo concluded this move was aimed against him personally to force him to give up his business as photographer.

Cuba Reports Record Economy Growth

Cuban authorities announced they had turned a corner in its recovery from a severe financial crisis and that the country’s GDP had increased by 11.8 percent in 2005, Associated Press reports. Addressing Cuba’s lawmakers, Economics Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez said the nation had fully recovered from the economic crisis caused by the Soviet Union’s collapse. The growth figures are the highest in the 47-year-long post-revolutionary history of the country, he underlined. Cuba’s methodology for calculating economic growth takes into account the country’s social safety net and subsidized services, making Cuba’s growth figures difficult to compare with those of other countries. As a result, the United Nation’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean may omit the island’s numbers from its report for this year.

Over 200,000 “Social Workers” Dispatched to Crush Corruption

The Cuban government is trying to check spreading corruption as it sends over 200,000 young people to audit and monitor all operations inside state-owned enterprises which embrace the whole economic activity of the island. These measures were announced by Fidel Castro himself. In his recent address, he spoke about the widespread corruption involving nearly everyone, from high-ranking officials to industrial workers and shop assistants who could lay their hands on anything that might be sold or re-sold for personal profit. Young auditors, or “social workers” as they are called, are usually assigned to provinces far away from their homes. That is apparently done to prevent them from giving special, friendly, treatment to local employees. The campaign was most visible in Pinar del Rio where police frequently raided street vendors selling goods (mostly, food) stolen from state-run shops and warehouses.
 

SOCIAL ISSUES

No Hotel Rooms for Cubans in Provincial Administrative Center

Pinar del Rio, a provincial capital with a population of 200,000, cannot provide hotel accommodation for Cubans. Travelers or those seeking rooms for intimate dates have to look for other solutions as all three city hotels previously open for Cubans have been remodeled for other purposes. “If you need a room even for a night, all you can hope for is a bush in the city’s suburb,” a young man and his girlfriend said. Three hotels that catered for Cubans have been re-designated for other purposes. Italia and La Marina provide shelter for those whose homes were destroyed by recent hurricanes, while El Globo now serves as a home for the so-called social workers, or young auditors who come from other provinces recruited to audit state-owned enterprises and detect tax evasion as the government launched its campaign to wipe out corruption among officials.

No Pork in Butcher’s Shops in Moron

There was no pork last week at the butcher’s shops in Moron. Some people urge municipal authorities to solve this problem, while others claim the government itself has created the problem. Last September, provincial government banned private producers to sell pork, saying that from that time onward only state-owned shops can do that. Many Cubans say they envisaged the consequences. According to experts, the government does not allow state-owned shops such as Mercaditos La Ideal to raise retail prices for fear of public protests. At the same time, the state-owned meat supplier La Loza has pushed wholesale prices to the heights inaccessible for retailers. All that created a situation when those buying meat on the black market are at risk to be fined 1500 peso and have their meat confiscated.
 

OTHER NEWS

Most Cubans Stand Up for Democracy and Against Castro

The majority of the Cuban population supports democracy and opposes the perennial rule of Fidel Castro, shows an independent survey conducted in Cuba by Solidariedad con Cuba, a Spanish non-governmental organization. Between October 8 and November 3, 2005, the group polled 540 Cubans, using a questionnaire compiled with the assistance of Spanish sociologists. The most striking result of the poll is the different mentality of younger and elder generation. When asked about their preferences with regard to a political regime, 53 percent replied in favor of democracy, 27 percent were uncertain, and 20 percent supported dictatorship. The result appears revolutionary when categorizing the replies by age groups. Over 80 percent of young people aged 18 to 29 favored democracy, while opinions of those over 60 appeared to be evenly split. Half of them stood up for a democracy, and the other half for dictatorship. Fifty three percent of respondents supported an amnesty for political prisoners, 38 percent refrained from answering the question, and only 9 percent opposed the measure. Regarding everyday problems, people said the major headache was job-related, i.e., meager salaries and difficulties to find employment according to their training. Hunger ranked second in the list of their problems.

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The Review of Cuban 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, Review of Cuban Events, Prima-News at prima@prima-news.ru or to idee@idee.org.