Friday, April 30, 2010

Cuba Extends Promotion on Cell Phone Activation Plans

Cuba Extends Promotion on Cell Phone Activation Plans

HAVANA, Cuba, Apr 29 (acn) The Cuban Telecommunications Enterprise
(ETECSA) announced on Thursday the extension for another month of a
promotion under which locals who activate a line during that period
receive a credit of $20 in pre-paid minutes.

Cuban News Agency

The promotion will be in force until May 31, according to the company's

Activation costs for cell phones in Cuba have dropped from an original
120 cuc to a current 40 cuc.

Local cell phone users will enjoy significant cost savings as the
company recently made public new rates beginning May 3 for international
calls, with a drop by 42 percent to 75 depending on the destination. The
rate of national calls made from 11:00 pm to 6:59 am was also reduced
from around $0.40 to $0.10 per minute. Likewise the collect-call service
will be activated.

ETECSA is predicting that the number of wireless subscribers on the
island will exceed one million by the end of 2010 and this figure is
expected to be doubled up by 2015.

Cell phones subsidized by the government have also been distributed to
people who live in remote areas where conditions make it too difficult
to install landlines.

Cuba has invested some $150 million since 2003 to develop the local
cellular phone industry, ETECSA's vice president of mobile services,
Maximo Lafuente, told Prensa Latina news agency.

In Raul Castro's Cuba, A Limit On New Freedoms

In Raul Castro's Cuba, A Limit On New Freedoms
by Nick Miroff
April 30, 2010

Since President Raul Castro took over the country's leadership, there
has been a greater openness to public criticism — within limits — in the
one-party system. But for those who go too far or organize against the
government, the response is swift and sometimes ugly.

Last Sunday, six older women dressed in white walked out of their Havana
church after Mass and attempted to march, carrying pink flowers. They're
part of a larger group that has been doing this every week since 2003,
when their loved ones were jailed in a political crackdown.

In Cuba, it is the closest thing to a public protest against the
government. But this month, things changed.

A plainclothes government agent ordered the women to stop their march,
and when they argued, he walked away. Then a crowd of government
supporters charged in.

The group of women, known as the Ladies in White, shouted "libertad" —
"freedom" — as dozens of pro-Castro counter-demonstrators surrounded
them. The counter-demonstrators shoved the women, ripped up their
flowers and screamed in their faces, calling them mercenaries, traitors
and worms.

Under Raul Castro, Cubans have more opportunities to vent. But the
government has not tolerated open protests against the government.

The crowd pushed the women into a nearby park and circled them to
prevent their escape, chanting "Fidel, Fidel." Plainclothes government
agents with earpieces and aviator sunglasses stood nearby, directing the
crowd and intervening when things got too rough.

A few passing Cubans stopped to watch, but they neither joined in nor

Greater Freedom Of Expression

Cuba has done more under Raul Castro to let its citizens vent
frustrations. Raul took over Cuba's leadership in 2006 because of the
illness of his brother, Fidel Castro, and officially took over as
president in 2008.

Letters to the editor and essays in the state media now openly denounce
corruption or call for market-style reforms. Prominent artists and
scholars are publicly urging changes. Last weekend, a popular hip-hop
group with harshly critical lyrics was granted unusual permission to
perform at an official venue.

But some Cubans say the signs of openness are misleading.

Cosmetic Changes

"There's no space for people who really think differently," said a Cuban
bystander in a city park who said his name is Eduardo. "The changes are
merely cosmetic," he said. "They're for people who already think the same."

There no longer appears to be a place for the Ladies in White, who are
the wives and mothers of jailed government opponents. Last month, they
staged a week of daily marches, drawing international support for their

But for the past three Sundays in a row, the government has blocked
them, sending a stern message with counter-demonstrators, like Aracely
Keeling, who carry out what are called acts of repudiation against the

"I'm here because I'm a Cuban citizen, and these women are trying to
incite the rest of the country," Keeling said. "They're paid by the
United States to form part of a media campaign against the Cuban people."

The Cuban government has released documents that it says show the Ladies
in White have received financial help and support from U.S. officials
and anti-Castro militants in Florida.

Countering The Demonstrators

The Ladies in White get no sympathy from Maria Elena Martinez, who was
red-faced and hoarse from shouting at them.

"These people are criminals; they're the scum of this country," Martinez
said. "They're only here because they know they can get the attention of
the foreign media. They're just using you to create this whole circus."

On that Sunday, the counter-demonstrators chanted "Cuba Si, Yanqui No!"
as the harassment against the Ladies in White went on for seven hours.

The women didn't go to the bathroom, and they did not sit down. They
just stood, staring straight ahead. And while their numbers have been
dwindling each week, they say they are going to try to march again Sunday.

Cuba visitors face new medical insurance rule

Cuba visitors face new medical insurance rule
Last Updated: Friday, April 30, 2010 | 2:08 PM ET
CBC News

Travellers who do not have proof of insurance coverage may be required
to obtain health insurance from a Cuban insurance company when they
arrive.Travellers who do not have proof of insurance coverage may be
required to obtain health insurance from a Cuban insurance company when
they arrive. (Scott Heppell/Associated Press)

Canadians travelling to Cuba will be required to present proof of health
insurance to enter the country as of Saturday.

To meet the requirement, travellers should have travel insurance that
covers medical expenses, the Cuban government said.

"Upon arrival, travellers may be required to present an insurance
policy, insurance certificate, or medical assistance card valid for the
period of their stay in Cuba," Foreign Affairs says in its travel report
for the country.

"Those who do not have proof of insurance coverage may be required to
obtain health insurance from a Cuban insurance company when they arrive."

Provincial health insurance plans do not provide direct coverage for
out-of-country emergency medical services.
Supplemental health insurance urged

Provincial plans may cover only part of the costs and will not pay the
bill up front as Cuba requires, Foreign Affairs noted.

"It is therefore recommended that travellers purchase supplemental
health insurance," the department said.

Canadians visitors carrying only provincial government health insurance
cards will have to pay Cuban hospitals, doctors or other providers in
full at the time of treatment and then seek reimbursement from their
provincial plans, which normally cover only a fraction of the charges.

Some private insurers also require the traveller to pay costs up front
and be reimbursed later, Foreign Affairs noted.

All health insurance policies will be recognized except those issued by
U.S. insurance companies, which cannot provide coverage in Cuba.

Provincial health plans also strongly urge residents to purchase
supplemental travel insurance for any trips they make out of the
country. Provincial plans also do not cover the cost of ground ambulance
in Cuba or repatriation back to Canada on commercial airlines or air

"People do need to have supplementary insurance, either purchasing
coverage through their employer or employer benefit plan or on a credit
card," Martha Turnbull, president of the Travel Health Insurance
Association of Canada (THIA), said in an interview.

The association also encouraged Canadians to get a letter from their
insurance company or employer stating they do have coverage.

Turnbull suggested Canadians also consider insuring their travel
arrangements since getting home early from Cuba or cancelling a trip can
be expensive.

Cuba must compensate US before embargo is lifted: lawmaker

Cuba must compensate US before embargo is lifted: lawmaker

WASHINGTON — Cuba must pay the United States six billion dollars in
compensation for expropriated businesses and property before Washington
lifts a decades-old trade embargo, a US lawmaker said Thursday.

"We must resolve the over six billion dollars in expropriation claims...
before developing a more robust economic relationship with a post-Castro
democratic government in Cuba," said Kevin Brady, a Republican US
representative from the state of Texas, speaking at a congressional
hearing on US trade with Cuba.

Brady's remarks come after a top Cuban official last week challenged the
United States to lift its punishing economic embargo against Havana.

Cuba's National Assembly president Ricardo Alarcon pressed Washington to
"lift it, even for a year, to see whether it is in our interest or theirs."

After coming to power in 1959, Cuban leader Fidel Castro nationalized
numerous US enterprises in the name of the communist revolution.

In 1972, the value of Cuba's expropriated US property was estimated to
be worth about 1.8 billion dollars, according to a US government panel
that examined the issue.

That sum has grown more than three-fold over the years because of
compounding interest, set at an annual rate of six percent.

The Foreign Claims Settlement Commission of the United States (FCSC),
the independent, quasi-judicial federal agency under the aegis of the US
Department of Justice, is tasked with determining the monetary value of
claims by US nationals for loss of overseas property as a result of
nationalization or military operations.

At Thursday's hearing, the US Chamber of Commerce and non-governmental
organizations including the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
argued in favor of relaxing trade restrictions against Havana.

Brady said he was "open to loosening some restrictions on Cuba," but
only after the US government and private American interests divested of
their property after the revolution were compensated.

President Barack Obama came into office seeking better relations with
Cuba, but after an initial thaw, tensions have set in again, most
recently over Cuba's treatment of dissidents.

Cuba's underground rappers test free speech

Cuba's underground rappers test free speech
By Isabel Sanchez (AFP)

HAVANA — Cuba's underground hip hop duo "Los Aldeanos" are boldly
grooving where no Cuban has gone in five decades: criticizing the
communist government loud and proud for the first time to a sell-out crowd.

"They tell the truth, say the things we feel, the things that a lot of
Cubans cannot say. The freedom that we do not have," explained Yoelvis
Fonseca, a 27-year-old construction worker, as he sweated and swayed to
the beat of the rhyming twosome that recently packed the Acapulco movie
theatre with more than 2,000 rabid fans.

True, this event was not advertised in state-controlled media.

And even the sign in lights outside the Acapulco disjointedly read
"Today, Sherlock Holmes."

But the word was on the street, and the under-30s were in the house for
the first major show by the dissident duo who have been around --
stealthy and not wealthy -- for seven years.

They called the show "Seven years with the village," and maybe because
the venue was huge, they held off singing their underground hits most
critical of life in Cuba.

Los Aldeanos -- which means villagers, but is a riff on one member's
name -- have come a long way, baby.

In the only communist country in the Americas, where confronting the
government can be a ticket to prison, they have hit it big taking on the
government, corruption and giving voice to Cubans' everyday frustrations.

Their rhymes -- they sing in Spanish -- are direct and pull no punches,
with lines like: "I can't stand one more lie," and "All of this/one day
will change/for the good of the people."

And it gets hotter in this country with a one-party regime and a
leadership dominated by officials well over 70: "I'm from a chilling
society/that listens with piety/to the same people who have gagged
it/with a bag of fake freedom," one Los Aldeanos line goes.

Another classic for fans: "So many are dead/or in jail/people would
rather die for the American dream/than live through this Cuban nightmare."

Tattooed friends Bian Rodriguez (El B) and Aldo Rodriguez (El Aldeano)
first got their act together back in 2003, playing mainly in Havana's
dingy underground rap halls as well as parks and the odd cultural event.

But the Acapulco theatre gig was a landmark, as the group and its fans
pushed the envelope. For now, the government did not push back.

"This concert is breaking the silence," the duo's representative Melisa
Riviere told AFP.

For the Aldeanos, however, the crux of the group's political viewpoint
is that they need to speak out, to say something, but they are not
interested in leaving Cuba.

"Talking about what is happening here is the way that we take part in
the Revolution," El B says. "Criticizing in Miami makes no sense; this
is where the (expletive) is hitting the fan."

Riviere went out on a limb insisting that "Miami and Washington have
tried to manipulate what Los Aldeanos are. We have spent a long time
explaining that they are not counter-revolutionaries."

Aldo himself insists in one line, "I am not a communist; nor am I a
socialist; nor am I a Leninist; I am a Revolutionary." It is a masterful
spin on the everyday wordplay of the government which constantly
implores everyone to be just that -- "revolutionary".

The duo are rhyming as if to see if there is any reaction to their not
being communists, as long as they are with the Revolution -- the regime
that has been in place since 1959 and was led by Fidel Castro for more
than 40 years.

And their 18 CDs -- such as "Censored" and "Viva Cuba Libre" -- are sold
widely on the black market in Cuba.

Though some clubs refused to let them play, Los Aldeanos also have
played with the likes of mainstream artist Pablo Milanes, and won some
national prizes.

Occasionally a radio station will play one of their less critical numbers.

"I am a fan because they sing about what the people are going through,"
said Yamel Gonzalez, who at 26 is getting ready to start at university.
"People's words cannot be a crime."

Among the 200 people unable to get into the concert was a young man in a
black T-shirt, jeans and earrings who asked not to be named.

"They are really ballsy," he said, referring to the rappers, "because
they talk about the way things really are: that there is a dictatorship."

White Ladies shine light on Cuba's human rights

White Ladies shine light on Cuba's human rights
4:00 AM Saturday May 1, 2010

HAVANA: Nearly every eligible Cuban cast ballots in a vote the Communist
Government claims is proof of the island's democracy.

But if headlines were made, it was by six elderly women standing under
an ancient ficus tree, enduring seven hours of insults and obscenities
for demanding political prisoners be freed.

Cuba complains the foreign media makes way too much of a small, divided
dissident movement that has little sway with ordinary people. But the
Government has helped draw attention to the women - known as the Damas
de Blanco, or Ladies in White - by choosing, with no explanation, to
start blocking their small weekly protests after seven years of
tolerating them.

In another sign of crackdown, an independent journalist with ties to the
Ladies in White was sentenced to 20 months in prison for allegedly
mistreating her adult daughter.

Dania Virgen Garcia was arrested on April 20 and sentenced three days
later after her daughter - apparently angry at her mother's criticism of
the Communist Government - filed a complaint, said Elizardo Sanchez,
head of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National
Reconciliation, citing information from friends of the detained journalist.
CCID: 31622

Sanchez said he suspects - but cannot prove - that Garcia was targeted
since she is a supporter of the Damas de Blanco, or Ladies in White,
whose regular Sunday march has been blocked by Cuban Government
supporters for the past three weeks. He said he would need several days
to obtain the necessary documents clarifying her arrest.

Garcia, who filed internet dispatches in defiance of Government controls
on all Cuban media, was being held at a high-security women's prison in
Havana and is unreachable, Sanchez said.

There was no answer yesterday at the home of Laura Pollan, a founding
member of the Ladies in White. Cuba's Government had no immediate comment.

After years of obscurity, the women have become a cause celebre among
Cuban-American exiles in the United States. The move to quash their
protests has many in Washington wondering if Havana is trying to scuttle
relations that seemed on the mend just months ago.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Fidel and Raul Castro could be
creating a crisis because they don't want the US to drop the embargo,
which she said gives them a convenient excuse for their revolution's

Ricardo Alarcon, head of Cuba's Parliament, scoffed at the notion.

"Mrs Clinton is a very intelligent woman and I don't want to be rude
with her," Alarcon said. "If she really believes the continuation of the
embargo is in the benefit of our government, it's very simple for her to
ask Congress to lift the embargo."

Cuba urged to respect press freedom as repression of journalists intensifies

Cuba urged to respect press freedom as repression of journalists intensifies
30 April 2010

Amnesty International today called on the Cuban authorities to end
harassment of independent journalists following a month in which several
reporters were arbitrarily detained and intimidated for criticizing the

"Journalists who try to work independently of the state-owned media
outlets in Cuba are being targeted with repressive tactics and spurious
criminal charges - and this clampdown on freedom of expression appears
to be intensifying," said Susan Lee, Amnesty International's Americas
Director, ahead of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May.

Journalist Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias remains in detention after being
arrested on 23 April by security officials who broke into the house
where he was covering a memorial service for a prisoner of conscience.
Orlando Zapata Tamayo had died two months earlier after several weeks on
hunger strike in protest against the plight of prisoners of conscience
in Cuba.

Another journalist described the campaign of intimidation waged against
him as "psychological torture". Yosvani Anzardo Hernández, the director
of an online independent newspaper, was detained on 24 April and
questioned for over six hours over anti-government graffiti found in the
city of Holguin.

Meanwhile, news agency director Carlos Serpa Maceira was subjected to
intimidation and harassment by the Cuban authorities when he tried to
cover the weekly march by the activist group Damas de Blanco (Ladies in
White) on three consecutive weekends in April.

Members of the Damas de Blanco have been repeatedly harassed and
intimidated by government supporters, and their weekly demonstrations
were forcibly broken by police on at least two occasions.

"Criminal charges, or other forms of harassment and intimidation, must
not be brought against independent journalists, human rights advocates
or political dissidents as a result of their legitimate exercise of
freedom of expression," said Susan Lee.

There are currently 55 prisoners of conscience detained in Cuba, most of
them serving long sentences for criticizing the Cuban government and
advocating basic human rights. Among them are several independent

Several articles of the Cuban Constitution and Penal Code are so vague
that the authorities have been able to use them in a way that infringes
freedom of expression. The Cuban State also maintains a total control of
broadcast media and the press, while access to the internet is heavily

"As a result of these restrictions on freedom of expression, Cubans are
unable to share independent information without facing direct repression
from the authorities," said Susan Lee.

"Restrictions on access to the internet should be lifted and censorship
of websites containing information and views contrary to government
policies must be eliminated."

Amnesty International has urged the Cuban authorities to review all
legal provisions that unlawfully limit freedom of expression and to
release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally.

Chavez Calling On Castro, Morales To Join Him On Twitter

Chavez Calling On Castro, Morales To Join Him On Twitter
April 30, 2010 2:12 p.m. EST
Topics: science and technology, human interest, offbeat, technology,
curiosity, World
Ayinde O. Chase - AHN News Editor

Caracas, Venezuela (AHN) - Venezuela's socialist president Hugo Chavez
is urging Cuba's Fidel Castro to join him in using the social networking
site Twitter. Chavez himself already has 120,00 followers after only
three days using the service.

Venezuela witnessed a dramatic rise in people using Twitter last year
and Chavez once a vocal critic of social networking sites is now one of
its staunchest supporters. He's said recently that Twitter allows him a
way to combat critics of his government.

His invitation to Tweet also went out to Bolivian leader Evo Morales
another ally who shares his anti-American sentiment.

U.S. president Barack Obama is one of the top ten most followed on
Twitter with nearly 3.8 million followers. British Prime Minister Gordon
Brown is the next most popular head of state with 1.7 million followers.

Chavez can be followed at chavezcandanga.,%20Morales%20To%20Join%20Him%20On%20Twitter

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cuban air charter case sent to Fla. state court

Posted on Thursday, 04.29.10
Cuban air charter case sent to Fla. state court
The Associated Press

MIAMI -- A Miami woman's attempt to force air charter companies to pay a
$27 million legal judgment owed to her by the Cuban government has been
bounced from federal to state court.

U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno agreed Wednesday with Ana Margarita
Martinez that the matter should be handled at the state level. The
charter companies wanted Moreno to intervene.

Martinez was awarded damages in 2001 after claiming in a lawsuit that
she was tricked into marrying a Cuban man who later turned out to be a
spy. To satisfy the judgment, her lawyers want to collect fees that
eight U.S. air charter companies pay to Cuba for rights to land there.

Cuba has ignored the lawsuit. The charter companies claim paying the
fees would put them out of business.

Cuba to increase refining capacity to 350,000 barrels a day

Cuba to increase refining capacity to 350,000 barrels a day
Published on Thursday, April 29, 2010

HAVANA, Cuba (ACN) -- Hector Pernia, chief executive of the PDVSA-Cuba
joint venture said the Cuban oil refining system is designed to process
350,000 barrels a day, a capacity Cuba will reach once the joint
investment works are concluded.

This will guarantee steady supplies of oil derivates to every Caribbean
island and the PetroCaribe (integration mechanism in the energy field)
member countries, said Pernia, according to local 5 de Septiembre
newspaper's website.

The investment program includes the setting up of a new plant to refine
150 000 barrels a day in Matanzas city (in the northern coast, while
Cienfuegos is in the south)

At the same time, the Cienfuegos refinery will increase its capacity
from 65 000 to 150 000, and the one located in Santiago de Cuba (eastern
Cuba) will move up from 22 to 50 000.

The Cienfuegos refinery has averaged 59 000 barrels a day since the
beginning of 2008, said Pernia.

This industry, created by the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our
America (ALBA) is the core of a petrochemical development pole in

As part of the mega project, Cienfuegos port renovation is in the final
stages, as well as a gas pipeline that joins that city with the super
tanker base in Matanzas, said Pernia.

Another Cuba-Venezuela joint venture newly created is in charge of the
construction of an ammoniacal and urea processing plant, announced Pernia.

Cuba accuses German foundation of CIA links

Cuba accuses German foundation of CIA links
13:06, April 29, 2010

Cuba accused the German foundation Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) of
maintaining close ties with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA),
the official daily Granma said Wednesday.

Granma reported that the KAS recently organized a conference in Brussels
entitled "Cuba-EU Policy: Between Pragmatism and Values," attended
mostly by CIA agents and experts in Latin America.

"Clearly we are in the presence of another intervention of the U.S.
intelligence service in the field of global politics in Europe," Granma

The newspaper cited the Venezuelan-American researcher Eva Golinger, who
revealed that since the 1960s, the KAS has been striving to isolate and
undermine the Cuban Revolution.

Golinger said the foundation is closely linked with the Cuban American
National Foundation and the Center for a Free Cuba, both largely funded
by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the
National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a Washington-based non-profit
organization supported by the U.S. national budget.

The KAS was founded in 1956 and belongs to the German Christian
Democratic Union. It has an annual budget of 100 million euros.

Granma added that amount allows the KAS to finance political parties,
NGOs, or any organization that promotes the interests of the
international right-wing, which is supported by the United States.

Arrested, tried, jailed -- in less than 2 days

Posted on Thursday, 04.29.10
Arrested, tried, jailed -- in less than 2 days
The jailing of a Cuban dissident arrested in an apparent family dispute
was called `political repression' by human rights activists.

Dissident Cuban journalist Dania Virgen García apparently struck her
23-year old daughter during a fight. In less than 48 hours, she was
arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to 20 months in prison.

Havana human rights activist Elizardo Sánchez said Wednesday he'll need
a week or two to thoroughly investigate the arrest of García, 41, who
also marched often in support of the Ladies in White.

But Sánchez said he has a strong hunch: ``It could well be a case of
political repression, taking advantage of a family situation.''

That's not uncommon, he added, in a country where the government can
easily drum up an array of criminal charges against opponents of the
communist system.

Sánchez said he obtained preliminary information on the case after his
Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation sent an
investigator to the Havana home García shared with her daughter, Suzy,
and 2-year-old nephew.

``The daughter was reticent to speak, but the family seemed to be
hostile to [García's] dissident activities,'' he said. ``She said her
mother was properly sent to jail because of abuses . . . She also said
maybe there [in prison] she would change her dissident activities.''

The daughter also told the investigators that she ``argued a lot'' with
her mother, and indicated that at some point the mother struck her,
Sánchez told El Nuevo Herald via telephone from Havana.

García was arrested April 22, apparently on charges of ``abuse of
maternal authority'' and the next day was tried, convicted and sentenced
to 20 months in prison. Sánchez said. She was sent to the country's
largest prison for women, Manto Negro.

In Miami, Carmen Ferreiro, a member of a group that supports dissidents
and has contracted a Havana lawyer to appeal García's case, said she
also had information the family was ``very pro-government.''

Sánchez said he has been unable to locate the court documents in the
case. El Nuevo Herald called García's home several times, but no one

García is not among Cuba's better known dissidents, but she has been
active as an independent journalist, blogger and member of the Ladies in
Support -- women who often march with the Ladies in White, female
relatives of some of the 75 dissidents jailed in a 2003 clampdown.

Some of her dispatches have been published in Miscelaneas de Cuba,
Primavera Digital and CubaNet, all exile-based groups that post the work
of independent journalists in online pages.

García's blog, daniavirgengarcí, is supported by
Ferreiro's Center for Human Rights and Democracy, established by
veterans of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.

``Things in Cuba are not well at all, but I am going to continue this
struggle to the death or until whatever they want happens; I will
continue to support the Ladies in White, even if they continue to beat
us, because what they want is for us to be afraid and we are not going
to allow that to happen,'' García wrote in a recent post.

García's incarceration was condemned in a Wall Street Journal editorial
Tuesday that called it ``the clearest sign to date of the regime's
desperation in the face of popular discontent.'' The Inter American
Press Association issued a statement condemning the arrest and noting
that García appears to be the only woman among the 26 journalists
currently jailed in Cuba.

Activist: Cuban backer of Ladies in White jailed

Posted on Thursday, 04.29.10
Activist: Cuban backer of Ladies in White jailed
Associated Press Writer

HAVANA -- An independent Cuban journalist with ties to the Ladies in
White dissident group has been sentenced to 20 months in prison for
allegedly mistreating her adult daughter, a veteran island human rights
leader said Thursday.

Dania Virgen Garcia was arrested on April 20 and sentenced three days
later after her daughter - apparently angry at her mother's criticism of
the communist government - filed a complaint, Elizardo Sanchez, head of
the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said,
citing information from friends of the detained journalist.

In a telephone interview, Sanchez said that he did not know the exact
charges against her or the nature of the alleged mistreatment.

Sanchez said he suspects - but cannot prove - Garcia was targeted since
she is a supporter of the Damas de Blanco, or Ladies in White, whose
regular Sunday march has been blocked by Cuban government supporters for
the past three weeks in a row. He said he would need several days to
obtain the necessary documents clarifying her arrest.

Garcia, who filed Internet dispatches in defiance of government controls
on all Cuban media, is being held at a high-security women's prison in
Havana and is unreachable, Sanchez said.

There was no answer Thursday at the home of Laura Pollan, a founding
member of the Ladies in White. Cuba's government had no immediate comment.

Sanchez said Garcia is a supporter but not a member of the group,
comprising wives and mothers of 75 community organizers, independent
journalists and political opposition activists who were arrested and
sentenced to lengthy prison terms in March 2003. Fifty-three remain
behind bars.

The government claims that those imprisoned have conspired with
Washington to topple the island's communist system, charges that both
they and U.S. officials deny.

Nearly every Sunday for seven years, the Damas have dressed in white and
marched down a sidewalk along swank Fifth Avenue in Havana, usually
without incident. But in March, the group held a week of demonstrations
in other parts of the city, which provoked protests by government
supporters and drew the attention of international news media.

Footage of the protesters being roughly bundled onto a bus at one of the
events led to sympathy demonstrations in Miami and Los Angeles.

On April 11, the women were blocked from staging their traditional Fifth
Avenue demonstration as well: State security agents told them they were
not allowed to protest because they never obtained permission to do so,
while a mob shouting pro-government slogans helped stop them.

During the past two Sundays, the women refrained from marching but stood
near their usual route, withstanding hours of shouted insults and
obscenities from counter-demonstrators who had been carefully organized
and dispatched in shifts by the government.

Their weekly march had been one of the few regular expressions of
dissent the government tolerated. Cuban leaders do not recognize
Sanchez's human rights commission, but largely allow it to operate.

The commission says Cuba holds about 200 political prisoners, not
counting Garcia.

The government says it holds none and protects human rights better than
most countries by providing its citizens with free health care and
education as well as subsidized housing, utilities, transportation and
basic food.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Saudi-Cuban Accord for Maternity Hospitals

Saudi-Cuban Accord for Maternity Hospitals
Saudi Press Agency
28 April 2010

Riyadh -- The Saudi Minister of Finance, Dr. Ibrahim bin Abdulaziz
Al-Assaf, who is also Chairman of Board of Directors of The Saudi Fund
for Development (SFD), and Cuban Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign
Investment Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz signed here on Tuesday a soft-loan
agreement worth SR 75 million to be provided by the Fund for renovating
and equipping a number of maternity hospitals in Cuba.

On the Saudi side, the signing ceremony was attended by the Fund's Vice
President and Managing Director Eng. Yousef Al-Bassam, Saudi Acting
Charge D'affaires to Mexico Mohammed Al-Yahya, and members of the
delegation accompanying the Finance Minister.

On the Cuban side, it was attended by Minister of Public Health Jose
Cabrera, Deputy Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment Ramon
Ripoll and a number of officials."

Americans in Cuba?

Americans in Cuba?
By Paul Todd | Published Monday, April 26, 2010

It's easier for Americans to get to Cuba then you might think. There are
several points of departure – one of the best is Cancun, Mexico,
offering daily flights to Havana.

With an abundance of tour operators willing to book airfare and hotel
and arrange the special visa needed for Americans, it could not be
easier for Americans to defy the State Department and visit one of the
last true Communist countries. Prices range between $400 and $600 US for
3 night/4 day packages.

If you go, there are several things to be aware of. The country has been
crumbling since the U.S. embargo began, and with the collapse of the
Soviet Union, Cuba has turned to tourism to keep its economy floating.
Tourist from Europe and the Americas flock to Havana and the beaches in
droves. Even with the lively tourist trade, basic accommodations are all
one can expect. Shampoo, soap, aspirin and many other necessities are in
short supply and may be hard to find – if not impossible. Consider
yourself lucky if the shower has warm water and pressure. If the bed
does not have springs popping, you've hit the jackpot.

The tourist areas of Havana are thriving with constant renovation. The
city's architecture rivals Buenos Aires or many European cities
(although not as well maintained). The true pleasures here are the
cigars, rum, music and artwork. That's correct: the art in Cuba is
thriving. These extraordinary artist have little chance of showing their
work outside Cuba. The savvy tourist can pick up some true gems for as
little as $30.00. For larger original works of art, you'll need to
obtain a special permit to take it from the country.

Non-tourist areas are where life in Cuba shows its grit. With
generations of the same family living in crumbling buildings, life can
be difficult at best for the average Cuban. Fifty years of no paint or
any repairs of significance have taken their toll. These areas are
accessible to tourists, and any taxi driver will be happy to give you a
tour. If you're lucky they may even take you inside for a glimpse of
daily life – of course, a small tip will be expected.

With all these downsides, the tourist is considered king. The public has
marching orders to do what they can to accommodate visitors. With
indifferent friendliness, the Cubans do what they can to comply. Just
don't expect too much and treat your host with dignity, and you'll be
rewarded with a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Women Who Brave Mobs

Women Who Brave Mobs
Cuba's Ladies in White are getting leaned on by Havana's toughs.

For more than a month, Cuba's Ladies in White have been getting leaned
on. Castro's goons have taken to surrounding them after the women go to
Mass in Havana and march for their loved ones in prison. Now Dania
Virgen García is in prison.

She didn't have a loved-one in a Cuban jail when she began processing
through the streets of Havana with the Ladies in White on Sundays. But
she decided to join them in solidarity against the unjust imprisonment
of husbands, fathers and brothers rounded up during the Black Spring of
March 2003 and handed harsh sentences for speaking their consciences.
She was one of a growing number of women there who call themselves
"Ladies in Support."

On April 22 state security arrested the young blogger, and less than 48
hours later she received a prison sentence of one year and eight months.
She has been sent to the country's largest maximum security prison for
women, known commonly by Cubans as "the black veil." It's easy to guess
why they call it that.

The regime's assaults on independent thinkers date back 51 years. But
Ms. García's arrest is not without significance. It is the clearest sign
to date of the regime's desperation in the face of popular discontent.

Ms. García is what Cubans call an independent journalist. Carmen
Ferreiro, director of information and press for Human Rights Cuba based
in Miami, says she met Ms. García online "toward the end of 2009" and
helped her get her blog up and running. The two women exchanged emails.
"This is how in a short time I came to know that Dania was very devoted
to her Catholic faith, that she spoke affectionately about her family,
that she enjoyed photography and struggled despite limited resources for
human rights in Cuba."

Ms. Ferreiro reports that Ms. García knew she was under surveillance and
explained the threat in an email: "Things in Cuba are not well at all,
but I am going to continue this struggle to the death or until whatever
they want happens; I will continue to support the Ladies in White, even
if they continue to beat us, because what they want is for us to be
afraid and we are not going to allow that to happen."

Though without Dania now, the Ladies in White surely will be walking in
the face of an increasingly dangerous mob again this Sunday. The world
might want to take notice.

Dissidents: Voting shows frustration

Posted on Wednesday, 04.28.10
Dissidents: Voting shows frustration
Municipal election results showed that null and blank ballots increased
and turnout was down slightly.

Official returns from Cuba's municipal elections Sunday show an increase
in null and blank votes, and a slight drop in turnout, that dissidents
said reflect the growing disgruntlement on the island.

The National Electoral Commission reported Monday that 94.69 percent of
voters had cast their ballots, with a preliminary tally of 4.33 percent
of the votes declared null and 4.58 percent left blank.

Turnout in the 2007 municipal elections was reported at 95.44 percent.
The highest turnout was registered in 1984 with 98.7 percent and the
lowest was in 1976 with 95.2 percent, according to an EFE news agency
report in 2007.

The 8.91 percent of null and blank votes in Sunday's balloting was
higher than in three known previous elections -- 7 percent in the 1993
national legislative elections, 7.2 percent in the 1997 municipal
elections, and 5.9 percent in the 2000 municipal elections, according to
Jorge Dominguez, a Harvard University Cuba expert. Results for other
elections were not available.

The twin changes, while relatively small, reflect Cubans' growing
frustrations with their economic crisis and the sense that elections
will not change systemic problems such as too much centralized control,
corruption, and inefficiencies, dissidents said.

``This shows the state of disgust among all the people. There's a lot of
cynicism,'' said dissident economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe.

Espinosa Chepe said the elections took place at an especially tough
time, with rumors of massive layoffs sweeping the country and Raúl
Castro's government clamping down on opposition movements like the
Ladies in White.

``The economic situation is worse each day ... and there's a state of
terror, of fear in the society,'' he said by telephone from Havana.
``People are only thinking of how to save themselves.''

Opposition member Hector Palacios said he wasn't surprised by the lower
turnout figures and higher numbers for null and blank votes, because the
lack of public enthusiasm for the election was visible everywhere.

``The elections were very cold. There was no interest,'' he said by
telephone from Havana, adding, ``More than these numbers, you had to see
the faces of the people (voting)'' to perceive the lack of enthusiasm.

Electoral commission President Ana María Mari Machado nevertheless
portrayed the turnout Sunday as ``a forceful show for those who question
the democracy in Cuba.''

Though voting is not mandatory in Cuba, turnout percentages are in the
high 90s because members of the neighborhood-based Committees for the
Defense of the Revolution and others pressure citizens to vote.

``By 10 in the morning they have already visited you twice to urge you
to vote,'' Palacios said. Cubans who don't vote can be branded as
dissidents and lose their jobs, he added.

Voters had no real choice among candidates who were mostly Communist
Party members or strong government supporters, Palacios said.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Cuban defied Castro, and wrapped the finest cigars

Cuban defied Castro, and wrapped the finest cigars
April 28, 2010

20-3-1919 - 17-4-2010

ALEJANDRO Robaina, Cuba's most revered tobacco grower, whose leaves wrap
the country's finest Habano cigars, has died, apparently of cancer, at
his home near San Luis. He was 91.

Robaina began working on his family's tobacco fields in western Cuba
when he was aged 10, a year after he smoked his first cigar. He went on
to achieve cult status among cigar smokers worldwide for the silken
leaves that he produced on his 16-hectare plantation, Finca la Pina, in
Cuchillas de Barbacoa. Their quality could be appreciated in
top-of-the-line cigars such as Cohiba Esplendidos and Hoyo de Monterrey
Double Coronas, renowned for their smoothness and richness.
Advertisement: Story continues below

As his reputation grew, he became a roving ambassador for Cuban cigars,
travelling around the world to represent Cuba's most admired export.
When old age made travel inconvenient, he stayed put and the world came
to him. Cigar lovers by the hundreds beat a path to tour the plantation,
hoping to catch a glimpse of the old man or, perhaps, have him autograph
a box of Vegas Robaina cigars, a brand created in his honour.

Robaina was born in Alquizar to a family that had been growing tobacco
since 1845 in the Vuelta Abajo region, the cigar world's equivalent of
Bordeaux or Burgundy.

He remained an independent grower after Fidel Castro came to power.

''He wanted me to join a co-operative, and I told him no - I would not
do it and that I would remain working with my family,'' he told Cigar
Aficionado magazine in 2006. ''At the end he has understood to the point
that a lot of the land is now in the hands of small farmers.''

In the mid-1990s, when the Cuban government named him the country's best
tobacco grower, Castro himself handed out the award. In 1997, Habanos, a
joint venture between the Cuban government and Britain's Imperial
Tobacco Group, created Vegas Robaina, making him the only Cuban grower
to have a brand of cigars named after him. In Cuban Spanish, a vega is a
tobacco field.

It is a somewhat curious honour, since experts find it hard to detect
the presence of Robaina leaves in the product. ''Not only does it look
rough, it smokes rough, too,'' wrote James Suckling, a writer for Cigar
Aficionado, who visited Robaina many times over the years.

About 3 million Vegas Robainas are produced each year, packaged in a box
whose lid shows Robaina holding a cigar, with his tobacco fields and a
curing barn in the background.

Robaina discreetly sidestepped questions about his namesake product. At
times he seemed mystified by it. But he remained confident about his leaves.

''I have made sure I have passed on my experience to my family so
nothing strange will happen,'' he said. ''Everything will remain the
same. So I can leave any minute. I am happy.''

In later years his tobacco operation was largely run by his grandson,
Hiroshi, who survives him, as do four children, nine other
grandchildren, and 12 great-grandchildren.

Castro lets Cubans build their own homes

Castro lets Cubans build their own homes

Facing intense demand for housing, the communist government of President
Raul Castro is granting permits that let Cubans build homes with their
own resources, officials said Tuesday.

In communist Cuba, where the state runs the economy, home building until
now has been a government affair.

Cuba, with 11.2 million people, has a severe housing shortage aggravated
by three hurricanes that tore through the island two years ago, damaging
half a million homes and causing 10 billion dollars in damage.

According to government figures more than half a million homes are needed.

The Cuban government announced in 2006 a goal of building 100,000 new
homes a year, a target that eventually was cut in half.

Last year Castro authorized Cubans to "build your homes with whatever
you can."

Cuba's Housing Institute has started granting "self-effort" building
permits, the state-run Radio Rebelde said Tuesday.

The permits are to build new homes, or expand or repair existing homes,
Institute president Roberto Vazquez said.

More than 80 percent of Cubans are homeowners, but by law cannot sell
their homes. They can however swap them under a government system called
the permuta.

Some building materials are sold in government run stores at subsidized
prices, but most are sold in stores that only accept foreign currency.

It was not immediately clear how most Cubans, who make an average of
about 20 dollars a month, might obtain supplies with which to build.

People who receive money sent back by family living abroad, a small
minority, certainly look likely to benefit.

Average Cubans often turn to the black market and buy construction
materials pilfered from government supplies or construction sites.

H1N1 Virus Keeps Striking Cuba

H1N1 Virus Keeps Striking Cuba

HAVANA, Cuba, Apr 24 (acn) For the fifth week in a row, the number of
H1N1 cases continues to grow throughout the country, said Dr. Otto
Pelaez Sanchez, head of the Transmissible Diseases Department of the
Cuban Public Health ministry.

Cuban News Agency

During this week, 93 new cases of Influenza A (H1N1) virus were
confirmed by the National Influenza Virus Labs of the Tropical Medicine
Institute Pedro Kouri, Granma reported on Saturday.

Based on the situation, people were called to strictly follow personal
and collective hygiene measures indicated by health authorities and to
visit the doctor as soon as any symptoms of flu appear.

In reference to the national vaccination campaign against the H1N1 virus
to conclude on Tuesday, April 2, Dr. Pelaez Sanchez said 981,130 people
(87.4 percent), selected based on risk factors, have received the shot.
Of them78, 915 are either pregnant women or have given birth recently,
representing 99.7 percent of the total.

Dr. Pelaez Sanchez said the people who have been vaccinated remain under
strict watch so that they can receive immediate medical care in case of
severe reactions, although no serious side-effects of the vaccine have
been reported so far. Among minor adverse reactions are headaches, pain
in the area of the shot, fever, tiredness and allergies.

Dissidents steal headlines from Cuban election

Posted on Monday, 04.26.10
Dissidents steal headlines from Cuban election
Associated Press Writer

HAVANA -- Nearly every eligible Cuban cast ballots in a vote the
communist government proclaims is proof of the island's democracy. But
if headlines were made, it was by six elderly women standing under an
ancient ficus tree, enduring seven hours of insults and obscenities for
demanding political prisoners be freed.

Cuba complains the foreign media makes way too much of a small, divided
dissident movement that has little sway with ordinary people. But the
government has helped draw attention to the women - known as the Damas
de Blanco, or Ladies in White - by choosing, with no explanation, to
start blocking their small weekly protests after seven years of
tolerating them.

Wayne Smith, a former top American diplomat in Havana, said the unwanted
attention began when the government decided to take a hard line.

"The Damas have been marching for a long time and it hasn't raised any
problems" for the government, said Smith, a senior fellow at the
Washington-based Center for International Policy who has long argued
that the U.S. should lift its 48-year trade embargo on Cuba. "Suddenly,
when the Cubans say, 'You can't march,' then there's a story. Then the
press comes out."

Indeed, after years of obscurity, the women have become a cause celebre
among Cuban-American exiles in the United States. The move to quash
their protests has many in Washington wondering if Havana is trying to
scuttle relations that seemed on the mend just months ago.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said this month that Fidel and
Raul Castro could be creating a crisis because they don't want America
to drop the embargo, which she said gives them a convenient excuse for
their revolution's failures.

Ricardo Alarcon, head of Cuba's parliament, scoffed at the notion on Sunday.

"Mrs. Clinton is a very intelligent woman and I don't want to be rude
with her," Alarcon said. "If she really believes the continuation of the
embargo is in the benefit of our government, it's very simple for her to
ask Congress to lift the embargo."

Alarcon, the highest ranking Cuban official to respond to Clinton, made
his comments as he voted in nationwide municipal elections that the
government says are the most democratic in the world.

There are secret ballots in which Cubans can choose between more than
one candidate, and preliminary results announced Monday showed that
nearly 95 percent of eligible voters took part. The government says the
vote contradicts the Washington-driven image of Cuba as a single-party
totalitarian state.

"These elections reaffirm that our people will never surrender and will
never sell out," said a headline in the state-weekly newspaper
Trabajadores, or Workers, on Monday.

But few outside Cuba took notice of the vote. There was no debate on
policy and the results were never in doubt. While candidates did not
have to be members of the Communist Party, most were in good standing
with authorities and the outcome means little politically.

Even Fidel Castro made no comment on the election in a lengthy essay
published shortly after the polls closed that railed against American
military designs. The 83-year-old, who stepped down as president in
2008, voted in abstentia and did not appear publicly.

For the media, the real drama was elsewhere, in a shady park in an
upscale neighborhood of Havana, where the Ladies in White stood without
food or bathroom breaks through hour after hour of earsplitting harassment.

The group has demonstrated every Sunday since their husbands and sons
were arrested in a March 2003 crackdown. Their marches, down a leafy
boulevard called Quinta Avenida, used to draw little coverage and only a
smattering of curious onlookers. State security kept watch from afar but
rarely intervened. Usually, fewer than 10 protesters have shown up.

But the death of a jailed dissident hunger striker in February shined a
new spotlight on Cuba's human rights record. The women marched for seven
days in a row in different parts of the city in March. Cameras were
there to show them roughly bundled onto a bus at one of the events.

That prompted sympathy protests led by Cuban-American pop icon Gloria
Estefan in Miami and actor Andy Garcia in Los Angeles. Cuban officials
bristled, denouncing what they saw as a global campaign to discredit the
revolution. On April 11, officials informed the women the protests would
no longer be tolerated.

That afternoon, dozens of pro-government counter-protesters were waiting
outside Santa Rita de Casia Church, where the Damas celebrate Mass. When
the women tried to march, security officials put them on a bus and took
them home.

Similar conflicts have been repeated the next two weekends - with
counter-protesters hurling abuse at the women for hours before they were
put onto a bus. The counter-protests are not violent, though they are

On Sunday - the day of the municipal vote - the six Damas who turned up
moved to the shade of a huge ficus tree, its trunk as large as a car and
with vines hanging from its branches taking root in the soil below. They
stood there for seven hours as government supporters shuttled in and out
in shifts to shout at them.

This time, scores of foreign journalists were there to watch, even if
Cubans who happened past paid little attention, some playing baseball,
oblivious to the disturbance nearby.

Juana Gomez, who joined the Damas in sympathy but is not a relative of
one of the original 2003 political prisoners, told The Associated Press
the women would continue to march "come what may."

She said she thinks authorities picked a confrontation with the Damas to
sabotage any chance for improved relations with the United States.

"Better relations aren't at all convenient for them," she said. "What
they want is to be in the same fight as they've been in for 50 years."

Cuba spies cooperating with U.S. authorities, officials say

Posted on Tuesday, 04.27.10
Cuba spies cooperating with U.S. authorities, officials say
McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON -- Admitted spies Walter and Gwendolyn Myers have met with
federal officials 50 to 60 times to divulge details of their three
decades of spying for Cuba, Justice Department officials said Tuesday.

The Washington couple pleaded guilty in November to sending secrets to
the United States' longtime antagonist, agreeing to cooperate with the
federal government in a deal that offered Gwendolyn Myers a much lighter
sentence than she might have faced otherwise.

Walter Myers - a former State Department employee with top-secret
clearance - agreed to a life sentence without parole. Gwendolyn Myers
could have faced as much as 20 years in prison, but under the plea deal,
she might serve six to seven-and-a-half years.

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton on Tuesday set a sentencing date
for July 16. The couple have asked Walton to place them in prisons as
close together as possible.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Michael Harvey told Walton that the
government had expected the "debriefings" with the couple to take six
months, and that investigators were "still on track" and expected to
finish the talks in 30 to 40 days.

The couple appeared in Walton's courtroom Tuesday for the first time in
months. They were in seemingly good spirits, clad in dark blue jail
jumpsuits and long-sleeved white shirts. They didn't address the court.
They had said in November - through a lawyer - that they'd acted "not
out of selfish motive or hope of personal gain, but out of conscience
and personal commitment."

They have agreed to pay the government about $1.7 million, the salary
that Walter Myers earned while he worked at the State Department.
They'll forfeit their Washington apartment, a 37-foot sailboat, a
vehicle, and various bank and investment accounts.

They were charged last June with wire fraud, serving as illegal agents
for Cuba and conspiring to deliver classified information. Walter Myers
pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit espionage and two counts of wire
fraud. The espionage charge could carry a death sentence, but
prosecutors did not seek one.

Police captain under investigation for abuse of power

Police captain under investigation for abuse of power

HAVANA, Cuba, April 27 (Ana Aguililla /Cambio Debate Cuba / - A captain in the National Revolutionary Police force
has been accused of selling pedicabs he confiscated from unlicensed owners.

According to Eleuterio Cortés Noroña, who lives in the coastal Havana
district of Santa Fe, the captain, named Darbis, was under investigation
for abuse of power.

Cortés Noroña said two pedicabs seized by Darbis in Santa Fe turned up
in nearby Punta Brava, where they had been sold. He also said the
captain was queried about a house he was building.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Political prisoners' wives harassed in Havana

Political prisoners' wives harassed in Havana

Wives and mothers of political prisoners' in Cuba have again been
prevented from marching in Havana.

Six women - known as the Ladies in White - were surrounded by an angry
mob of pro-government supporters and then pushed off the street into a park.

The women stood silently for several hours as the crowd shouted insults
and pro-revolutionary slogans.

The women, who are demanding freedom for their husbands and sons, were
similarly treated last week.

On Sunday Cubans voted in municipal elections, described by the
authorities as proof of democracy on the communist island.

Officials said some 93% of the voters had cast their ballots shortly
before the voting ended.

The Communist party is the only legal political organisation in Cuba.

Stand-off in park

The confrontation in Havana started at afternoon, when the Ladies in
White tried to hold their weekly gathering after Sunday's mass.

Cuban pro-government citizens surround and shout slogans to the Ladies
in White in Havana

On leaving the church they were surrounded by an angry mob and shoved
off the street and into a park.

They were surrounded for about seven hours, with pro-government
supporters shouting insults.

The women responded by staying on their feet, silently staring their
opponents in the face.

They have been staging weekly marches in Havana for several years, but
government loyalists began breaking up the protests earlier this month
with the help of security officials.

Cuban officials say the women do not have a permit to march in the capital.

Until recently very few people in Cuba were aware of the Ladies in
White, and there is still very little sympathy for their cause, the
BBC's Michael Voss in Havana reports.

But this sort of intimidation and violence is doing serious damage to
Cuba's reputation abroad, our correspondent adds.

The marches have been closely monitored by western diplomats, and the
women have received verbal support from the United States and European

Cuban President Raul Castro has accused the West of launching a campaign
to discredit Cuba by provoking such incidents, our correspondent adds.

Cuban refugees flee Castro regime; some now live in Coachella Valley

Cuban refugees flee Castro regime; some now live in Coachella Valley
Nicole C. Brambila • The Desert Sun • April 26, 2010

The attackers wore brass knuckles to Catholic Mass and carried a steel
bar wrapped in a newspaper.

"They hit the hell out of me," said Marcos Moro, who fled Cuba in 1961
after he was brutally beaten in church. "My father-in-law told me, 'You
have to run. Forget about change.'"

More painful than the blows to his head: One of the assailants was his
cousin's husband.

"It's difficult to find a family that's not been divided," said Moro,
who today lives in Indio.

He hasn't been back to Cuba except for an unsuccessful attempt to
smuggle out his family in 1965.

Moro came to the U.S. with a silver dollar in his pocket, a bottle of
rum and box of Cuban cigars.

His father said, "Son, sell it. Get political asylum."

Since 1959, Cubans have fled their country in waves on homemade rafts,
falsified visas and direct flights.

An estimated 500,000 Cubans who now live in the U.S. have fled Cuba
since Fidel Castro came into power, according to the Pew Hispanic
Center, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that conducts
research on Latinos and their impact. The majority live in Florida, but
about 70,000 live in California.

Moro said he hopes to return one day to a Castro-free Cuba.

"I have a strong pain in my soul," Moro said. "I miss my country now
more than 50 years ago. I would like to see them free."

Many Cubans share his sentiment, especially since the Cuban police broke
up a peaceful protest in March by a group of women known as Las Damas de
Blanco (Ladies in White). Some media reports say the women were beaten
by police.

Las Damas de Blanco are the wives of political dissidents imprisoned in
a government crackdown in 2003. More than 50 of the detainees were
journalists and human right activists and remain imprisoned, according
to Amnesty International.

Cubans have protested the police action in Miami and Los Angeles.

Moro and his wife, Daisy, last month attended the Los Angeles
demonstration organized by actor Andy Garcia.

Cubans had high hopes that the president's younger brother, Raúl Castro,
would dismantle the dictatorship when he assumed power two years ago.

Political pundits say that's highly unlikely now.

"I think there was the hope when Raúl first took over, but we haven't
seen any major policy shifts," said Benjamin Bishin, a UCR political
science professor whose area of study focuses on Cuban-American policy.

"I don't think there's much reason to think they are going to change."

Dr. Denio Fonseca, a Miami physician and organizer, said there are plans
for more demonstrations.

"We plan to be in Cuba this year," he said.

Daisy and Marcos Moro, who travel to Miami once a year to be closer to
Cuba, are trusting he's right.

"It's just a timing thing," Daisy Moro said. "People are tired and they
want change. It's been 51 years."

Whereabouts of detained independent journalist unknown

Posted on Monday, 04.26.10
Whereabouts of detained independent journalist unknown

HOLGUÍN, Cuba, April 26 (Redacción Candonga, ).-
Independent journalist Yosvani Anzardo Hernández was arrested over the
weekend by two State Security agents and his whereabouts are unknown,
according to his wife.

Lourdes María Yen Rodríguez said the agents came to their home Saturday
with an order for Anzardo's arrest. She said their car bore Havana
license plates.

Anzardo, director of the online Periódico Candonga, was arrested on
September 10, 2009, and held for 15 days. At that time, police seized
electronic equipment he used for his digital newspaper.

Chavez dismisses 'Cubanization' accusations

Posted on Sunday, 04.25.10
Chavez dismisses 'Cubanization' accusations
Associated Press Writer

CARACAS, Venezuela -- President Hugo Chavez dismissed a retired
general's warnings about a growing Cuban presence in Venezuela's
military, accusing the officer Sunday of helping opponents portray his
government a pawn of Fidel Castro.

Former Brig. Gen. Antonio Rivero has denounced a widespread involvement
of Cuban troops in the military.

Chavez made no denials on that point, saying that Cubans are merely
aiding soldiers in a limited capacity, and he defended his government's
increasingly close cooperation with communist-led Cuba.

"What Cubanization? The Cubans are helping us here," Chavez said during
his television and radio program, "Hello President."

"They're telling us how to store compasses, how to repair radios inside
tanks and how to stockpile ammunition," Chavez said of the Cubans'

Chavez said he suspected Rivero was making inroads with opposition
groups long before he retired, saying the former officer speaks with
"the same voice of the enemy."

"He was already among bad company," Chavez said.

Opposition leaders and other critics have long accused Chavez of
allowing Cuban advisers and operatives to hold key positions in the
military and state institutions, but have failed to produce concrete
evidence of their allegations.

Rivero's detailed descriptions of Cuban involvement and his high
standing in military circles have added new credibility to the concerns.

Rivero has said he retired from the army this month after 25 years of
service, mainly because of "the presence and meddling of Cuban soldiers"
in the armed forces. The former Chavez ally said he witnessed Cubans
training Venezuelan troops during his last assignment as an infantry

In televised remarks Thursday, he said Cubans currently train Venezuelan
troops, including courses for snipers, and are also playing a role in
intelligence, weapons, communications and other strategic areas.

He also has denounced the politicization of the military, including the
slogan that soldiers now repeat when saluting: "Socialist homeland or
death!" He has condemned Chavez's enlistment of supporters in a growing
civilian militia.

Rivero told the Globovision television channel Sunday that intelligence
agents have been spying on him since he denounced the Cuban presence in
the military, taking photographs of his home and questioning his
neighbors. He called the actions "part of the consequences" of
criticizing the government and expressed concern for the safety of his

Chavez, a former paratroop commander, has made Cuba his closest ally
since he took office in 1999. The president frequently visits Fidel
Castro, calling him a mentor, but he rejects allegations that Cuba's
communist leaders hold sway over his plans to transform Venezuela into a
socialist state.

Venezuela has become a key economic benefactor to Cuba, sending the
island oil on preferential terms in exchange for the services of
thousands of Cuban doctors, whose work in free clinics has helped boost
Chavez's political support among the poor.

Chavez turned to Cuba this year for help in tackling Venezuela's energy
crisis. His allies in Havana responded by dispatching Cuban Vice
President Ramiro Valdes to lead a team responsible for revamping the
South American country's electricity grid.

During Sunday's program, Chavez also announced a 40 percent pay raise
for soldiers of every rank - a move that could bolster loyalty to "El
Comandante" within the military ahead of congressional elections in
September while the country struggles with 26 percent inflation.

"Boys, we're going to increase salaries by 40 percent for all the
ranks," he said.

Cuba's 'Ladies in White' march blocked again

Posted on Sunday, 04.25.10
Cuba's 'Ladies in White' march blocked again
Associated Press Writer

HAVANA -- A small group of carefully choreographed government supporters
shouted down an even smaller contingent of wives and mothers of jailed
opposition activists Sunday, preventing their traditional march for the
third straight week in another ugly confrontation that may be becoming a
Cuban weekend tradition.

After seven years of peaceful protests following Mass in Havana's
upscale Miramar neighborhood, Cuba has begun blocking the "Ladies in
White" from marching since the group never obtained written permission
to do so.

Officials first broke up their demonstration on April 11, with a
pro-government mob and buses that eventually gave the women a ride home.
The following Sunday, counter-demonstrators surrounded the "Women in
White," refused to let them march and shouted insults in an hourslong
standoff that ended with the women again being driven home.

This time, six members - down from nine last week - left the Santa Rita
de Casia Church and crossed swank Fifth Avenue to hold their
demonstration on a sidewalk that runs down the middle of the boulevard.
A state agent in a Che Guevara T-shirt said they couldn't march and
Laura Pollan, one of the group's founders, tried to respond.

But the agent turned and walked away and that cued two waiting groups of
about 50 counter-protesters each who came up the sidewalk from both
directions hoisting large Cuban flags. The women marched until they ran
into one group, then retraced their steps until meeting the other.

They shouted "Freedom!" and held skyward the pink gladiolas they always
carry. The counter- protesters surrounded them and shouted "Fidel!
Fidel!" Muscular state security agents with earpieces wedged themselves
in between the dueling protests to prevent violence.

Organizers in plainclothes moved through the counter-demonstrators
suggesting chants. When they called for a song with a refrain "How
Lovely is Cuba," the counter-demonstrators sang it repeatedly, jumping
up and down.

The "Ladies in White" were jostled off the sidewalk and pinned near the
entrance to the church's front yard. Shoving ensued and pro-government
demonstrators grabbed their gladiolas and tore them up.

The women then moved to a nearby park, under trees that provided shade
from the boiling sun. They remained there for hours, some of them
holding only the green stubs of their flowers.

Also Sunday, Ricardo Alarcon, head of Cuba's parliament, became the
first top official to respond to an assertion by U.S. Secretary of State
Hillary Rodham Clinton, that Fidel and Raul Castro don't want
Washington's 48-year embargo lifted because they would no longer be able
to blame America for their country's problems.

"Mrs. Clinton is a very intelligent woman and I don't want to be rude
with her," Alarcon said. "If she really believes the continuation of the
embargo is in the benefit of our government, it's very simple for her to
ask Congress to lift the embargo."

He also suggested Washington suspend its trade restrictions for one year
to see what happens.

On April 9, Clinton said, "It is my personal belief that the Castros do
not want to see an end to the embargo and do not want to see
normalization with the United States because they would lose all of
their excuses for what hasn't happened in Cuba in the last 50 years."

Members of the "Women in White" are relatives of 75 opposition activists
arrested in a 2003 crackdown on dissent, but Cuba claims they are agents
of Washington out to destabilize government.

During Sunday's protest, Miriam Leiva, a "Ladies in White" founder who
stopped marching in 2008, showed up to watch from afar. Because she was
wearing green, not all white, no one knew to shout at her.

"This is a desperate act by a desperate government," Leiva said.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Cuba's mobile phone boom sees few calls but plenty of chatter

Cuba's mobile phone boom sees few calls but plenty of chatter

Once illegal gadget is now ubiquitous, despite prohibitive costs, and is
loosening the regime's grip on information

Roberto Machado tapped his pocket with a smile and with some ceremony
fished out the phone: a Sony Ericsson, vintage 2003. For its new owner
this was no clunky relic. It was beautiful.

Machado, a 31-year-old artist, recently received it from an aunt in
Spain and was enchanted. "I love it. I tell you, with this life isn't
the same."

The age of the mobile phone has reached Cuba. Since being legalised by
the communist government the phones, once a forbidden badge of foreign
consumerism, have become a ubiquitous sight across the island.

Clipped to belts, worn around necks, endlessly fiddled with, you see
them everywhere. There is, however, a Cuban twist: very few use the
phone to talk.

Machado looked aghast at the idea. "Speak? As in a conversation? Never.
Not once. You would have to be crazy or desperate." Calls are too
expensive so the phones are used as pagers. Instead of answering, Cubans
note the incoming number and call back from a landline.

Such are the calculations wrought by an impoverished, centrally planned
economy where the average monthly wage is $20 (£13). Calls between
mobile phones cost 65 cents a minute, and slightly more from a mobile to
a landline. Even texting, at 17 cents a message, is considered pricey. A
minute-long call to Europe costs $5.85.

It takes enormous sacrifice – or a foreign benefactor – for Cubans to
afford the $60 handset sold in government stores and a further $50 to
activate the line with Etecsa, the state telephone company. Even so,
there is always a queue outside Etecsa's store on Obispo street in
Havana. Many are youths in sunglasses and designer jeans – part of a
generation as obsessed by brands as their western peers. "We're catching
up," said Miguel, a 19-year-old.

All in the queue – faces pressed against the store window – appeared
giddy at the prospect of imminent cellular connection. "They've been
waiting for this a long time," said a uniformed guard at the shop entrance.

Cuba still has the lowest mobile phone use in Latin America but the
number is rising fast, with 480,000 handsets for 11.2 million people,
according to officials.

On one level this represents success for President Raúl Castro's promise
to ease the hardships and petty restrictions which stoke resentment
among Cubans at the 51-year-old revolution. Bans on DVDs and computers
have also been lifted.

From the government's viewpoint, however, there is a catch. These
consumer goods fan a different, rival revolution – in information.
Cubans yearn for news other than state media propaganda. "I'm sick of
being treated like a 10-year-old who lives on another planet," one
tourism worker put it.

A gossip grapevine nicknamed Radio Bemba (Radio Lip) is the traditional
way to supplement official information. The new gadgets – phone cameras,
flashcards, DVDs and the occasional internet link – are now multiplying
that informal network. The state monopoly over news is history.

"Even if it is not always immediately visible the arrival of new
technology brings changes which bubble under the surface," said Brian
Latell, a former CIA analyst and Cuba expert at the University of Miami.

Cubans are better informed than ever before, said Ruben Polanco, 29, an
IT worker with a state bank. "With this," he said, indicating the camera
on his Motorola phone, "the truth gets out."

Three recent examples show the technology's impact. Last month a
baseball game between Industriales and Sancti Spíritus turned into a
riot. Police waded into players and spectators – including a communist
party chief – with batons and pepper spray. In the past the incident
would have been the stuff of rumour, at most, but this time the brawl
was captured on mobile phones, loaded on to flashcards, played on
computers and DVD players across the island and uploaded to YouTube.
"Everyone was talking about it, saying did you see the guy in the
headlock," said Polanco.

Another clandestine video hit was a protest at the Instituto Superior de
Arte (ISA) in Havana where dozens of students protested over foul food
and other grievances.

A third case has fuelled anger over a scandal at the main psychiatric
hospital where at least 26 patients died during freezing weather in
January. The authorities admitted a blunder, promised an investigation
and hoped to move on. Instead, autopsy photographs showing emaciated,
apparently bruised corpses were leaked. "It's one thing to hear and
another to actually see," said Antonio Gonzalez-Rodiles, 37, a scientist
who received the images on a flashcard. "The bodies were skin and bone,
like something out of a concentration camp. It's really, really upsetting."

Unlike in Burma, Iran and other countries with repressive regimes, Cuba
remains calm and stable. There are no uprisings, no mass demonstrations,
so information technology poses no immediate risk to the government.

Over time, however, the technology is likely to present an increasingly
fraught challenge. The sea still surrounds it, but Cuba is ever less an

Bloggers critical of the government, such as Yoani Sanchez, have
attracted wide followings overseas and admirers at home, despite
internet restrictions. Secret police have struggled to winkle out
satellite TV dishes hidden in water tanks, among other places.

Cuba's government retains formidable control but a battle with
information technology is likely to be a battle lost, said Dianna
Melrose, the British ambassador in Havana. "They are trying to do a King
Canute, they are fighting an impossible tide."

China, Cuba pledge to boost military ties

China, Cuba pledge to boost military ties
Updated: 2010-04-25 21:05

BEIJING -- Senior Chinese and Cuban military officials held talks here
on Sunday, pledging to work together to promote relations between the
two armed forces.

China was ready to deepen exchanges and cooperation with Cuba's armed
forces, said Chen Bingde, chief of the General Staff of the People's
Liberation Army.

During the talks with Alvaro Lopez Miera, vice minister and chief of the
General Staff of Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces, Chen hailed the
sound communication and exchange of visits between military leaders of
the two countries, saying it guaranteed a smooth development of
Sino-Cuban military exchanges and cooperation.

"We always value the China-Cuba traditional friendship, and attach great
importance to the development of bilateral ties," he said.

Lopez said Cuba was ready to make joint efforts with China to maintain
the development of the relations between the two countries and militaries.

Starting the China tour on Saturday, Lopez is scheduled to conclude the
official goodwill on April 29.

Cuba challenges US to lift embargo 'even for a year'

Cuba challenges US to lift embargo 'even for a year'

HAVANA (AFP) – Cuba challenged the United States Sunday to lift a
decades-old trade embargo "even for a year" to test its contention that
the island's leaders do not want the embargo lifted or normal relations
with Washington.

The challenge by National Assembly president Ricardo Alarcon was the
first official response to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's April
9 charge that Fidel Castro and his brother President Raul Castro do not
want a transition to democracy or the restoration of US relations
severed in 1961.

Clinton told a university audience in Kentucky that the Castros "do not
want to see an end to the embargo and do not want to see normalization
with the United States because they would then lose all their excuses
for what hasn't happened in Cuba in the last 50 years."

Alarcon, speaking to reporters after casting his ballot in municipal
elections here, said, "If she really thinks that the blockade benefits
the Cuban government -- which she wants to undermine -- the solution is
very simple: that they lift it even for a year to see whether it is in
our interest or theirs."

Alarcon said there were things Clinton could do "with a stroke of the
pen" to improve relations, such as allowing visits by the wives of two
of five Cubans serving prison sentences in the United States for espionage.

President Barack Obama came into office seeking better relations with
Cuba, but after an initial thaw, tensions have set in again, most
recently over Cuba's treatment of dissidents.

Havana has accused Washington of waging a campaign to destabilize the
government. But it has come under fire internationally and from
activists inside Cuba since the February 12 death of dissident Orlando
Zapata in a prison hunger strike. A second dissident, Guillermo Farinas,
took up the hunger strike after Zapata's death.

The government has portrayed the municipal elections, which have been
held every two years since 1976, as evidence of public support for the
one-party state.

Although the Cuban Communist Party does not officially field candidates,
it supervises the process and ensures that no opponents of the
government are elected.

Turnout in previous elections have been as high as 95 percent, which the
authorities tout as a "victory of the Revolution."

Cubans hold municipal elections; belie criticism

Posted on Sunday, 04.25.10
Cubans hold municipal elections; belie criticism
Associated Press Writer

HAVANA -- Cuba held elections to fill municipal assemblies across the
island on Sunday in a vote the communist government says belies
criticism in Washington and Europe that Fidel Castro's half-century old
revolution is not democratic.

Almost all of Cuba's 8.4 million eligible voters were expected to turn
out for the vote - which will choose 15,000 people to fill seats in 169
municipal assemblies.

Those elected won't be dealing with big geopolitical issues such as how
to thaw frozen relations with the United States, or what measures must
be taken to revitalize a near-dormant economy. Instead, they will be the
first point of contact most Cubans have with their government, the
person to see if electricity service is spotty or if the neighbors are
making too much noise.

The municipal assemblies also have some role in electing those who will
fill more important bodies including the regional assemblies and the
national parliament, which in turn decides who will serve on the Council
of State, Cuba's supreme governing body.

As president, Raul Castro is head of the Council of State. His brother
Fidel, who stepped down permanently in 2008 after an undisclosed
illness, remains leader of the Communist Party.

Lenia Rojas, a 44-year-old office worker who cast a ballot in the Havana
municipality of Playa, said she voted because she wanted a say in
picking the elected officials who will have the greatest immediate
effect on her life.

"These municipal delegates are close to the people. They are the ones
that we really have access to in order to resolve - or at least try to
resolve - some of our problems," she said.

Others were less enthusiastic.

"The truth is that I didn't mark my ballot for any of the candidates so
my vote is null. I don't believe in this. I don't think that they are
going to make anything better," said Orlando, a 53-year-old man leaving
a polling station in Havana. He refused to give his last name for fear
of reprisals, saying: "I only voted because I didn't want to give myself

Cuba's leaders have charged that the international news media ignore the
local voting as part of a global campaign to discredit the revolution.
They say their system is, in fact, the most democratic in the world
because it requires participation on a block-by-block level and is not
influenced by money.

Critics say the elections are window-dressing since all real power is
concentrated in the hands of the Castros and an aging cadre of
revolutionaries who have been with them since they overthrew dictator
Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

Raul Castro cast his ballot in Havana's Vedado neighborhood. It was not
clear whether Fidel would also venture out to a polling station. In
2007, the last time elections were held, a ballot box was brought to the
ailing revolutionary so that he could vote.

Fidel, 83, has looked strong and alert in recent video released by the
government, but he has not been seen in public in nearly four years.

Candidates in Sunday's vote are nominated by a show of hands at
gatherings organized by the local government. Committees for the Defense
of the Revolution - or CDRs - neighborhood watch groups charged with
keeping close tabs on their areas and with reporting seditious activity,
help get people out to the gatherings.

While candidates do not need to be members of the Communist Party, the
vast majority are in good standing with local authorities. The
nomination process is done by a show of hands, but a committee must
approve each candidate in order for their names to get on the ballot.

Campaigning is outlawed in Cuba, so voters learn about the candidates
based either on word of mouth in the community or through a resume and
photograph pasted onto the walls of voting centers.

As in other countries, each voter places a check mark by the name of the
candidate they want, and the balloting is secret. While participation is
not mandatory, it is strongly encouraged. The government has stopped at
nothing in its get-out-the-vote drive, even enlisting hundreds of
carrier pigeons to take news of the vote to villages in mountainous
areas and other remote places, according to Cuba's official news agency,
Prensa Latina.

Cubans 16 years of age or older can vote, and even younger
schoolchildren play a role. Each ballot box is "guarded" by two children
dressed in their school uniforms. In 2007, the last time municipal
elections were held, turnout topped 95 percent.

Results were expected Monday. A run-off to decide elections in which no
candidate received at least 50 percent of the vote will be held on May 2.

Arrestada, juzgada y condenada la periodista independiente Dania

Arrestada, juzgada y condenada la periodista independiente Dania
sábado 24 de abril de 2010
Por Segundo Miranda,

Presidente del Centro de Derechos Humanos y Democracia Brigada 2506

Fotos - 1ra: Dania (centro) en la misa junto a otras Damas de Apoyo,
2da: Dania aguantando el simbólico gladiolo camina con las Damas de
Apoyo y Damas de Blanco, y 3ra: Dania (derecha) detrás de Laura Pollan y
Berta Soler caminan por el Malecón de La Habana.

Anoche fuimos informados por el periodista independiente Julio Antonio
Rojas Portal, de la acción arbitraria de la dictadura, en contra de la
periodista independiente y activista pro-derechos humanos en Cuba, Dania
Virgen García.

A mi pregunta a Julio de que si tenía noticias del estado de Dania me
respondió: "Dania ya fue juzgada y condenada hoy (Abril 23) a 1 año y 8
meses de prisión y trasladada ya a la cárcel de Manto Negro" prosiguió
Julio, "esto ha sido una canallada del régimen, la seguridad del estado
lo ha hecho para así callar lo que le hace daño".

Como se sabe Dania se ha identificado con la resistencia pacífica y con
los grupos de apoyo de soporte y simpatía con Las Damas de Blanco lo que
para la dictadura castrense que hoy desgobierna a Cuba, no es admisible.
Además de que es una acción directa contra un movimiento independiente,
pero que cada día es mayor y que la dictadura sabe que les está haciendo
daño, que son "los periodistas independientes y blogs" que son los que
llevan la voz cantante en este fenómeno político y social que después de
haberse gestado por varios años ya, cada día es más fuerte y al que la
prensa internacional observa con mucha atención.

La dictadura se ve perdida y ve cerca su fin y es por lo que trata de
acallar las voces de esa protesta pacífica dentro del pueblo de Cuba,
antes de que se provoque un estallido social que ellos no van a poder

Hacemos un llamado a Reporteros Sin Fronteras y a la Prensa
Internacional de esta canallesca maniobra del régimen contra la
Periodista Independiente Dania Virgen García, que en apenas 48 horas fue
arrestada, juzgada, condenada y trasladada a una de las prisiones de
mayor rigor y torturas del sistema carcelario de la dictadura cubana.

El crimen cometido contra Dania, no es nuevo ni será el último por lo
que pedimos a todos que se unan a nuestra protesta, que alcemos nuestras
voces y pidamos que la Prensa Internacional, los Gobiernos del Mundo
Libre y los Organismos Veladores de los Derechos Humanos hagan algo en
el caso de Dania que sólo estaba haciendo uso de su derecho, el derecho
que le da la Carta Internacional de los Derechos Humanos, de la que Cuba
es signataria, que es el de poder diferir del sistema gobernante."

Fariñas Slams Cuba Local Elections as "Farce" after 60 Days of Hunger Strike

Fariñas Slams Cuba Local Elections as "Farce" after 60 Days of Hunger Strike

HAVANA – Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas, who completed 60 days of his
hunger strike on Saturday, called the local elections to be held Sunday
on the island "a big farce," and said that he will vote against "the
Castro dynasty" if he is sent a ballot.

"There's no such thing as a free nomination. It has to be in your
neighborhood with a show of hands (an allusion to the way candidates are
designated), and nobody wants to be identified to this regime of
terror," said Fariñas in a telephone conversation from the intensive
care unit where he is hospitalized in the central city of Santa Clara.

The dissident recalled that Cuban electoral regulations state that
ballots must be sent to sick people who are lucid, and said he was
waiting to see what decision state security will take in his case.

"If they bring me a ballot, what I'll do is put: Down with the dynasty
of the Castro brothers (Fidel and Raul), my signature and my ID number,"
said Fariñas, who was admitted to hospital in mid-March after twice
collapsing from hunger.

"If they don't dare bring it to me, I'll just be one more of those who
didn't go to vote," he said.

In Sunday's voting, some 8.4 million Cubans over 16 years of age are
eligible to vote for more than 15,000 delegates (councilors) of the
island's 169 municipal assemblies, in a process that is repeated every
two years.

About his health, Fariñas said that upon completing two months of
fasting he feels "a little down, with headaches and joint pain," but
said that he will continue "the hunger strike to the last consequences."

"I think that with what is going on, we can't do anything but keep up
the hunger strike," he said, adding that "without doing anything
violent" he has managed to do "harm to the government."

"In these 60 days a phenomenon has taken place that we didn't really
expect, which is that international public opinion is once more studying
and evaluating what is happening with human rights and inside jails in
Cuba," he said.

The psychologist and journalist, 48, began his hunger strike in his home
last Feb. 24 after the death of dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo
following an 85-day fast demanding that Cuba's president, Gen. Raul
Castro, release 26 ailing members of the opposition.

Fariñas said international reaction has included "political groups of
the left," which in his opinion has caused "tremendous grief to the
Cuban government."

"I believe this is also a victory for the entire Cuban opposition and
for Cubans in exile," he said.

Earlier this week, Archbishop of Havana Jaime Ortega argued in favor of
a more "conciliatory attitude" by Fariñas, whom he urged to end his protest.

"Now is not the time to incite passions," Ortega said, adding that what
is also "painful" are the mobs insulting the mothers and wives of
several prisoners, especially the Ladies in White, who in the last few
weeks have been repeatedly harassed by supporters of President Raul
Castro's government.

Cuba is "in a difficult situation, certainly the most difficult" that it
has experienced in the 21st century, Ortega said, citing the global
economic crisis, the losses caused by three hurricanes in recent years
and the U.S. trade embargo.

These problems "come on top of Cuba's perennial economic difficulties
caused by the limitations of the kind of socialism practiced here and
that at times give us a very gloomy outlook," Ortega said.