Saturday, March 22, 2003


Over twenty dissidents arrested amid rising tensions in U.S.- Cuba relations

HAVANA, March 19 (Ernesto Roque y Fara Armenteros, UPECI / - Cuban State Security officers fanned out across Havana starting at about 4 p.m. tuesday and arrested at least 20 dissidents, according to the latest reports, after searching their homes and confiscating books, papers, computers and cameras.

Independent journalist Claudia Márquez Linares said 10 State Security officers rushed into her apartment at 4:15 p.m. Tuesday and spent the next 9 hours searching through it. Márquez said they confiscated about 150 books, 50 files of her papers, all the files for the Democratic Liberal Party of Cuba, of which her husband is president, 38 diskettes, a video camera, a computer and a printer, and a few sheets with signatures for the Varela project. At the end, past 1:00 a.m., they arrested her husband, Osvaldo Alfonso Valdés, and told her to present herself at Villa Marista, the State Security headquarters, Wednesday morning.

Villa Marista, where the more than 20 dissidents are being held, is surrounded by an unprecedented number of armed guards, and even more police and paramilitaries in civilian clothes.

The measures capped weeks of rising tensions between Cuban authorities and U.S. diplomats in Havana. During the last two days, denunciations of the chief of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana, James Cason, in the nightly political program on Cuban TV turned more shrill.

At the end of February, Fidel Castro himself threatened to close the U.S. interests section in Havana as a result of Cason's activities. Castro was incensed because Cason had visited prominent dissident Martha Beatriz Roque at her home.

In general, Cason is well disposed toward dissidents, offering them help, visiting them and inviting them to his residence, most recently last Friday, when he hosted a meeting of about 30 dissidents.

Usually arrests like these are not mentioned in the Cuban press, but in a rare acknowledgment the official Communist Party daily Granma said about the day's events: "...several dozen individuals directly linked to the conspiratorial activities of Mr James Cason, have been arrested by the appropriate authorities and will stand trial in our courts of justice."

Thursday, March 20, 2003

According to Babbs, this is Casto's response to our Middle East offensive......
Back to Home > Thursday, Mar 20, 2003


Posted on Wed, Mar. 19, 2003

Cuba Detains Dissidents, Limits Diplomats
Associated Press

HAVANA - Already frayed Cuba-U.S. relations unraveled further as the communist government announced the detentions of several dozen opponents and confirmed that U.S. diplomats may no longer move freely around the island.

An official statement read on state television's evening news Tuesday accused the chief of Washington's diplomatic mission in Havana, James Cason, of trying "to foment the internal counterrevolution."

"No nation, no matter how powerful, has the right to organize, finance and serve as a center for subverting the constitutional order," the statement said.

Offices at the U.S. Interests Section were closed late Tuesday and attempts to reach American diplomats here for comment were unsuccessful.

In Washington, a State Department official said American authorities had not yet had time to study Havana's announcement. State Department officials last week reported the travel restrictions on its diplomats in Havana, but the Cuban government did not confirm the new measures until Tuesday.

The Cuban statement did not describe the restrictions, but U.S. officials have said American diplomats here now must get prior approval to travel outside the 434-square-mile area that includes Havana and surrounding Havana Province - less than 5 percent of the largest island in the Caribbean.

Previously, U.S. diplomats had to notify Cuban officials when they traveled outside the Havana region, but no advance approval was necessary.

American government sources said they believe Cuba wants to cut back on the extensive travels here by Cason, who has logged more than 6,200 miles since arriving here in the fall.

Washington last week imposed similar travel restrictions on Cuban diplomats in the United States, saying it was responding to Havana's move.

Human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez said late Tuesday he had confirmed the detentions of at least 10 dissidents and was trying to confirm reports of at least 20 more being picked up by state security agents.

Most of Cuba's prominent activists, including Oswaldo Paya - the top organizer of the Varela Project reform effort - were left alone. But among those picked up were Efren Fernandez, who has worked with Paya, and Ricardo Gonzalez, editor of the new magazine De Cuba, which publishes the work of nonofficial journalists.

The nongovernmental Reporters Without Borders said at least a dozen of those people picked up were independent journalists. It called the detentions the "end to a period of relative tolerance for the independent press."

The detentions come during the annual Geneva meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, where Cuba's record regularly is condemned, and days before a gathering in El Salvador of newspaper editors and publishers from around the region to discuss press freedoms.

Havana's actions are just the latest in an increasingly ugly exchanges between the two governments, which have had no regular diplomatic relations for more than four decades.

The U.S. Interests Section here opened Sept. 1, 1977, during the Carter administration to provide a minimum of communications between Washington and Havana. A similar Cuban Interests Section operates in Washington.

Havana in recent weeks has become increasingly incensed with Cason, who last month made a high-profile visit to a meeting of dissidents and spoke with international journalists gathered there. Cuban authorities have accused him of undiplomatic behavior.

Since arriving here about six months ago, Cason has met with opposition members around the island and last week allowed a group of dissident journalists to use his official residence for a meeting.

Cason has said he is merely trying to promote democracy and human rights in the Caribbean nation.

"The Cuban government is afraid - afraid of freedom of conscience, afraid of freedom of expression, afraid of human rights," Cason told journalists during last month's meeting with the opposition.

President Fidel Castro responded shortly thereafter by criticizing Cason's public comments and suggested - as he has done several times in the past - that he could close the American mission.

"Anyone can see that this is a shameless and a defiant provocation," Castro said of Cason.

The State Department protested Castro's criticisms of Cason as "derogatory."

Cuban officials have also become increasingly upset about a new solitary confinement lockdown on five convicted Cuban spies serving time in American prisons.

The five were convicted in Miami of trying to infiltrate U.S. military bases and Cuban exile groups in Florida. Their sentences range from 15 years to life.

Cuban authorities have lionized the men as patriotic heroes and say they were merely working to prevent Cuban exile groups from launching terrorist acts against their homeland.

Monday, March 17, 2003

Ever wonder why there is so much voodoo in Cuba?...... read on....

| Yoruba | Arará | Abakuá | Kongo |

Until the last decades of the 18th Century, Cuba was a relatively underdeveloped island with an economy based mainly on cattle raising and tobacco farms. The intensive cultivation of sugar that began at the turn of the nineteenth century transformed Cuba into a plantation society, and the demand for African "slaves", who had been introduced into Cuba from Spain at the beginning of the 16th century, increased dramatically. The slave trade with the West African coast exploded, and it is estimated that almost 400,000 Africans were brought to Cuba during the years 1835-1864. [That's roughly 1150 per month for 29 years!] In 1841, African slaves made up over 40% of the total population.

The late flourishing of the Cuban sugar industry and the persistence of the slave trade into the 1860s are two important reasons for the remarkable density and variety of African cultural elements in Cuba. Fernando Ortiz Counted the presence of over one hundred different African ethnic groups in 19th century Cuba, and estimated that by the end of that century fourteen distinct "nations" had preserved their identity in the mutual aid associations and social clubs known as cabildos, societies of free and enslaved blacks from the same African "nation," which later included their Cuban-born descendants. Soon after Emancipation in 1886, cabildos were required to adopt the name of a Catholic patron saint, to register with local church authorities and when dissolved, to transfer their property to the Catholic Church.

Paradoxically, it was within the church sponsored cabildos that Afro-Cuban religions and identities coalesced. Even after they were officially disbanded at the end of the 19th century, many were kept up on an informal basis, and were known popularly by their old African names. Some survive to this day. The cabildos not only preserved specific African practices, their members also creatively reunited and resynthesized many regional African traditions, some, as in the case of the Yoruba, long separated by migration and war.

While the formally organized cabildos were a primarily urban phenomenon, individual and collective African practices also continued to flourish at the sugar estates, known as ingenios or centrales. These were more like small, self-contained industrial townships than "plantations." About 80% of the newly-arrived [Africans] known as bozales, were sent to them, and many centrales became centers of specific African "nations."

Forged in the cabildos and amidst the grueling labor at the sugar mills, four major Afro-Cuban divisions (Lucumí, Arará, Abakuá, Kongo) are represented in Cuba.

Here's some good news about a librarian who is preserving plantation records in Matanzas.....

The first speaker was Jeane Drewes (Michigan State University) who participated in a Cuban exchange program through Johns Hopkins University, her previous employer. While presenting a paper at a conference at the National Archives of Cuba, Ms. Drewes was made aware of the very poor condition of the archives located in Matanzas. Back in the U.S.A., she raised $10,000 via appeals on listservs to send archival supplies to Cuba.

During a two-week period in January, Johns Hopkins University has an exchange program with Cuba. Ms. Drewes enlisted about 20 undergraduates to come to Cuba with her and work on wrapping bundles of archival papers at the Matanzas Regional Archives. The archives are faced with a tropical climate but no climate control resources whatsoever. Wrapping the bundles of plantation records in acid-free paper will help preserve them. Ms. Drewes and the students managed to wrap 787 archival packages during the two-week period. This was a small but successful example of international cooperation and preservation. There are many other Latin American archives that could use such aid.