October 13 , 2006

The Miami Herald

Cuban exiles, dissidents sign plan

Hard-line Cuban exile organizations worked with dissident groups in Cuba to implement a democracy action plan.

By Frances Robles. Posted on Thu, Oct. 12, 2006

Cuban exile organizations in South Florida working together with dissidents on the island this week launched a five-point plan designed to bring democracy to Cuba -- without budging on controversial issues like negotiating with the current leadership.

The document is an important historic step, because it demonstrates an unusual level of cooperation between dissidents and prominent Cuban exile groups, its signers said.

The resolution was signed by the Cuban Patriotic Forum, an umbrella exile group, and the dissident Cuban organization Assembly to Promote Civil Society. The Patriotic Forum includes the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association, the Cuban Liberty Council, Cuban Municipalities in Exile and others.

''This document is the beginning of the end of communism,'' said Roberto Martín Pérez, spokesman of the Association of Cuban Political Prisoners. "The forum's mentality is not to be against one man, but the principles these men have held for 48 years.''

The exile groups represented traditional hard-line organizations that shun any kind of negotiation with the Cuban government. They worked with prominent dissident Martha Beatriz Roque, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Cuban-American legislators Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Lincoln Díaz-Balart and Mario Díaz-Balart attended an event presenting the document Tuesday in Little Havana, and heralded it as a sign of a united Cuban exile community.

The resolution advocates:

o Freedom for all political prisoners and an end to harassment of all kinds to internal opposition.

o Installment of a transition government that establishes democracy in Cuba, that respects human rights and offers the following freedoms: economic, press, religion, to associate, to assemble and to protest peacefully.

o Establishment of a constituent assembly that provides a new constitution submitted to a popular vote.

o Recognition of political parties and multiparty elections.

o Reestablishment of the rule of law, making sure that "every Cuban is protected from whimsical decisions that could lead to social discontent.''

''This is a strong document endorsed by all freedom-loving people,'' Ros-Lehtinen said. "We're going to work hard to make sure all these points come true.''

New task force to target Cuba ban offenders

South Florida's top federal law enforcement official unveiled a task force to crack down on violators of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.

By Jay Weaver. Posted on Wed, Oct. 11, 2006

Although the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba is more than four decades old, criminal prosecutions of violators have been rare -- especially in South Florida.

But if U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta has his way, that's about to change.

Acosta announced on Tuesday the creation of a task force of federal agencies to target embargo offenders more aggressively -- whether they violate travel bans, business restrictions or limits on currency remittances to relatives on the island.

''The purpose of these sanctions is to isolate the Castro regime economically and to deprive the Castro regime of the U.S. dollars it so desperately seeks,'' Acosta said at a news conference.

When asked why the task force was being created now, Acosta dismissed any suggestion that it was driven by next month's U.S. elections or the recent disclosure about Cuban leader Fidel Castro's health crisis.

He reiterated again and again that ''it's an appropriate time'' without discussing any specific reason -- even noting that there had not been any sudden ''upsurge'' in embargo violations.

Acosta -- flanked by nine law enforcement officials from the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Treasury Department and other agencies -- said the group was being set up "with the aim of hastening the transition to democracy in Cuba.''

He said there would be serious consequences for those who don't follow the law -- ''more than a slap on the wrist'' -- including up to 10 years in prison and heavy fines for the worst offenses.

The Treasury Department annually imposes hundreds of fines against Americans and U.S. corporations, mostly for violating the embargo's business and travel restrictions, said agency spokeswoman Molly Millerwise. A ''handful'' of those cases are referred to federal law enforcement agencies for criminal investigations, she said.

Indeed, criminal prosecutions have been rare. Here are a few:

o In 2004, a federal judge dismissed charges against the organizers of a sailboat race from Key West to Cuba. They had been charged with two counts of providing unlicensed travel services to Cuba. Crews competing in the Key West Sailing Club Conch Republic Cup departed in May 2003 for Havana and Cuban shore communities after receiving prerace warnings that they would be violating U.S. licensing regulations.

o In the 1990s, a family-owned Philadelphia-area business, Bro-Tech Corp., sold some of its product, a water-purification material called Purolite, to Cuba. In 2000, two brothers and their company were charged in a 77-count indictment with violating the trade embargo. One brother, Bro-Tech's president, ultimately was acquitted. The other brother, a vice president, and the company itself pleaded guilty and paid fines.

o In 1989, federal agents seized about 220 Cuban paintings owned by Miami art collector Ramon Cernuda from his Brickell Avenue condo, allegedly because their acquisition violated the trade embargo. But a judge ruled the First Amendment protected Cuban art in the marketplace.

U.S. officials defend the embargo, which allows the sale of some U.S. food and medicine to Cuba, saying unfettered trade and travel to the island would prop up the communist government. They say Cuba's imprisonment of dissidents and restrictions on economic and political freedoms justify the policy, aimed at pushing Castro and his associates out of power.

Acosta, appointed as U.S. attorney by President Bush, said it was critical to enforce the U.S. embargo -- despite criticism that it has not loosened Castro's grip on the communist nation and that it has only harmed the lives of everyday Cubans.

Cuba waging war against dengue fever

The Cuban government has begun a fumigation campaign against the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, which spreads dengue fever, a viral disease.

Miami Herald Staff Report. Posted on Sat, Oct. 07, 2006

SANTA CLARA, Cuba - The roar of the fumigation truck sent residents scurrying off their stoops as shutters quickly slammed shut to stave off the toxic mist designed to kill mosquitoes and combat the spread of dengue fever.

When the stench of petroleum oozed from the truck into homes and cars, everyone knew: It was time to kill the mosquitoes again.

''Let me tell you, dengue is the worst thing you can get,'' Irene, a housewife, said. "Everything, everything, everything hurts -- even your eyes.''

Without officially admitting a dengue epidemic, the Cuban government has launched a massive fumigation campaign against the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, transmitter of dengue fever.

Trucks regularly roll down the streets in cities around the country, particularly Santa Clara, Havana and Santiago, spraying entire blocks with a thick white fog. Cars and buses are stopped on highways and men lugging devices that look like leaf blowers spray homes with insecticide.

High school kids and other enlisted volunteers are going door-to-door inspecting homes for larvae and other signs of the mosquito, while hotels are evacuating guests at least once a week for spraying.

Dengue, a disease typical of tropical regions, causes high fever, severe joint pain and a rash. There's no cure or vaccine.


''We have two goals: An immediate, urgent goal of the highest priority is to diminish the infestation of the Aedes Aegypti, practically bring it to zero,'' Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage told the local media.

The second goal: Make sure it doesn't happen again.

''We won't resolve the problem with fumigation alone,'' Lage said. "Fumigating treats the results, not the causes.''

The government acknowledges it lacks the personnel needed to thoroughly spray affected areas. It has yet to release an official figure of the number of dead or infected.

''There is a pile of dead people nobody talks about,'' said Arturo, a restaurant worker recruited by the Communist Party to fumigate Havana homes. "A lot of people have gotten sick. A lot.''

Another technician working on the spraying campaign said wards were set up for infected people at Salvador Allende Hospital in Havana, known as ''Covadonga.'' There, a nurse told The Miami Herald that cases began appearing at least a year ago.

''We have quite a few cases, certainly more than a dozen, but it's not like it's the whole city,'' said the nurse, who declined to give a name. "There's been a death here and there, and a few patients are in very serious condition. I would not call it an epidemic; it's more like an outbreak.''

Reports from Cuba's independent journalists allege a nationwide dengue epidemic rivaling outbreaks of years past, particularly in Santiago de Cuba and Havana. Dissident doctor Darsi Ferrer wrote in an article in El Nuevo Herald last week that the number of dead was ''in the hundreds,'' but he offered no source for the information.

The Pan American Health Organization says Cuba's minister of health sent an August letter confirming cases of dengue and the more deadly hemorrhagic dengue fever in four provinces, but the letter did not offer statistics.

In 1981, 344,000 Cubans caught dengue, and 158 of them died. Cuba blamed the United States for the outbreak, saying in a 1999 lawsuit that Washington unleashed the disease in an act of germ warfare. The U.S. State Department has denied causing the epidemic.

In official notes in the press and public awareness campaigns, Cubans are being warned to help fight the spread of thedisease by watching out for standing water. Inspectors enlisted by the Cuban government are checking water tanks, plants, pipes, discarded tires and other places for mosquito breeding sites.

High school students who normally are dispatched to the countryside for farm work are instead going door-to-door looking for pests. If larvae are found, the entire square block is sprayed.

Residents and tourists interviewed said they have begun to suffer skin, eye and breathing problems since the spraying started last month.

''We don't have an epidemic; we don't have anything,'' said an official at Havana's international medical center, a hospital aimed at tourists. "We have mosquitoes, and we are killing them.''

Sandra Fisher, chief of the mosquito control division at the Miami-Dade County Department of Public Works, said she is keeping an eye on the situation in Cuba and other countries where dengue has recently been reported, such as the Dominican Republic and El Salvador. At least 36 people have died in the Dominican Republic, health officials there said.


The United States eradicated dengue decades ago, but South Florida could be at risk because of the high number of international travelers passing through the area, she said.

Widespread daytime spraying and the routine stopping of cars shows Cubamust be facing a serious problem, Fisher said.

In Florida, spraying in the daytime is illegal.

But the mosquito that transmits the dengue virus is active only during the day -- making daytime spraying the only option.

''Spraying of that nature is a last resort measure you turn to when you are facing imminent disease,'' she said. "I am not saying they are not taking the safety of the public in mind, but when you have an epidemic like that, you use whatever you can.''

The identity of the Miami Herald correspondent who wrote this story is being withheld to protect the correspondent's ability to continue reporting from Cuba.

Batista's widow dies at 82, 33 years after her husband

Posted on Thu, Oct. 05, 2006

WEST PALM BEACH - (AP) -- Marta Fernandez de Batista, the widow of former Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, has died, her son said Wednesday. She was 82.

She died at her West Palm Beach home on Monday, the son, Roberto Batista, told The Associated Press. She had suffered a heart attack on Sept. 8 and was hospitalized until last week, when she returned home under hospice care, her son said.

Born Marta Fernandez Miranda, she was Batista's second wife. She earned a reputation as a lover of the arts and supporter of the needy, in both Cuba and the United States, giving to South Florida charities that fought cancer and leukemia, her son said.

Her husband was pushed out of power by Fidel Castro's rebels more than 47 years ago, and left Havana in the middle of the night on Jan. 1, 1959. The former dictator, then 58 years old, fled first to the Dominican Republic, then Portugal and finally Spain, where he died in 1973.

His government had captured Castro and his younger brother, Raúl Castro, in 1953 after a failed attack on the Moncada military barracks in eastern Cuba. Both were jailed, but Batista was pressured to release the two under a general amnesty two years later.

Fulgencio Batista had a home in Daytona Beach and donated an extensive art collection to the city. His wife had lived in Palm Beach County since the 1980s.

''She always talked about being able to see Cuba again. Of course, that never materialized,'' Roberto Batista said. "She was very fond of her own people that she loved dearly. She always spoke highly of Cubans here, Cubans on the island and Cubans everywhere in the world.''

Marta Fernandez de Batista will be buried with her husband in Madrid after a Mass in West Palm Beach, her son said.

In addition to Roberto, she is survived by her sons Jorge Luis Batista and Fulgencio Jose Batista and her daughter, Marta Maria Malouf Batista.

The family will receive friends from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at Quattlebaum Funeral Home in West Palm Beach. A Mass will follow at 12:30 p.m. at St. Juliana Catholic Church in West Palm Beach.


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