Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Today LPP News...

Magnitude 4.3 Quake Wakes Up Chicago Area

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A rare moderate earthquake struck northern Illinois Wednesday morning, waking up residents in the Chicago area.
The 4.3 magnitude quake, centered 48 miles west of Chicago near the city of Sycamore, hit at 4 a.m. local time at a depth of about 3 miles, the USGS reported.
Geophysicist Amy Vaughn told the Chicago Sun Times the earthquake was "very widely felt" and the USGS phone lines were flooded with calls from residents asking about the shaking.
"It's mostly people who said 'we woke up and we thought we were going crazy,'" Vaughn said. "Mostly it’s rattling people awake."
Kane County sheriff's spokesman Lt. Pat Gengler told the Associated Press dispatchers have been flooded with calls from startled residents, though no injuries or damage have been reported.
Gengler said several residential and business alarms were triggered, but deputies haven't been called for assistance.
Residents reported being shaken out of bed and finding books and tools scattered across the floor after falling from shelves.

Walter Mockus of St. Charles told the Chicago Tribune. "The whole house shook. The chimes that hang were all ringing. It was so loud, I thought a plane had gone down."
On Twitter, user RosaMCabrera wrote: "Earthquake woke us! In ravenswood it was a second or so."
And Terryamerson said: "Thought it was the biggest snow plow ever that woke me up this morning. No it was 4.3 earthquake!"
Early reports suggest the quake was felt across three states: Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.
Additional coverage from
Maps, details and more from the USGS

U.S., Afghan Forces Poised to Seize Taliban Stronghold

Wednesday, February 10, 2010
NEAR MARJAH, Afghanistan  —  U.S. and Afghan forces pushed Tuesday to the edge of the southern Afghan town of Marjah, poised to seize the major Taliban supply and drug-smuggling stronghold in hopes of building public support by providing aid and services once the insurgents are gone.
Instead of keeping the offensive secret, Americans have been talking about it for weeks, expecting the Taliban would flee. But the militants appear to be digging in, apparently believing that even a losing fight would rally supporters and sabotage U.S. plans if the battle proves destructive.
No date for the main attack has been announced but all signs indicate it will come soon. It will be the first major offensive since President Barack Obama announced last December that he was sending 30,000 reinforcements to Afghanistan, and will serve as a significant test of the new U.S. strategy for turning back the Taliban.
About 400 U.S. troops from the Army's 5th Stryker Brigade and about 250 Afghan soldiers moved into positions northeast of Marjah before dawn Tuesday as U.S. Marines pushed to the outskirts of the town.
Automatic rifle fire rattled in the distance as the Marines dug in for the night with temperatures below freezing. The occasional thud of mortar shells and the sharp blast of rocket-propelled grenades fired by the Taliban pierced the air.
"They're trying to bait us, don't get sucked in," yelled a Marine sergeant, warning his troops not to venture closer to the town. In the distance, Marines could see farmers and nomads gathering their livestock at sunset, seemingly indifferent to the firing.
The U.S. goal is to take control quickly of the farming community, located in a vast, irrigated swath of land in Helmand province 380 miles southwest of Kabul. That would enable the Afghan government to re-establish a presence, bringing security, electricity, clean water and other public services to the estimated 80,000 inhabitants.
Over time, American commanders believe such services will undermine the appeal of the Taliban among their fellow Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group in the country and the base of the insurgents' support.
"The military operation is phase one," Helmand Gov. Gulab Mangal told reporters Tuesday in Kabul. "In addition to that, we will have development in place, justice, good governance, bringing job opportunities to the people."

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Marjah will serve as the first trial for the new strategy implemented last year by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. He maintains that success in the eight-year conflict cannot be achieved by killing Taliban fighters, but rather by protecting civilians and winning over their support.
Many Afghan Pashtuns are believed to have turned to the Taliban, who were driven from power in the U.S.-led invasion of 2001, because of disgust over the ineffectual and corrupt government of President Hamid Karzai.
"The success of the operation will not be in the military phase," NATO's civilian chief in Afghanistan, Mark Sedwill, told reporters Tuesday. "It will be over the next weeks and months as the people ... feel the benefits of better governance, of economic opportunities and of operating under the legitimate authorities of Afghanistan."
To accomplish that, NATO needs to take the town without causing significant damage or civilian casualties. That would risk a public backlash among residents, many of whose sons and brothers are probably among the estimated 400 to 1,000 Taliban defenders. U.S. aircraft have been dropping leaflets over the town, urging militants not to resist and warning civilians to remain indoors.
Provincial officials believe about 164 families — or about 980 people — have left the town in recent weeks, although the real figure could be higher because many of them moved in with relatives and never registered with authorities.
Residents contacted by telephone in Marjah said the Taliban were preventing civilians from leaving, warning them they have placed bombs along the roads to stop the American attack. The militants may believe the Americans will restrain their fire if they know civilians are at risk.
Mohammad Hakim said he waited until the last minute to leave Marjah with his wife, nine sons, four daughters and grandchildren because he was worried about abandoning his cotton fields in a village on the edge of town. He decided to leave Tuesday, but Taliban fighters turned him back because they said the road was mined.
"All of the people are very scared," Hakim said by telephone. "Our village is like a ghost town. The people are staying in their homes."
Sedwill said NATO hopes that when Marjah has fallen, many Taliban militants could be persuaded to join a government-promoted reintegration process.
"The message to them is accept it," he said. "The message to the people of the area is, of course, keep your heads down, stay inside when the operation is going ahead."
Mangal, the governor, said authorities believe some local Taliban are ready to renounce Al Qaeda and give the government a chance.
"I'm confident that there are a number of Taliban members who will reconcile with us and who will be under the sovereignty of the Afghan government," he said.
Ali Ahmad Jalali, a former Afghan interior minister who lectures at the National Defense University in Washington, said the U.S. had little choice but to publicize the offensive so civilians could leave and minimize casualties. He said it would have been impossible to achieve complete surprise because "an operation of this scale cannot be kept secret."
But Jalali added that publicizing the operation may have encouraged hard-core Taliban to stand and fight to show their supporters and the international community that they will not be easily swayed by promises of amnesty and reintegration.
"Normally the Taliban would leave. They would not normally decisively engage in this kind of pitched battle. They would leave and come back because they have the time to come back," Jalali told The Associated Press.
"If there's stiff resistance in Marjah, this could increase the recruiting power of the Taliban or at least retain what they have in that area," he said. "It's become the symbol of Taliban resistance. So I would suspect it's possible there would be stiff rearguard resistance. If it becomes bloody, it would affect opinion in Europe and the U.S."
Jalali also said that success would depend on whether the Afghan government can make good on its promise of services once the battle is over.
"If the coalition can stabilize Marjah, rebuild it and install good governance, that can be an example for other places," he said. "If not, it would be another problem."
Echoing this theory, McChrystal told reporters at a defense conference in Turkey last weekend that it was necessary to tell Afghans that the attack on Marjah was coming so they would know "that when the government re-establishes security, they'll have choices."

Let us pray…

A new prayer in Venezuela.
H/T Melek

S: babalú

A "Special" Police Operation

Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Last week, the BBC's correspondent in Havana, Fernando Ravsberg, was confronted by Castro's "special police" for having a conversation with a Cuban journalism student.
That's right -- for a simple conversation.
He wrote about this experience in a post (in Spanish), which we've partially translated:

Careful with the Waiters
It has been an exciting week. I was the subject of a "special police" operation upon leaving the bar of the Hotel St. John in the Vedado neighborhood. My "crime" was having a cup of coffee and talking to a journalism student, whom I was helping with his graduate thesis.

At the bar, I had noticed that the waiter kept walking by our table excessively, but I thought he was simply bored due to lack of clients. However, at one point I saw him whispering to the receptionist as they glared at us from the corner of their eyes.

The fact is that upon leaving, we were confronted by two agents of the "special police" (they wouldn't tell me what they "specialized" in). With an angry look, they asked us for our documents and refused to tell us why they were taking such measures.

After elaborating on the details of the harassment, Ravsberg ironically concluded:
The funny thing is that one of the questions the student had previously asked me was whether foreign journalists had difficulties in approaching Cubans, to which I answered "no." I never thought I'd be contradicted so quickly.

S:Capitol Hill Cubans

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Granma can't resist

All countries that provide foreign assistance deserve political credit for it, and Cuba and the United States are two that certainly seek credit for it. Nothing wrong with that.
In the Haiti context, I was struck by this article in Granma last weekend that leaped at the opportunity to take a cheap shot at the United States because medical evacuation flights were suspended for a few days. (There were questions about cost and the capacity of Florida hospitals, they were resolved, and the flights resumed.) The final paragraph questions why cost is not an issue in the deployment of thousands of troops to Haiti. Earlier, Fidel Castro had expressed alarm that U.S. troops had “occupied the territory of Haiti.”
I think that people around the world recognize the great contribution of Cuban doctors in Haiti. I also think that Cuban propagandists diminish Cuba’s contribution when they show that for them, Haiti relief efforts are part of a political competition with the United States.

LPP Archive...

January 14, 2010, 11:37 pm

Cuba Allows American Flyovers From Haiti

The United States has struck an agreement with the Cuban government to send medical evacuation flights with victims from the Haiti earthquake through restricted Cuban airspace, an official said, reducing the flight time to Miami by 90 minutes.
Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman, said an agreement was reached with the Cuban military for evacuation flights from the United States Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay to pass through the airspace over Cuba on their way to Florida.
It was unclear, he said, how many flights could be effected by the new protocols.
An arrangement already exists between the United States and Cuba, where air space can be violated for medical flights to save time in an emergency. But the base commander of the U.S. Naval Station asked the local commander in Cuba to expand the authority to a standing basis.
The Cuban government agreed, administration officials said, and flights were set to begin from Guantanamo Bay to Miami as soon as they were ready to transport patients.
S:TheledeBlog/ The New York Times

Viva la shoelace revolution! CAROL THATCHER explores impoverished Cuba by bike

By Carol Thatcher
Last updated at 6:30 PM on 08th February 2010

As shortages go, it was hardly likely to bring one of the world's last communist regimes to its knees, but it might make it stumble a little.
Halfway through a cycling tour of Cuba, one of my group abruptly announced a desperate need for shoelaces. It was surely simply a matter of buying a pair. Not so. For hours we combed the streets of Havana but from every counter came the same reply: no shoelaces.
It was, in its small way, an example of how a command economy will always fail. Clearly, the Cuban Central Ministry of Footwear Fastening Production had neglected to fulfil its five-year plan.

Carol Thatcher in Havana's Revolution Square
Revolutionary road: Carol Thatcher in Havana's Revolution Square with the wrought-iron monument to Che Guevera in the background
The lace crisis makes one wonder how Cubans go about their daily lives without this most basic of items. The answer is that they make do and mend, as they do with almost every shortage in a country hobbled by an American trade embargo and the loss of its former Soviet paymasters.
Look closely at those candy-coloured American cars seen on Cuban postcards. The Pontiacs and Buicks may look as grandiose as the day they were imported in the Fifties, but they are ingeniously patched-up rust-buckets that would send British mechanics into acute shock.
The engines and most parts have been taken from other models; the bodywork is mainly Polyfilla and glue. Indeed, were B&Q ever to open a superstore in Havana, its adhesives offerings would be cleared out within 30 minutes so keen are Cubans on anything that will stick their crumbling infrastructure back together.
I decided to take a cycling tour around Cuba to enjoy a sort of twisted nostalgia. It is more than 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, an event precipitated by my mother Margaret Thatcher's famous meeting with the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1984.
I remember the words of my father, Denis: 'At the time one doesn't say that it was history in the making, but I realised that this was something pretty special.' My mother put it more simply. 'This is a man I can do business with,' she said of Gorbachev.
Since that time, things have changed. Old-fashioned communist despots, once household names, are now rather thin on the ground. If we overlook China's hybrid capitalism, there's really only the semi-retired Fidel Castro and North Korea's batty Kim Jong Il left. They're almost an endangered species.
This is not to suggest that Cuba suffers anything like the otherworldly desperation of North Korea. Far from it. Only the terminally flint-hearted visitor could fail to feel a little note of rapture. Surely this is communism with a sunny face.
The restored Spanish colonial squares in Old Havana were magnificent with their handsome stone facades, columns and arches. Jazz tinkled out of clubs and restaurants.
But venture beyond this and you will see architecture that would be instantly condemned by even the most casual of English building control officers. Only faith in Fidel and yet more glue prevent its collapse.
These two images - cheek-by-jowl perfection and rickety dereliction - are twin monuments to 51 years of failed communism. But they are also a monument to 51 years of failed American foreign policy. Fidel and his brother Raul, who took over as president in 2008, have seen ten American presidents come and go.

Margaret Thatcher's meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev in 1984
Making history: Margaret Thatcher's famous meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev in 1984 
Washington has achieved the opposite of its intention. Rather than starve Cuba into submission, the unrelenting trade embargo has sustained the communist regime's grip on power. Resistance has been a matter of national pride. Cubans may have no shoelaces, but that doesn't mean they can't stand up to Washington.
It's hard to accept that at some point in the past 50 years, an American politician could not have told Fidel or Raul Castro: 'We don't approve of communism, but we are prepared to work with you.'
As I pondered the Castros' resilience, however, I had to stop myself falling under Cuba's spell. I was the daughter of the woman who helped bring down the Soviet Union. Surely I could not allow myself to be seduced by a whiff of cigar smoke and a little revolutionary solidarity.
After all, I was brought up in a household where it was never necessary to ask one's parents what this puzzling thing called 'communism' actually was. I have from the cradle onwards been instilled with a suspicion of all things Marxist. Mum not only objected to communism on ideological grounds, she also felt that an all-enveloping dictatorship sapped the human spirit, eroding endeavour and imagination.
It certainly does seem to mean shortages - and not just of shoelaces. People came up to me asking for toothpaste, as if I was a one-woman version of pedalling Boots.
So while posters of Fidel celebrating the 51st anniversary of the revolution adorn the windows of shiny new boutiques in Old Havana, Cubans haven't a hope of shopping in them.
Fidel's revolution has simply-produced a different set of haves and have-nots - rich party officials and tourists on one side, the rest of Cuba on the other. Everyone here covets a job in an international hotel. It provides a taste of how the rest of the Western world lives - and holds out the prospect of tips.
Towels are folded into intricate origami-like sculptures, with small cards attached saying: 'I do hope you enjoy your stay, with best wishes from your friendly chambermaid, Juanita.'
It worked. I found a reply from Kurt and Helga, the previous occupants of my room, profusely thanking Juanita for her handiwork. I'm not sure whether they left her any precious hard currency, though.
The girl at the hotel pool bar looked at my plastic designer watch with such a longing gaze that I handed it to her, and I gave some of my shoes to the chambermaids.
We were generally treated with deference, particularly in the capital-Sometimes, outside Havana, we were treated with less respect. 'What is your room number?' a woman barked at me one morning, more in the manner of a secret policeman than a hotel employee in charge of the breakfast buffet.

Havana cabaret star
Carnival spirit: One of Havana's glamorous cabaret stars
And there was one occasion, in Havana, when I decided to get some photos in the vast concrete expanse that is the Plaza de la Revolucion. I hoped to get a snap taken by one of my 15-strong cycling group standing by a wrought-iron image of the revolutionary hero Che Guevara.
To speed things up, I mounted my bicycle to cross the square only to be stopped by a policeman. 'You may push your bike in the square,' he explained, clearly relishing the sort of bureaucratic authority vested in minor operatives in dictatorships, 'but you are not allowed to ride it.'
With that sort of attitude, I thought, it is hard to imagine how Guevara and Castro managed to overthrow the Batista government in 1959.
Che is your constant companion on any trip to Cuba. His image is everywhere-more so than Fidel himself. Such was his presence that our tour was dubbed On Yer Bike With Che.
The iconic photograph (tilted beret, faraway gaze) of him taken in 1960 by Alberto Korda was one of the most reproduced images of the past century. In Old Havana, postcards of beaches, palm trees, rum and the sights took second billing to racks of black-and-white photos of Che smoking a cigar, or of Che standing alongside Fidel.
It would be hard to name a film star, entertainer or politician whose image has so endured, which is odd. Che may have masterminded the revolution with Castro, but he was shot dead in Bolivia in 1967. What's more, he wasn't even Cuban: he was born in Argentina.
But Cuba throws up many incongruities. As we waited at traffic lights in Havana before starting our 150-mile tour, a bendy bus drew alongside me. Momentarily, I wondered whether Mayor Boris Johnson was selling off the monsters Londoners love to hate to Castro's capital, but apparently they came from China and some former Soviet republics.
Still, Cuban commuters need all the help they can get - just getting around outside the main cities is a challenge. At one hotel I stayed at in Varadero, a beach resort 90 miles east of Havana, staff have to get up in the early hours to hitch-hike to work. There is no other way.
To the west, around Vinales, one of the most fertile tobacco growing areas, fancy tourist carriages give way to basic horse-drawn carts. They provide a pragmatic and essential mode of transport. Again, glue and a little string are probably used to hold them together.
Almost all private enterprise is forbidden. All farm produce must be sold to the government at appallingly low rates. Nevertheless, we managed to taste freshly squeezed sugarcane juice from a roadside kiosk.
Life in the countryside witnessed from our relaxed biking itinerary was unhurried and, to a Londoner, terribly quiet. Oddly, one of the things I missed most were Western advertising hoardings.
Often the only sounds would be a farmer's voice coaxing his oxen to pull a plough over his field. Roaming goats and chickens, unconstrained by fences or considerations of ownership, added a new meaning to the phrase 'free range'.
One day our group was overtaken by a young lad, lasso at the ready, chasing a bull. The animal doubled back and seemed to stalk us. Finally it was roped in and we relaxed. I like to be a strong fence away from a set of vicious horns, but this was Cuba.
We even cycled along a stretch of Cuba's main motorway, which was so devoid of traffic that onion sellers offered their produce from the fast lane, while horses and carts went the wrong way down the hard shoulder.
Aficionados say Cuban tobacco is the best in the world. The tobacco barons fleeing the revolution took their precious seeds with them, and planted and nurtured them in neighbouring Caribbean islands such as the Dominican Republic, but they failed to replicate the quality.
I knew nothing of cigars when I went to Havana beyond remembering that when Mum was Prime Minister, she bought a box of them every Christmas for her speechwriter, the playwright Ronnie Millar.
To learn more, I joined a tour of the Partagas Cigar Factory in Havana. The workers, two-thirds of whom are women, do a nine-month course to learn how to turn out 120 cigars in eight hours.
It was tobacco and sugar that made generations of Cubans hugely rich in the centuries before the revolution. It is still possible to catch a glimpse of the extravagance of prerevolutionary days, and wonder what might have been had Castro not had his way.
The Hotel Xanadu in Varadero, built in 1928 by the American Dupont dynasty as a sumptuous private mansion, has a magnificent view across the Florida Straits from the third-floor bar and terrace. It's now a place where guests can eat lobster beneath carved mahogany ceilings of considerable grandeur.
Times are considerably tougher for modern Cubans, but I saw no one who was visibly hungry. Health and education are reckoned to be good, and, walking back from a Havana jazz club in the early hours, I felt safer than I would in other Caribbean capitals or, indeed, London. I would not, however, recommend wearing high heels - the potholes are lethal.
Most Cubans we met were not reticent in the way that the fearful people of East Germany and Russia were when I visited Eastern Europe in the early Eighties. Nor were people resentful of the superior food and facilities enjoyed in tourist hotels. The vast majority were friendly and talkative.
Asking Cubans to volunteer their views on politics, however, comes with risks. Palm trees, rum cocktails and sunshine cannot disguise the chilly stranglehold communism retains on its citizens. Neighbours are still obliged to spy on each other. Voluminous Stasi-like files are kept on anyone suspected of subversion. Dissidents are imprisoned, anti-government journalists are intimidated.
People were happy to speak out in praise of their country though, or to denounce its enemies. A taxi driver said Cubans are angry that their country is repeatedly mentioned on the news as the site of a terrorist prison camp. In fact, Guantanamo Bay has been leased to Washington since 1903, but Cuba's government refuses to cash the rental cheques.
Another driver told me he hated Americans. That did not seem to be a view shared by the many good-looking and energetic young dancers at the nightclub where he dropped me. They were almost all wearing designer clothes and shoes from the United States. Admiration of things on the other side of the Florida Straits extends to other pastimes, too. Many Cubans are obsessed with baseball.
Talking to my group about the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, I said it was my view that when US President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev went eyeball-to-eyeball, it was Khrushchev who blinked, thus averting nuclear war - something the world should be grateful for.
At that point a Cuban interrupted. 'It still pains us that this deal was done between Khrushchev and Kennedy over Fidel's head,' he said with some passion. 'It deprived us of a bargaining card.'
For what, I asked? 'To get the Americans out of Guantanamo Bay.'
Cubans, it seems, see history through a different prism and one must be careful. Dining in a restaurant with British people, I was indiscreet enough to indicate that I wasn't a paid-up member of Fidel's fan club. One of our group felt it necessary to apologise on my behalf to the Cubans at the next table.
Will Cuba ever ditch communism? A year ago, Barack Obama stated his intention to close Guantanamo Bay. He hasn't. One morning, as I was preparing for another day's cycling, a TV bulletin reported a strongly worded statement from Raul Castro in which he alleged that Obama's government was trying to undermine Cuba's regime.
I don't sense any rush for change in Cuba. There is little sign of a younger generation in the regime, or a Gorbachev figure pushing for reform. Obama appears to have an in-tray filled with more pressing issues, and, even if he wanted to negotiate, the powerful Cuban lobby in the United States would oppose any compromise. Obama may be the 11th president to fail to do business with Cuba.
That said, the Berlin Wall came down suddenly. The unexpected can happen; it just takes one catalyst.
Where political argument has failed to bring down communism in Cuba, designer clothes, sport and tourism just might. Or perhaps life without shoelaces will one day break the revolutionary spirit.


February 2010
Independent journalist arrested and  charged
HOLGUÍN, Cuba, February 1 (José Ramón Pupo Nieves,  - Independent journalist Juan Carlos Reyes Ocaña was arrested in his home in Holguín last week and taken to a police station where he was charged with insult, disobedience and illicit economic activity.

Members of the dissident went to the police station last Friday in a sign of support for Reyes Ocaña, who was released pending trial.

Reyes Ocaña is affiliated with Holguín Press, an independent new agency.

Dissidents arrested after wreath laying
SANTA CLARA, Cuba, February 1 (Yesmy Elena Mena Zurbano, – A group of dissidents was arrested last week after laying a wreath at a monument to independence hero José Martí.
Five of the dissidents, members of the Frank País November 30 Democratic Party, were detained in the morning and released in the evening, while a sixth was held overnight, according to one of them, Amado Ruiz Moreno.

Ruiz Moreno, who said he was beaten about the legs, said he and his colleagues had planned to go to the police station to demand the release of political prisoners.
January 2010

Ecuadorian Embassy scene of disturbance

HAVANA (Carlos Ríos Otero. – Police arrested 20 people last week when a fight broke out at the Ecuadorian Embassy among those standing in line for visas to travel to the South American country.
Waiting in line and selling your place has become a minor business in Havana. The price ranges from five to 20 CUCs, a CUC being convertible currency.
The trouble started when those arriving at daybreak January 19 saw others buying their spot from people who had been waiting since midnight. Several persons were injured in the brawl.
Those arrested face penalties of up to four years for creating a disturbance outside a foreign embassy.
Counterfeit banknotes circulate in Havana
HAVANA, Cuba, Jan. 19 (Carlos Ríos Otero, –Counterfeit CUCs, the banknotes that replaced foreign currency, have been detected in Havana.
Police have told shop owners to immediately advise the authorities if someone tries to pass one of the phony bills, which began to circulate shortly before New Year’s Day. The bills have been in denominations of 20 CUCs.
A woman tried to pay with a counterfeit 20 at an outlet of the Ditú fast-food chain in the Managua district. When the bill was rejected, she said she had been given it at a government currency exchange agency.
A minor tried to pay for a soft drink in the San Leopoldo district with a 20. He fled when the falsification was detected.

Independent librarian detained over children’s party

HAVANA, Cuba, Jan. 8(Julio Beltrán, Agencia Libre Asociada / – Independent librarian Ileana Margarita Pérez says she was detained by police on Three Kings Day and questioned during an eight-hour period.

“I was submitted to an interrogation only because I had organized a Three Kings Day party for children in my neighborhood,” she said. “I was warned that such seasonal things were prohibited in Cuba because they’re capitalist.”

Besides being the director of the Héctor Riverón Independent Library, Pérez is a delegate of the dissident Latin American Federation of Rural Women, known as FLAMUR, its Spanish acronym.

She said one of the agents told here, “There’s a file on you for being antisocial and, if you don’t know it, there are jails for problematic women like you.”

Police try to stop sellers of bread

SANTA CLARA, Cuba, January 11(Yoel Espinosa / – Since the beginning of the New Year, police in Santa Clara have been pursuing private sellers of bread, which is considered a crime.

Police in cruisers and on foot have been seen chasing the vendors, who usually use bicycles. Those who are caught are fined 1,500 pesos, the equivalent of three months’ salary for the average Cuban. Police also confiscate their bicycles.

“Each new measure they take is to hurt people who are no longer able to buy bread in the street,” said resident Julia Salterio. “The breadmen on their bikes are the ones who let us each bread at breakfast.”

Anti-government sign appears in Santa Clara   
SANTA CLARA, Cuba, January 11 (José Guillén / – An anti-government sign was painted on an electric light post next to a bus stop in the town of Caguagua in Villa Clara state last week.
The sign read: “51 years without freedom! Down with the Castros!”

Political police and members of the National Police with sniffer dogs took photos and fingerprints and tried to find a trail of the sign maker.

Dissident’s telephone tapped

HAVANA, Cuba, January 11 (Ana Aguililla / – Independent librarian Luz María Barceló says she was insulted by someone who tapped into a telephone conversations she was having with the mother of a political prisoner.

She said a man who identified himself by the initials KT came on line as she was talking with Gregoria, the mother of Luis Campos on January 3.

“The gentleman greatly offended us,” she said. “This isn’t the first time this has happened. On other occasions he let it be understood that he was acting on orders.”

Pharmacies in Santa Clara don’t have aspirins
SANTA CLARA, Cuba, January 11 (Yoel Espinosa / –A health worker says common aspirins are unavailable in local pharmacies because of a demand for them in hospitals.
“We hope the situation will be normalized next month,” said the worker.

Said Juan Agramonte as he left the Arnaldo Milián provincial hospital, “They say we’re a medical power but we don’t have any aspirins.”
 S: CubaNet

Relatives in eastern Cuba say woman has turned 125

HAVANA – Relatives in eastern Cuba claim to have held a 125th birthday party for a woman named Juana Bautista de la Candelaria Rodriguez, but it is not clear if she is really that old. The state-run news agency Prensa Latina reported on the party last weekend in the city of Bayamo in Granma province, attended by Rodriguez's family, including 15 great-grand children and four great-great-grandchildren. Prensa Latina said Rodriguez, known affectionately as "Candulia," is "presumably the oldest person on the planet, although that has not been confirmed." In a phone interview with Cuban media, Rodriguez said she was happy and looking forward to many great years ahead. The agency added that civil registry documents confirm she was born on Feb. 2, 1885, in the village of Santa Rosa, where she continues to live. The Guinness Book of World Records says it has never heard of the case. "We currently have not received a claim relating to the individual," spokesman Philip Robertson told The Associated Press on Tuesday. Robertson said Guinness gets claims via its Web site about once a week involving people who say they or someone they know have broken age records. After an especially old person's age is verified, or death is reported, the number of claims usually spikes. He said the company only sends genealogists and other experts to trace family histories for the most promising reports, however, and few are authenticated. Guinness is currently reviewing claims for the oldest living person after Georgia-native Gertrude Baines died last year at 115. The highest fully authenticated age was 122 years, 164 days by Jeanne Louise Calment, who died in 1997 in Arles, France.