Cuban Homecomings: Raul Castro’s New Business / Juan Juan Almeida

•October 8, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Juan Juan Almeida,14 September 2015 — Homecomings are a big business.

The same problems can often be seen in different cities, states and regions, but comparable solutions to those problems often yield very different results.

Convincing certain people to travel or return to Cuba — whether it be for family, vacation, work or out of sexual desire — is yet another obvious strategy by the government of Raul Castro. It amounts to a kind of de-marketing campaign intended, among other things, to capture people’s attention and enhance its image by using us to its advantage while downplaying the significance of exile.

I cannot blame Cubans who want to come home, even after having been oppressed by a government which deprived them of their status as Cubans. This is normal. But using public opinion, advertising and media to encourage the return of “Cubans who in some way can have a significant impact the political, social or economic environment” has become a government priority.

A controversial article published recently in Granma included an official announcement that Cuban doctors who have left the country or abandoned their medical missions abroad may, if they so desire, return to Cuba and to guaranteed jobs in the national health system under conditions similar to those they previously had.

It is an old but effective strategy. The trick is in distinguishing between the various people or groups the government wants to attract. With respect to health care professionals, if doctors choose not to return to work, the measure will have a boomerang effect in a country with an unstoppable brain drain and a shortage of trained specialists.

While it is a problem that shows up in different cities, states and regions, comparable solutions often yield very different results. In the 1980s, for example, more than half a million Chinese were studying in other countries. After the Chinese government instituted a new policy, nearly a third of them returned home. It was a program that was direct and aggressive. After identifying more than 70,000 Chinese living abroad, it contacted them with offers of short-term visits back to China as well as opportunities for repatriation. In some cases it even made them feel like “privileged citizens,” with the promise of financial incentives to “start afresh at home.” In mid-2001 Uruguay instituted a similar program in hopes of luring back its educated emigrés, though without the same results.

Some time ago the Cuban government launched an “incubation” program. Its aim was to send the children and some acolytes of the country’s top leaders to study overseas, including the United States, in fields related to technology and business. I do not want to name names for fear of starting a witch hunt, but let’s just say they are young and, though in no way implicated in the misdeeds of their family members, well-indoctrinated. Essentially, they are being prepared — I don’t know if it is correct to say “repaired” — to  have a valid role in the national economy upon their return.

The most sensitive, or rather the most vulnerable, aspect of this strategic program — one which strikes me as being potentially more costly than the ramshackle Juragua nuclear plant — is the government’s inability to offer these kids working conditions and salaries attractive enough to motivate them to return to the island, where they can only enjoy the epicurean pleasures of their former lives, once they have graduated. Their priorities have changed.

General Raul Castro’s Plastic Bag at the Papal Mass / Juan Juan Almeida

•October 3, 2015 • Leave a Comment

At the bottom right of the photo the general-president’s plastic bag can be seen.

Juan Juan Almeida, 22 September 015 — When, before a crowd gathered in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana, Pope Francis celebrated the first of three Masses on his visit to Cuba, in the first row was the elegant Lorena Castillo de Varela, first lady of Panama, and next to her General Raul Castro, and on his other side the president of Argentina Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. And, in the row behind, between the legs of the famous bodyguard and grandson Raul Guillermo Rodriguez Castro, almost hidden in a corner, the inseparable representation of Cuban culture, la jaba — the plastic bag.

Perhaps no foreigner noticed this detail. Reasonable, for the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language defines la jaba as: a dark stain on the lumbar region with which some children are born; a box specially made for carrying bottles, china or other fragile objects; a kind of basket made of woven reeds or palm leaves; and/or a bag of cloth, plastic, etc. to be carried in the hand. Of course, the scholars cannot imagine that the word jaba, in Cuban, has a special dimension, almost solemn, representing much more than any of its forms.

When the paper bag died for lack of paper back in the ’70s, la jaba became an indispensable part of the life of every Cuban, so much so that today it deserves a monument. It is a necessity that cannot be associated with a race, nor a sexual orientation, nor a gender, creed, ideology or level of intellect. Walking out without a plastic bag is like walking alone, like listening to an Andalusian tune without good company, like drinking non-alcohol beer or smoking nicotine-free cigarettes.

For some it is synonymous with poverty; for others, status, opulence and progress. An old and redundant joke says, “The body of any Cuban is not divided into three parts, but rather four: head, trunk, extremities and jaba.”

The plastic bag is used by everyone. It is the perfect addition: for errands; to protect your shoes in the rainy season; as an automotive sealant; as a hairdresser’s accessory (for making highlights); as well a form of payment [with goodies in the bag] for some workers in the system of state-owned businesses.

And, as shown in the photo, it can hide a Coca-Cola, the essence of Cuban change. General Raul Castro, putting himself on the level of the humble, has asked his bodyguards to bring his snack in a jaba.

What Does Alejandro Castro Espín Do? / Juan Juan Almeida

•October 2, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Alejandro Castro Espín, Raul Castro’s son

Juan Juan Almeida, 30 September 2015 — Alejandro Castro Espín’s intrusion into Cuba’s political scene has led to a whirlwind of Homeric fantasies in which his biography emerges as a genuine epic poem. This is quite normal; it is how myths are created. But be careful. To either demonize or idealize someone is to make the same mistake: It mythologizes a figure who will later end up embarrassing us.

Alejandro is not, nor will he be, the person who succeeds his father. There is a popular joke that goes like this: Eight out of ten Cubans complain about the government; the two who do not are Raul Castro’s grandson-bodyguard, Raul Guillermo, and his son-advisor, Alejandro.

Popular wisdom. Vilma and Raul’s son was born on July 29, 1965. I do not want to rehash the past — there has already been a ton written on the subject — but it is worth recalling that he began his university education at IPSJAE (José Antonio Echevarría Polytechnic University), only to abandon his studies in refrigeration engineering barely two years later to focus on a less demanding and more promising military career. Perhaps this earned more gold seals for his resume than the appellation on a bottle of cheap wine.

A lover of sports and bad habits such as digging into other people’s lives, a man with a face like a vegetarian takeout sign, Alejandro is credited with having earned engineering degrees, a doctorate in political science and a masters in international relations as well as being a writer and researcher on issues related to defense and national security.

No doubt he has many more but what is striking is that even the island’s official press seems unsure of the positions and responsibilities held by the youngest of the Castro Espíns’ offspring.

On April 11, 2015, during the Seventh Summit of the Americas held in Panama, the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX) stated, “Cuba was represented by Chancillor Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla as well as by Alejandro Castro Espín and Juan Francisco Arias Fernández, both from the Defense and National Security Commission.”

He was mentioned again on the same MINREX website on September 29, 2015 — almost six months later — in reference to a meeting between President Barack Obama and the Cuban president. While the organization remained the same, his position in it seems to have changed:

“Cuba was represented by the minister of foreign affairs, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, and by Alejandro Castro Espín and Juan Francisco Arias Fernández, advisor and deputy-advisor respectively of the Defense and National Security Commission.”

Alejandro’s job is either beginning to take shape or, worse, becoming distorted. The Council of National Defense, as stipulated by the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba, “is made up of the President of the Council of State, who presides; the Vice-President of the Council of State; his Vice-President; as well as five members appointed by the Council of State at the suggestion of its President.”

Alejandro is not among its members. He holds no designated post. His job, for now, is simply to be an empty bottle. The answer to the puzzle is easy enough: Raul Castro is to nepotism what Albert Einstein is to relativity.

Million-dollar Robbery at the Cienfuegos Refinery / Juan Juan Almeida

•August 24, 2015 • Comments Off on Million-dollar Robbery at the Cienfuegos Refinery / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 24 August 2015 — More than 500 barrels of fuel disappear daily from the terminals or storage tanks of the Camilo Cienfuegos refinery, located in the province of Cienfuegos on the south-central part of the island.

The theft, in addition to being really ingenious, has an organization that shows even seasonal patterns, revealing that there are fewer robberies in summer than in winter.

The Cienfuegos industrial enclave, after being shut down in 1995 and later materializing in the ALBA accords, with a remodeling and modernization project that cost over $83 million, reopened its doors in October 2007, as part of a large, mixed binational business between Cuba and Venezuela. However, with a processing capacity of over 8,000 barrels a day, the thefts are crippling and, let’s say it, frightening.

The authorities say that the Cienfuegos Polo Petrochemical project continues being a priority for both Governments, that they are consolidating their methods and doing everything possible to lower the statistics for fuel theft that continue to emerge. It’s known that part of the leakage occurs in “vampire operations,” which are nothing more than premeditated perforations in the pipes, where farmers clandestinely take small quantities of diesel for local farming activities and/or private provincial transport.

But those filterings are minimal and controlled by a systematic cross-checking of plant security, an efficient anti-theft offensive in conjunction with the national police.

The more important, apocalyptic, robbery, which doesn’t seem to interest any authority nor be suspected of being committed by a criminal with a Robin Hood complex, and whose distribution is the result of misdeeds and illegal gains at the service of the community, is centered on industrial quantities of refined gasoline being taken out of the refinery.

With the same notoriety as a polar bear hibernating in a Holguín park, “without anyone seeing anything,” hundreds of daily barrels of gasoline are packed in waterproof bags that normally are used for industrial waste or to guarantee the organoleptic stability of specified products.

There’s nothing discrete about it. The packages continue to mock the sophisticated security system, and they hop, like lice on the heads of babies, until they fall into the channel that flows into the Bay of Jagua.

Gasoline has a less specific weight than water; the packages float and the tide finishes the work. Of course some bags break, and the spill becomes a contaminant that directly affects the ecological equilibrium of the zone. But that, it appears, isn’t important either.

What’s interesting, or at least surprising for an illegal traffic impossible of being executed by a common criminal without having help is that, as in a Spartan task of extraordinary implications, it’s the efficient members of the border troops who finally pick up the floating bundles on the sea.

Who receives so much stolen gasoline? I don’t know; I couldn’t find out, and the more I asked, the more no one wanted to answer. Only one informed person told me:

“It neither returns to the refinery, nor is it lost in the black market.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

Raul Castro’s Grandson Expels a Spanish Businessman from Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

•August 20, 2015 • Comments Off on Raul Castro’s Grandson Expels a Spanish Businessman from Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

Raul Castro with his grandson, Raúl Guillermo Rodríguez Castro

Juan Juan Almeida, 18 August 2015 — Esteban Navarro Carvajal Hernández is a serious, respectable Spanish entrepreneur, who has done business in Cuba for twenty years. He has a trading firm, legally registered with the Chamber of Commerce, and a Cuban family. He lives on 30th Street, between 5th & 7th Avenues, in the Miramar neighborhood of Havana, next door to the Canadian Embassy.

As a good businessman, clever and calculating, he seized the moment and the new opportunities presented. Convinced also that the revolutionary government needs infusions of capital from private enterprises, he expanded his business beyond his commercial ties to several enterprises on the island, and associated separately with three Cuban citizens to create the following companies:

1. Up & Down, the bar-restaurant at the corner of 5th Street and Avenue B, Vedado, Havana, open daily from 3:00 pm to 3:00 am

2. Shangri-La, the tapas bar, party room, and nightclub located on 21st between 40th and 42nd, Playa, Havana

3. El Shangri Lá, in the province of Las Tunas.

And so, like foam, the gentleman entrepreneur grew. During that boom, without realizing he was walking down a dark and slippery path, he met the grandson of Gen. Raul Castro, Raúl Guillermo Rodríguez Castro, who became a nightly regular at Shangri-La.

But the budding friendship ended, like Hector and Paris, with the Spanish entrepreneur pitted against the powerful Raulito in an unfair competition to win the attention (and everything else) of a beautiful young woman whose attributes, some say, surpass those of the mythical Helen of Troy.

The younger Castro lost and, genetically wrathful, used his boorish manners plus the power conferred by his lineage, transforming a simple personal problem into a police thunderstorm. Esteban received a punishment more predictable than the August weather forecast for Havana: “Deportation with indefinite denial of entry into the country.”

Unfortunately, Esteban’s is not an isolated case. His was preceded by a series of very similar stories (some even worse) of entrepreneurs expelled for Machiavellian reasons, such as the Panamanian Rodin, the French-Italian Garzaroli, the Uruguayan Gosende, and others.

The Cuban government, shameless and without decency, is like a comic opera, where business prospects, potential commercial projects, and investment opportunities offered to foreigners, are intertwined with the adventure of investing in a country where they face not only the risk of the lack of legal support and many structural, banking, and financial abnormalities, but also the challenge of living with that totalitarian touch that, paradoxically, is seductive musk for many investors attracted by power and political ties, who forget that, as the saying goes, “The sun shines from afar but burns up close.”

Always, of course, at its own convenience.

Translated by Tomás A.

Cuba’s Illegal Manipulation

•August 15, 2015 • Comments Off on Cuba’s Illegal Manipulation

Cuban Institute of Radio and Television

Juan Juan Almeida, 13 August 2015 — The Cuban media today will even use illegal techniques (indoctrination through subliminal means) in order to manipulate the population and oblige it to associate Fidel’s birthday with the opening of the U.S. Embassy.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Alarming And Strange Increase In Illness Among Cuban Colleagues In Venezuela

•August 15, 2015 • Comments Off on Alarming And Strange Increase In Illness Among Cuban Colleagues In Venezuela

“Outbreaks of illness increase and official silence persists.” (YA!@Ya_Venezuela)

Juan Juan Almeida, 11 August 2015 — The suspicious increase in certain inopportune illnesses is now the most sensitive factor for the normal development of the Cuban medical mission in Venezuela.

During the present year, and especially in these last weeks, an alarming and strange increase has been reported in the number of Cubans who get sick while fulfilling their “internationalist” service.

Undisclosed official data reveal that up to week 28 of 2015, there have been 514 cases of Cubans affected by respiratory infections, mainly caused by outbreaks of H3N2 influenza, Rinovirus, Parainfluenza and Metapneumovirus. The states with the highest rate of those affected are the Distrito Capital, Barinas, Monagas, Falcón, Sucre, Nueva Esparta, Mérida, Trujillo, Vargas, Carabobo, Bolívar, Yaracuy, Amazonas, Cojedes and Lara.

It’s equally noticeable that by the end of week 29, also this year, there were already 33 new cases of dengue fever reported versus 33 in the previous week, bringing to more than 900 the total figure of those affected since January. And much more curious is that during the same time period, 17,391 Cubans have been under quarantine; of these, 12,870 have been in contact with dengue fever, suspected of having contracted Chikungunya fever and other undiagnosed fevers, while 4,184 colleagues were under watch for cholera.

The Party ideologues and the paranoiacs of MINIT do not hold cards without playing them and already have organized a whole novel of pathological persecution. They are taking advantage of the occasion to implement the usual model of fear, blaming such an anomalous situation on the premeditated undercover actions of their everlasting and eternal enemy, the CIA.

In spite of this melodrama, the reality is worrisome. Ever more so when, coincidentally, in the States of Aragua, Carabobo, Zulia, Distrito Capital and Cojedes during the same week, 90 nurses, 23 doctors, 29 laboratory technicians and 20 dentists, through negligence and/or bad manipulation of needles, scalpels and biological waste, suffered what are defined as “occupational accidents through exposure to patients’ blood and bodily fluids,” contaminating themselves with infections that are sometimes diagnosed and sometimes unknown.

The Venezuela medical mission is an important bulwark for Cuban propaganda, and the Cuban authorities, in addition to losing credibility, aren’t acknowledging a failure in this field. Then, in the face of so much going wrong, they developed in Havana in record time a detailed plan that they took to every head of the mission in the different Venezuelan states: a document of alert entitled “Epidemiological Update,” from which I took all these data.

The text orders the reprogramming of biosecurity courses among staff and requires all personnel (doctors, nurses, laboratory assistants, dentists, podiatrists, etc.) to pay special attention to secure methods in treating patients, as well as directing them to maintain constant communication and interchange with the new epidemiology monitoring centers.

In the Cuban health system, like the war in Angola, the casualties aren’t counted; the only thing that matters is victory.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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