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

•August 24, 2015 • Leave a Comment

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 • Leave a Comment

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 • Leave a Comment

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 • Leave a Comment

“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

A New Treaty Between Cuba and the U.S. for the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base / Juan Juan Almeida

•August 9, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Juan Juan Almeida, 3 August 2015 — In redundant speeches, more rhetorical than combative, the Cuban Government has requested — among other things — the return of the territory where the Guantánamo Naval Base is located.

But given present circumstances, since Washington and Havana have decided to stop being best enemies to become respectful neighbors, it’s worth asking if the U.S., by delivering that territory, would lose control of the zone and its regional influence.

History tells us the Naval Base was established in 1898, when the military occupation of the U.S. on the Island took place, after defeating Spain in what many of us know as the Hispano-Cuban-American War. Later, the signature of the first President of the Republic of Cuba, Tomás Estrada Palma, on February 23, 1903, granted that unusual and controversial condition of perpetual lease, which also was ratified with the rubric of the Treaty of Relations on May 29, 1934.

It originated as a historic anomaly and, today, now that without Tylenol even the Cold War caught a cold, the Base appears to lose its military meaning. Some need an unequaled gesture of neighborly coexistence: that the Pentagon return to MINFAR the 117.6 sq. km. of territory in dispute and, in passing, savor the opportunity to close the center of detention and its so-questionable reputation.

Seen like that it sounds convincing. However, everything is not as it seems. The moon was smooth and perfect until Galileo appeared. He modified the telescope and let us see a lunar surface chock-full of dark craters and unsuspected irregularities.

Yes, without doubt, for Cuba to recover this space, which geographically forms part of its “Sovereign State,” could mean a political victory that would convert Guantánamo into one of the most attractive national destinations for researchers, film crews and tourists. But the Cuban Government won’t stop at that. Lacking naval resources and potential cash to exploit the installations of a base that includes two airfields, docks, jetties and moorings with the capacity for different types of cargo ships, it would have to solicit bids, and that would bring a pack of wolves.

Sufficient indications reveal the marked interest of Russia and China for grabbing the Caribbean, and experts on terrorism agree on the authentic danger of certain groups — radical Islamists — known for spreading panic in the Middle East, who look for means and ways to extend their regional religiosity into this zone in order to bring it closer to the U.S.

For that reason and much more, I believe that today, strategically speaking, the Guantánamo Naval Base has special importance and should be immovable. But circumstances have changed, and the conditions of the contract could also change. Since July 20 and the reopening of embassies, there is no political, diplomatic or military argument to impede Washington and Havana from conversing and remaking a treaty, beneficial for both (and  for the region), through which the U.S. delivers the occupied territory, and Cuba, with new contractual criteria, would permit the North American soldiers to continue operating the base.

Which is a long way of saying that, by reaching an agreement, the U.S. could augment its influence in the region; Russia, the terrorists and China would remain outside this hemisphere. The internal Cuban emigration would change direction if Guantánamo, as a province, increased its GDP with the rent that today it neither charges nor enjoys, and the up-to-today forgotten municipalities of Caimanera and Boquerón would immediately be converted into the aurora borealis of Cuban entrepreneurship.

I like that idea; I don’t know about you.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Cuban Doctors are Sent to Brazil Without a Stopover in Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

•July 20, 2015 • Comments Off on Cuban Doctors are Sent to Brazil Without a Stopover in Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 25 May 2015 — To ease the growing popular discontent, soften Petrobras’ recent and resounding scandal and regain credibility, President Dilma Rousseff, taking into account that “improving health” was the principal demand during the June 2013 demonstrations, wants to repeat history. She has asked the Cuban authorities to increase the number of physicians in order to help strengthen the “More Doctors” program and calm the majority who, as always, are the most needy.

According to official figures, up to April 2015, the health project “More Doctors” counted 18,247 professionals in more than 4,000 municipalities. And I celebrate this: healthcare should be the right of everyone without exclusion; it’s a pity that commercialization puts at risk the lives of those who can’t pay for lack of resources. It’s difficult not to consider the Brazilian request, which, although clearly without half-measures, conveys a clear Party intent, requiring the Cuban Government to send only experienced doctors. But the Cuban rulers, using and abusing an effective disloyalty, without consulting the Bolivians, respond without delay to the chords of this samba, even affecting the long-term commitments they have with the Venezuelan health programs.

So it is, because to earn money, the Cuban State always remains more open than the doors of an airport restaurant. This past Saturday, May 9, from a poorly lit corner in the office of the Cuban Ministry of Public Health, Roberto Tomás Morales Ojeda released a signed circular directed at each manager of ASIC (Areas of Integral Public Health) in Venezuela, and at the managers of the medical missions in the different states, so that through their CENREC and the Centers of Attention (or vigilance) collaborators, they contact, with strict discretion, the first Cuban doctors, who, by the sole fact of having the approval of State Security, already have been selected to travel directly to Brazil without the need to return to the Island or embrace their families.

The doctors selected have the right to say no, since — according to this document — some of them have already fulfilled the time of the “mission” and are waiting for their relief; but, like subliminal blackmail there is a catch: they have to give a written argument explaining the reason for their refusal.

The list of names is extensive. It includes specialty, medical category, passport number, identity card, province of origin and more. But for obvious motives of security and understandable ethics, in addition to protecting my sources, it’s not prudent for me to publish the document in question in total.

Those interested, above all those who have family members working in the Cuban medical mission in Venezuela, can contact me. I have in my hands the list of the Cubans chosen, who, without even knowing it, have already been selected; and during this whole week, from today the 18th up to the 22nd of the current month, they will be convened and ordered to accept transfer to this new mission, “More Doctors for Brazil.”

The motive is convincing; the logic is repugnant.

Translated by Regina Anavy 

Cuba’s Automotive Heritage Has Been Virtually Plundered / Juan Juan Almeida

•July 15, 2015 • Comments Off on Cuba’s Automotive Heritage Has Been Virtually Plundered / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 11 May 2015 — With the relaxation of relations between the United States and Cuba, speculation has been unleashed and is causing mischief. Some experts guarantee that several U.S. companies are ready to buy the famous “almendrones”* on the island. It could be the arrangement is real; there is always some nostalgic person whose passion, need or disinformation makes him confuse reality with desire or imagination.

Absolutely out of focus, Cuba’s automotive heritage has been virtually plundered. Most of what remains – Cadillacs, Chevys, Studebakers, Pontiacs, Thunderbirds and Buicks – which still circulate on the island, had their engines replaced to be used as collective taxis (“boteros”), and upon losing originality, they also lost their exceptionalism.

In the middle of the ‘80s, the Cuban business, At the Service of Foreigners (CUBALSE, for its acronym) capitalized on the large amount of collectible cars that existed in the country. It acquired them by referring to their technological importance (Spanish-Swiss, 1930 Cadillac V16), 1918 Ford T, 1930 Baby Lincoln), or their universal historic significance.

I don’t think it’s necessary to explain that CUBALSE bought them at laughable prices; for a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing, or a Jaguar or Bugatti, it paid with Russian vehicles.

Several of these rolling jewels are found today in the Automobile Museum located on Oficios Street in Old Havana; others, like “The Little Pink Shoes”** are guarded and excellently maintained in the private garages of the upper elite. The rest were sold at very good prices, mostly to Swiss collectors.

At the end of the ‘90s, there were almost no cars on the island of the 100 percent original collection in the hands of the population. CUBALSE stopped buying, and the baton of patrimonial rape passed to an exclusive group of artists, who didn’t sell their works at the prices they do now but knew how to cash in, with more than innate talent, on their government connections in order to buy antique autos, adorn them with four strokes and, under the status of “work of art,” take them out of the country and sell them in the exterior.

Thus, by sea, like rafters but with special permission, American cars left Cuba at the request of a foreign market that demanded, fundamentally, 1946 Chevrolet trucks, 1941 Ford Mercurys, 1956 Buick Roadmasters, Chevrolet Corvettes and 1957 Chevys.

In the craze for antique four-wheelers, Cubans and foreign residents with commercial vision came together. Then, with an economic option, the Government retook the business with companies like Cubataxi, which acquired antique cars with a certain national history, not to sell but rather to rent, at the price of a prostitute, to tourists who would pay to ride a Harley Davidson that Camillo Cienfuegos used, the Chevrolet Impala that belonged to Almeida, and what some say is only a fake version of the Chaika limousine*** that Fidel used for years.

Putting together these simple pieces of the commercial puzzle of the car in Cuba, it’s very easy to understand that, of the almost 60,000 antique cars that still circulate on the island, with certain isolated exceptions, in the possession of some nationals there remain only hybrid autos, armed with the loose criteria of an ingenious mechanic, which of course he could sell, but they are not even approximately the gold mine that their owners believe they are.

Translator’s notes:
*“Almonds,” because of their shape.
”**A poem by José Martí that school children learn and that often is satirized.
***A Soviet brand car.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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