Separation of Powers, Parliamentary Debut and National Capitol in Cuba in 2018 / Juan Juan Almeida

•March 14, 2015 • Leave a Comment

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As has already been announced, the VII Cuban Communist Party Congress will be held in April 2016. From the moment of the announcement until the first quarter of this year municipal and provincial assemblies have been held, charts have been prepared, members have been briefed and documents have been approved that have still not been released.

It has also been announced that a new election law, with some changes to current statutes that have been in effect since 1992, will leave the door half-open to future constitutional reform.

The Cuban government has demonstrated over and over that it does not act with transparency, much less with improvisation. On the contrary, it meticulously follows an elaborate script in which withholding information from its citizens is essential.

To avoid being surprised by the how, when and why, it is worth asking if the Cuban government is preparing the groundwork for an overhaul of its own political system.

Based on what has already been published, the new electoral law will govern the elections of 2017. Interestingly, it will not only be when the year the men and women who will govern the island after February 2018 will be elected but will also mark the end of the controversial ten-year term of General Raul Castro who — as he himself proposed — will give up the Cuban presidency.

On any streetcorner of the world one can proselytize, arouse awareness, seek financing, organize marches and so forth. But I am inclined to think that real political opposition only takes in parliament. That is why I am trying to catch the attention of those who can now demonstrate they are truly worthy of the title “leaders of the opposition” because — as I have often heard — this legislation will extend to the entire country an experiment that for some time now has been quietly carried out (with some success) in the western provinces Mayabeque and Artemesia. It represents a new model of governance which involves a separation between the leadership of the party and that of local governments.

The current electoral law lays out the procedure for the election of deputies and for the selection of members of the Council of State as well as for it president, who also serves as chief-of-state and head-of-government of the Republic of Cuba. Why diminish the powers of the next president? Because military leaders do not want happening in Havana what happened in Moscow under Mikhail Gorbachev.

Of course, multi-party democracy is not an option in Cuba but let’s acknowledge that this could be a step towards dismantling the monopoly on power that the Communist Party has exercised for more than half a century and could facilitate the election of citizens (not party members) to the ranks of deputies in Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power.

It should be noted that the Cuban parliament, with 612 members, is the largest legislative body in the hemisphere. It is ridiculous, even laughable, that a country with little more than 11 million people has a legislative body that exceeds the number of members in the U.S. House of Representatives. The new electoral law will reduce the number of parliamentarians both because it makes sense and because, as the song by Puerto Rico’s Gran Combo goes, “there’s too many people for this bed.” Today’s 612 deputies simply will not fit in the renovated semi-circular chamber in the national capitol that will house the next assembly.*

*Translator’s note: The Capitolio, or capitol building, was the seat of Cuba’s legislature until the Cuban Revolution. Until recently it housed the Cuban Academy of Sciences. It has been undergoing restoration and renovations in anticipation of serving as the seat of Cuba’s National Assembly.

Manual for Trading with Cuban Businesses / Juan Juan Almeida

•March 4, 2015 • Leave a Comment

1424725405_clasesJuan Juan Almeida, 23 February 2015 — Marijuana relaxes, cocaine excites, and the consumption of amphetamines allows concentration; but of all the drugs, wanting to trade with Cuba is an event that provokes alienation.

The effect was evident a few days ago, when a group of US businesses expressed a willingness to do business with Cuban civil society.

Undoubtedly, the Cuban phenomenon is a magnetic stimulation and shows that they, the businesses and their attorneys, although they call themselves specialists in Cuban issues, don’t know that in the greatest of Antilles a foreign business can only trade with State businesses which, by the way, are the only ones who have import licenses.

To do business in Cuba, first you have to be very clear that trading activity on the Island answers only to the political decisions of the Government, and to the State budget, in that order, the first deciding what company does business, and the second determines what the company is paid.

The Cuban commercial structure is hierarchical and, to a certain point, disciplines; but the system is corrupt. Therefore, there are entrepreneurs who earn more in Cuba than in any other place in the world. But they are not doing business, but buying paper.

Let me explain: The confirmed Letter of Credit is a bank tool that is governed according to international norms, where the payer buys the merchandise and indicates the bank, upon confirmation of the funds, which makes payment according to certain clauses; and the banking entity that guarantees assumes the obligations starting from receiving certain documentation such as the invoice, customs certificates.

After the freezing of financial assets which happened in 2009, none of the businesses located in the country accept payments in Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC). Since then, and by political resolution, payment is only in Letters of Credit confirmed by first line banks (Royal Bank, Republik Bank, etc.) to certain and determined foreign companies. The rest pay in unconfirmed Letters of Credit, paid in 120 to 260 days and backed by the Central Bank of Cuba, the Cuban International Financing Bank, or offshore banks located in tax havens.

Negotiating with Cuban banks as work that never ends. The negotiation of who decides is risky and to earn more than 50% is to buy this kind of stamped and supported paper debt, I repeat, by offshore banks located in tax havens.

No bank in the world pays more than a small percentage in interest. Buying Letters of Credit in Cuba is a lucrative business. The danger is that, as the document is “unconfirmed,” dealing with the time required (120 to 360 days) the Cuban bank doesn’t pay because either they haven’t received the government order or because the state budget lacks financial fluidity. In any case, the renegotiation of the document and everything is a question of waiting, or more to the point, of waiting to have a contact who is politically important and/or a bank official who, after receiving 5% of the transaction, as a bribe, will authorize final payment of the full amount owed.

Doing business in Cuba is a real achievement and a true adventure; and, if you’ll allow me, let me suggest that before you begin, educate yourself.

 

Exiled Cuban Businessmen Come to Havana for Its Horses

•February 22, 2015 • Comments Off

Juan Juan Almeida, 18 February 2015 — The horse — like the language and guitar — were brought to Cuba from Spain and are today a part of the national culture. It is impossible to forget the role the animal has played in Cuban literature, music and the economy. And history discussions would be incomplete without some mention of Mambisa horsemanship.

The Cuban Revolution, however, marked a turning point in the development of equine culture. Shortly after 1959 Isidious (Fidel Castro’s white horse), Azbache (the same owner’s black horse) and other thoroughbreds which were beautiful regardless of color were shipped to the Managua breeding facility located next to a tank base of the same name on the outskirts of Havana. The rationale was that on their backs the animals bore the symbolic sweat of their owners’ buttocks and, therefore, had to be protected with the same vigilance as any national treasure.

But as we now know, these national treasures perished. Insidious died of a heart attack and Azabache (either because he was beautiful or because he was black) had his image stamped onto a photograph which, like a majordomo, greets generals and tourists at the entrance to the above-mentioned facility.

It was then that the historic, aesthetic and hysterical leader, saddened by the loss of his steed, authorized the importing of twelve different breeds of horses from which to select his Bucefalo, encourage the breeding of horses, export them overseas either as animals or semen, and crossbreed them with local stock.

As a result, horse breeding took off and today the country can boast of more than 300,000 thoroughbreds scattered among various farms. Most are managed by a state conglomerate, Flora and Fauna, under the direction of the Revolutionary commandant Guillermo García Frías. Some are raised on Cuban plantations such as El Alacazar — located in Contrammaestre, Santiago de Cuba — which is owned by Señora María Antonia Puyol Bravo (known as La Doña).

Horses are exported in a prescribed manner. From El Alcazar, come purebred Spanish horses. From Escaleras de Jaruco (in Mayabeque province), there are also Spanish thoroughbreds. From the Belen farm an American breed, Morgan, is exported. From Rancho San Vicente (20 kilometers south of the city of Camaguey) they are Arabian purebreds. From Guatiba (Matanzas province) there are Creole pintos. From Escambray come Appaloosas. And from Rancho Azucacero (Artemesia province) come jumping and show horses that have been imported from Holland since 2005. These are auctioned off at the Equestrian Club in Lenin Park’s riding school during the Remate Élite Habana, which takes place every year in the Cuban capital.

There is talk of a trail of tainted money behind the scenes at the auction, but no one has been able to prove it much less conduct an audit. Cuba’s problem is not corruption but the immunity of certain corrupt officials who — as one might expect — are so high up that they are beyond the judicial reach of the comptroller general.

Every January more and more foreigners attend this event, which this year attracted exiled Cuban businessmen, who were much more interested in showing off their lifestyles than indulging their newfound passion for horses.

Far be it from me to judge but I know that — as my grandmother used to say — “crises are moments of great opportunity” and these compatriots travelled to Cuba to defend, in their own way, the right of every Cuban to own his or her own horse.

18 February 2015

Successful self-employed, a group to consider / Juan Juan Almeida

•February 11, 2015 • Comments Off

Juan Juan Almeida, 10 February 2015 — Observing coldly and setting aside all partisanship is the best way to understand that the decision taken by the American president to reestablish relations with Cuba is entirely welcome news for a Cuban sector that, after suffering the wrath of what appeared to be an infinite confrontation, trusts in a step that, without a doubt, will have a positive impact on its current way of life.

Clearly the United States, in addition to executing a masterful geopolitical move — because with this approach it isolates Russia and China from Latin America using as leverage the indisputable influence of Cuba in the region — also aims to turn the island into a kind of stable neighbor capable of guaranteeing control over its illegal emigration and constraining the nest of terrorist and international crime groups in our island. We accept without naivety that this latter will only be achieved by working together with the Cuban military and/or government, dictatorial or not.

Do I like it? Of course not, I know all the high level Cuban leaders, I know that they are structured to crush without remorse everyone who goes against them; they are criminals and they are dictators. But our opposition has nothing to offer because, in addition to fighting for power using the ideal recipe to fall into disaster, they seem not to understand that the solutions to social problems are found in real politics and not in international marketing. Neither the victimhood silliness nor the wise man arrogance have any appeal. Therefore, their actions lack a mobilizing effect.

None of our opponents, for example (using the off-repeated campaign of General Raul Castro against corruption), has talked about pushing a “law of transparency” project, in which every member of the government and the Cuban State is obliged to create direct on-line access so that everyone, at any time, can have a look to know how much they earn, how much they have and what they are spending the national budget on.

Nevertheless, we must support them and it seems significant that the debate about Cuba came to Washington in the form of invited guests from the Cuban opposition. From my point of view, this invitation signifies a real push and a protective umbrella for these brave voices who, from within Cuba, leave their lives in the streets. But if what the government of the United States wants is “To understand the impacts of the political changes on Human Rights and Democracy in Cuba,” then, in addition to dissidents and opponents, it must also invite some of those people who, although we have not applied to them the deserved title of leaders, are the true vanguard, who inspire and represent the dreams of Cuban youth and our civil society.

I am referring, obviously, to those new and successful Cuban entrepreneurs (I detest the word “self-employed”) who are emerging within the Island, channeling the social disconnect, and creating an attractive zone of visual comfort to the still reduced but growing sector that dreams of emigrating there. Not listening to that social group that is ever more powerful, more influential and that applauds the rapprochement between Cuba and the United States because they want to benefit from it, is like wishing the black clouds of today will continue to form a part of the eternally impoverished national landscape.

Cuban Irresponsibility Causes Shortage of Medications in Venezuela / Juan Juan Almeida

•February 8, 2015 • Comments Off

The medication crisis that was anticipated in Venezuela is a storm that scared people even before it began. Not only because the inventories of the Ministry of Peoples’ Power for the Health of Venezuela, a governmental organization of national jurisdiction, are practically exhausted, but also because some of the medications handled by the Cuban medical mission came into the country without the consistent rigor of matching them to a corresponding medical registry.

It’s repugnant to read how a country’s problems are met with messianic discourse and disgusting to hear how some of the upper-echelon Venezuelan health officials justify the bad management, assuring people that the scarcity of medications is due to laboratory workers taking vacations, and the chains of distribution being altered because of an “economic war,” and that as a result of “enemy” propaganda there was alarm, which caused people to buy in 15 days what they usually buy over 2 months.

The Cuban and Venezuelan governments some time ago crossed the line of respect for human dignity, and for that reason, although I’m not giving the written numbers, I’m copying part of the report issued by the Analysis Group for Medications of the Cuban Medical Mission in Venezuela, received via email in the Ministry of Public Health in Cuba.

In this dossier there is evidence of unquestionable irresponsibility that crosses the criminal line, and a deficit of medications that the Biofarmacuba company hasn’t procured and won’t procure for delivery on the agreed-on dates in order to fulfill the recent yearly plan.

According to the report, there’s a mountain of medications lacking for the 2015 plan that Biocubafarma won’t be able to provide. I list some of them here:

1. Ampicillin 125 mg/5 ml p/susp x 60 ml: Out of stock in the warehouses.

2. Local anesthesia (cartridge of 1.8 cc: Out of stock. Pending (Dentistry).

3. Atropine 0.5 mg amp x 1 ml: Not in solution, controlled, without medical registration in Venezuela. (CDI, Surgery).

4. Atenolol 0.5 mg amp: In facilities. Pending arrival in Cuba of discontinued imported product.

5. Carbamazepine 200 mg x 90 tab: Not in solution because it is a controlled product. Imported. Not on medical registry in Venezuela (Peoples’ Medical Consult).

6. Cefalexina 500 mg x 10 cap: Pending production.

7. Ciprofloxacin 200 mg/100 ml BBO: Pending export (General Use).

8. Clorhidrato de tramadol 100 mg amp: Pending import permit.

9. Chlorpromazine 25 mg amp x 1 ml: Not in solution. Controlled product. Imported without medical registration in Venezuela.

10. Diclofenac sodium: 1 mg/ml col x 5 ml (Voltaren): Not in solution. Inventory expired (Eye Clinics).

11. Digoxina 0.25 mg x 20 tab: Out of stock. Pending removal from port.

12. Elitrol 1 x 5 ml fco: Out of stock. Pending arrival in Cuba of imported discontinued product.

13. Ergometrine 0.2 mg x 1 mil: Not in solution. Controlled and imported without medical registration in Venezuela.

14. Glibenclamide 5 mg x 10 tab: Out of stock in warehouses.

15. Hydralazine 20 mg amp x 1 mil: Out of stock in warehouses.

16. Hydrocortisone 100 mg bbo: Out of stock in warehouses.

17. Actrapid Insulin 100 u bbo x 10 ml. Out of stock.

18. Human Insulin 100 NPH bbo x 10 ml: Out of stock.

19. Isoprenaline 0.2 mg amp: Out of stock. Pending removal from port (High Technology Centers-CAT).

20. Meropenem 1G BBO: Unavailable for 22 weeks (Therapy and hospitalization).

21. Salicure-Test 50 det x 100 ml. (Clinical reagent).

22. Ureterovesical probe No. 18 x 20: Out of stock.

23. Coombs serum: Out of stock.

24. P Tubes/Pentra Complete Hematology packet x 400: Distributed one part of what was received because of their expiration dates. 

25. Thiamine 100 mg bbo: Not yet in solution due to technological problems (CDI).

26. Timolol Missing for 20 weeks. Reported by 12 states. Affected by material in the container.

27. Thiopental 500 mg bbo: Missing for 6 weeks. Affected by raw material.

28. Vitamin A and D2 drops x 15 mil: Not in solution, inventory expired (Peoples’ Medical Consult).

29. Vitamin C drops fco x 15 ml: Not in solution, inventory expired (Peoples’ Medical Consult).

This is enough without boring you to show that – as my grandmother, who didn’t have good sight but knew how to see – would say: It’s much easier to catch a liar than a cripple.

Translated by Regina Anavy

2 February 2015

Reflections from Compañero Juan Juan

•February 2, 2015 • Comments Off

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As the debate continues, visitors come and go. It’s normal and forms part of the process of re-establishing relations between the United States and Cuba. Also in this exchange, in a not-too-distant future, the American government will return to its Cuban counterpart the territory occupied by the naval base at Guantanamo. And to reciprocate, the government of the island will accept that finally the imperial eagle will return to its original nest at the top of the two columns that, together with the canons, human figures and chains, compose the monument to the victims of the Maine explosion.

I feel that both these things will happen, and I’m not making up scenarios in order to encourage a debate.

Time has shown us that, although the present economic environment is still challenging since there could be negative surprises, as far as the political structure goes, the Caribbean has been and is one of the most stable zones on the planet. So that keeping a military installation of such size in the heart of a place where there are no international conflicts, not even of low intensity, represents an excessive waste of time and an important squandering of money.

The Guantanamo Naval Base was established in 1898, when the United States military occupied the island after defeating Spain in what many of us know as the Hispano-Cuban-American War. Later, with the signature of the first president of the Republic of Cuba, Don Tomas Estrada Palma, on February 23, 1903, the U.S. obtained that much-discussed perpetual lease. It emerged as an historic anomaly and today makes no sense. Neither military, strategic, or regional.

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For its part, the monument to the Maine was constructed in 1926, and in 1961 the man who “reflected” on it* ordered the imperial eagle taken down from the pedestal, because its figure was warping the new marketing image of the revolutionary government.

But given present circumstances and the indefinite absence of the insufferable “reflector,” the eagle means nothing more than the piece needed to complete the sculpture. I would dare say that because of the strange culture of rejection that we islanders have for everything that daily surrounds us, out of the two million Cubans who now live in Havana, not even 100 of them have bothered to read the inscription at the foot of the monument.

The return of the territory occupied by the naval base in the municipality of Caimanera in Oriente will be welcome, as will be the return of the image of the raptor to its environment on the Malecon.

Both events will be historic, but of no value. Since nothing about this presses the principle of democracy for a country that requests change and transformation, from the interior of a tempest hidden below a sea of apparent calm.

As that Cuban virtuoso said, known for being the king of the tambor** players and for the charming way he told a joke: “The agendas of governments are divorced from the people; politics get done in the street. The others react with the same naivety as an inexperienced mother.”

Translator’s notes:

*Fidel Castro’s column in Granma newspaper is called “Reflections of Fidel

**African drum

Translated by Regina Anavy

The Betrayal of Humboldt 7 or the Legal Art of Looting

•January 27, 2015 • Comments Off

Humboldt 7* in Havana, Cuba.

Christmas is a tradition which goes beyond the limits of the Catholic religion. Before the birth of Christ, the Incas used to celebrate the 25th December as their Cápac Raymi (a religious prehispanic celebration in honour of the sun); and also the ancient Romans, with their Natalia Solis Invicti or, “The birth of the unconquerable sun”.

There is agreement between various cultures; it is a celebration of family joining together and happiness. But, this Christmas not everybody received the gift of happiness. My friend, Osvaldo Fructuoso Rodríguez, (son of one of those young people who accompanied José Antonio Echevarría on March 13, 1957 in the attacks on Radio Reloj and the Presidential Palace) had his application to visit his sick mother in Havana turned down by the Cuban authorities.

What was the reason, or caprice, which justified some nobody in denying the legitimate right possessed by Cubans to travel to our country?

Some say that he is not allowed to enter because, in effect, Osvaldo took part in the organisation of the dramatic and almost incredible escape of Alina Fernández Revuelta, daughter of Fidel Castro, in 1993. Others consider that Fructuoso Rodríguez Jr. is simply paying for having close and affectionate ties to the deceased General José Abrantes Fernández, ex Minister of the Interior, who was for years a staunch enemy of the current leader, Raúl Castro.

And obviously, those who like over-hyping things associate the unjustifiable refusal with an article entitled “Humbolt 7 and the man who betrayed my father”,
written by Osvaldo Fructuoso in April 2007, in which he questions certain people linked to the upper echelons of the Cuban military.

I don’t personally share any of these arguments. I don’t believe they are confused; but they are only following an incorrect line of reasoning, since, on the one hand, the ex Minister of MININT died, was killed, or left to die, in January ’91; and Fidel’s rebellious daughter today travels regularly to Havana without being bothered by anyone.

As far as I am concerned, this travel permit refusal has less to do with the past than the present, and with a phenomenon which is growing in dark corners of Cuban society.

The word “theft” is an important noun in the national sound effects, and the Cuban leaders, experts in the art of looting, achieve the loudest notes in a network which functions with the precision of a top of the range Swiss watch, and with the complicity of the Ministry of Employment and Social Security, the Ministry of Justice and other institutions.

The business deals with finding people, preferably elderly, and with no family in the country, who are sick or with some kind of mental incapacity. With the help of social workers, hospitals, nursing homes and CDRs, they register them and convert them into targets.

The intention is to take control of the lives of these defenceless and unprotected individuals and rob them of all their possessions, with the support of the law. After identifying them, a select group of lawyers enter into this mean little game with the strategic mission of disinheriting the heirs, altering, changing or falsifying wills, powers of attorney and guardianships, in order to totally sever any legal link between the victims and their families.

This happens every day all over Cuba, and we need to take notice. Sra Marta Jiménez (mother of Osvaldo) is one more victim; alone, with a house in Nuevo Vedado, a house in Varadero, and a significant art collection, which, as you can imagine, featuring among others some important work of the vanguardista painter Servando Cabrera Moreno, became extremely valuable.

The ideological glasses get misted up, this is a major crime, committed in the murky environment of government power where money cannot be tracked and the illegal is made legal.

*Translator’s note: Humbolt 7 refers to a massacre which took place in April 1957 when the National Police killed certain revolutionaries who had survived a failed earlier attack on Batista’s palace as well as the taking of a radio station.)

Translated by GH

6 January 2015

 
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