Bucanero/Cristal Exploits Ties to Self-Employed and Palco and Habaguanex Executives / Juan Juan Almeida

•November 25, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Juan Juan Almeida, 24 November 2015 — Just as the proceedings surpassed the scandalous total of 42 people indicted, the General Vice-Prosecutor of the Republic of Cuba, Carlos Raúl Concepción Rangel, imposed a gag order on the case and hid it underneath the trite mantle of “secret character,” because — according to sources in the Prosecutor’s office — he’s expecting the number of those involved to increase.

The investigation filtered down, and some of the people implicated hardened themselves and beat it out of the country. Others are hiding out; there is a border alert for them, and an order of search and capture.

Before such an emergency, and even without finishing the trial, they’re taking the accused out of the investigation center at 100 and Aldabó — the women to the western prison, El Guatao (known as Manto Negro), the men to Valle Grande or the Combinado del Este. The VIP accomplices, owing to their natural status as first-class citizens, were sent home and asked to be “low profile” until their names could be pulled from the file or, at least, their complicity silenced in a case that could paint them as crooks.

Certainly the population’s complaints will increase due to the absence of the country’s beer in Cuban markets. There hasn’t been any of the national beer available in any restaurant or State establishment, nor in the TRD shops, the so-called Rápidos, or Ditú*.

The Minister of Foreign Trade faces lawsuits from international distributors for frequent non-compliance with contractual commitments.

The litigants claim that there was no delivery of Cristal and Bucanero; but the headquarters, Cervecería Bucanero S.A., says it fulfilled its production plans and satisfied requests without reporting anything stolen or lost.

Everyone’s asking the same question: “Where did that beer mysteriously go, once it left the factory, was paid for and didn’t show up in the State system?”

Indications point in only one direction: the private restaurants, private bars and other establishments of the self-employment initiative.

The investigation started at the end of last August, when a couple of inspectors, as lethal and accurate as good snipers, targeted a truck from Cervecería Bucanero S.A., which each week unloaded merchandise in a private restaurant located on the Pinar del Río-Havana highway.

Inconsistent but true because — although the Government says it’s boosting private initiative and the press repeats the lie and many who are misled believe it — there is a regulation that prohibits the self-employed from buying what they sell privately directly from the companies (whether national or foreign), that is, wholesale; they can only buy goods in ordinary consumer stores or shops.

Ministry of the Interior (MININT forces), as part of the process of compiling data and evidence to document the investigation’s case, and make citizens uncomfortable, are examining the house of one of the managers of the Bucanero warehouse, and — according to the investigative file: “In one room (Fambá’s**), inside a safe, the police confiscated 82,000 CUC and three lists: one with the names of sellers to whom they must pay a commission, another of Palco and Habaguanex officials, and the other with directions for distributing merchandise.”

They’re adding prisoners to the list; the investigation is expanding; and the anger of those organizing the case is growing, even when those implicated find themselves facing an “accomplished fact” with no defense. It’s difficult to imagine, because they managed to use methods of buying and selling that are not even conventional enough to qualify as criminal acts.

The private business owners delivered money to the officers of State companies, Palco and Habaguanex; and the officers issued, to Cervecería Bucanero S.A., a bill of payment (not falsified) with the amount of the merchandise, together with an official order.

Bucanero had to deliver, and it did deliver. So sellers and buyers were violating the regulations, yes, but not the law. And in place of being judged for an act of corruption, they should be awarded for their ingenious solution.

Translator’s notes:

*TRD is the Spanish initials for “Hard Currency Collection Store” — which the regime uses to ’collect’ people’s remittances from abroad by selling them overpriced products not available in Cuban pesos; El Rápido is a fast-food chain; Ditú is a chain of coffee shops.

**In the African-Caribbean religion, Abakua, the Fambá is a room where rituals are performed.

Translated by Regina Anavy

The Commission on Defense and National Security, an Alejandro Castro Corporation Juan Juan Almeida

•November 20, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Alejandro Castro Espín (R) and Abel Enrique González Santamaría (L)

Juan Juan Almeida, 16 November 2015  — Bound by a peculiar loyalty based on the quasi-inbreeding of its members and located in a walled compound at the corner of 36th and 39th streets in Havana’s Nuevo Vedado, the Commission on Defense and National Security (not to be confused with the Council on National Defense), is a group with a disturbing profile but no legal standing, created with the intention of preserving the status quo.

Under the Constitution, which we are supposed to be revising but which is still in force, the National Assembly of People’s Power ranks as the highest institution of government, imbued with legislative and constitutional powers. Subordinate to it are the Supreme Court, the Attorney General and even the Comptroller General. It appoints the Council of Ministers and the Council of State.

But that’s only on paper. In practice, the epicenter of power lies at the always bountiful table set every Sunday for lunch at La Rinconada, the housing complex where the president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers of the Republic of Cuba, Raul Castro, resides.

It is the source of directives (those dealing with both domestic and foreign policy) that each institution, ministry or department must follow based on a precise decision-making formula, one which takes into account — pardon the redundancy — compartmentalization, security, effectiveness and responsibility. The octogenarian general then reads, revises and personally approves them before they are formally adopted.

But driven by his usual feelings of paranoia, his oft-stated intention to resign, his loss of confidence in all those around him and a clear desire to monitor compliance with the designated responsibilities, some time ago the Cuban president used the regular Sunday meal to grant extraordinary powers to his firstborn son.

That was how the irascible, high-handed, obtuse and brutal Alejandro Castro Espin created a para-governmental organization with unlimited powers that, without any legal basis, operates like a parallel government under the following mandate:

1. To plan, direct and monitor the operations and departments of the Ministry of State Security.

2. To create, configure and appoint the advisory and coordinating committees necessary for the various ministries to fulfill their missions.

3. To participate in the regulation, consolidation and control of all designated central administrative State bodies.

4. To carry out and manage, under his direction, the responsibilities to which President of the Republic entrusts it.

This small and powerful clan operates like a large corporation that, in my opinion, results in the type of complicity that comes from engaging in group sex.

I say this because, curiously, the senior advisor to this very important commission — the writer and journalist Juan Francisco Arias Fernández (aka Paquito) — was the husband of one of Alejandro former girlfriends. Even more surprising is the fact that the deputy advisor is Abel Enrique González Santamaría, a young writer and researcher with a law degree, a masters in international relations and a doctorate in political science. In addition to being an expert in inter-American relations and national security, he was also the boyfriend of Alejandro’s current partner.

An unambiguous detail. It seems that, more than the country, what really matters to the Commission on Defense and National Security is the crotch. It should join up with CENESEX.*

*Translator’s note: The National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) is headed by Mariela Castro, sister of Alejandro Castro.

What Can the Opposition Offer to Cubans? / Juan Juan Almeida

•November 15, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power, voting unanimously, as it virtually always does.

Juan Juan Almeida, 9 November 2015 — Cuba is a country where polemics or its relative, debate, is the daily bread of artists, private entrepreneurs and intellectuals; an island where the majority of the young population are assured of being poor or having no possibility of fulfilling their dreams; a nation where the average professional suffers from a ridiculous salary; and a State where discontent between the politicians and the military is worrisome. Still, the opposition, which works for freedom and the right to establish a democratic government, has been incapable of building a plausible alternative.

Where exactly does our opposition find itself in relation to the other components of the Regime?

The truth sometimes hurts; but hiding it can bring sorrow. I understand that being marginalized and repressed for so long without pity makes it difficult for many in the opposition to accept that this isn’t the moment to exclude those who have been excluded, but to reconcile and try to cooperate with all the social groups.

I don’t doubt the eagerness or the day-to-day need for mass actions, but being the fact of seeing “securities” (State Security agents) everywhere and having to constantly be ready to defend yourself from being infiltrated by State Security makes them easily fall prey to doubt, internal disputes, the political sin of disconnecting from the people, and the clear lack of the power to put out calls for action.

In the present circumstances, being a dissident and not fighting to be in the National Assembly of People Power, they allege that they “don’t want to play the Government’s game.” I acknowledge that many may like this expression; it arouses curiosity and fascination. But today, it’s a weak statement.

We know that antagonism, in times when anything other than what is voted on is considered violence, is more difficult than war and demands new strategies.

Obviously, social pressure on the Government will increase in parallel to economic growth for Cubans. So instead of predicting both the collapse or the overthrow of the present authoritarian regime, it’s preferable to think about a gradual process of erosion, and to have an accurate and objective analysis of the growing deterioration of relationships inside the governing clan.

Let’s be realistic. What can the internal Cuban opposition offer to those inside Cuba, besides political debate, the need to improve working conditions, schools, housing, health, etc.?

Only confidence. And for that it’s essential to fight to occupy spaces in society and in the parliament, in order to, from the inside, be able to dispute the legitimacy of the governing group.

In addition, among other things, to try, to come and approach the leaders of stone; participate in the debates organized by young, fashionable teachers (in principle, free from suspicion) in places like “El Hueco del Instituto de Periodismo,* about which a well-known professor at the Higher Art Institute says:

“They are important meetings because you hear the judgment of the son who counsels the father, the suggestions of the young who claim to know more than the old, and the incredible proposals of one sparkling part of the people who, by being irreverent, allow themselves to condemn even the ruler himself.

* “El Hueco” (the hole) is a space at the Havana International Institute of Journalism. It’s surrounded by trees on a patio at the back of the school. Every 15 days a group of young trova musicians get together with Ireno Garcia, a Cuban singer, to promote trova music.

Translated by Regina Anavy

The GAE, a Lie Transformed into Reality / Juan Juan Almeida

•October 29, 2015 • Comments Off on The GAE, a Lie Transformed into Reality / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 26 October 2015 — Before the Special Period, the financial capacity of the country had already been reduced to a minimum, so reforms were being instituted that supposedly would “help” the nation cope with the economic contingencies of the time.

And when the situation reached that almost invisible point at which point any action or oversight could hasten the death of a terminally ill patient, circumstances forced the Cuban military to become productive by generating income from agriculture, transportation, tourism, construction, finance and commerce.

The armed forces of the world are divided into three main services — army, navy, air force — plus aerial defense.

Among the things the fall of the Communist bloc brought to Cuba was the Special Period. No one can forget the famine, polyneuritis or dramatic increase in illegal emigration, much less the events of 1994.

I think it is worth remembering that the crisis did not only affect the civilian population. It also impacted the institutions of government, especially those that were not productive, such as the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), which were preparing for a cataclysm. They had already experienced their own catastrophe in 1989, when soldiers, officers and even a few generals (some of out of a sense of duty, some out of convenience) left the institution.

Even before the Special Period, the economic capacity of the country had already been reduced to a minimum, so reforms were instituted that would supposedly “help” the nation cope with the economic contingencies of the time.

No crisis in the world explodes without prior warning, or at least not without some sort of clue. If instability had arisen, MINFAR would have been facing the prospect of being in a weak defensive position. Therefore, at a meeting of the Military Council, a well-known advisor to Raul Castro suggested scrapping the traditional organizational structure of the armed forces and consolidating the troops under one roof. As a result, air defense — a force much more expensive than any army — was merged with the ground forces while the various military headquarters were centralized under a single command. Contrary to appearances, this was more than just a word game.

Due to lack of supplies and obsolete technology, military maneuvers came to an end and a period of invention began. On orders from Raul a group of innovators emerged who used the nation’s financial resources to develop a radar system that did not work and a grotesque Cuban-made aircraft that did eventually fly but ultimately crashed. As might be expected, the crew died with no funeral being held.

And when the situation had reached that almost invisible point at which any action or oversight could hasten the death of a terminally ill patient, circumstances forced the Cuban military to become productive by generating income from agriculture, transportation, tourism, construction, finance and commerce.

It was at this time that the Business Administration Group (GAE) was created in an effort to control the corruption that resulted from this new military-commercial hybrid. While it did not function very well, it did at least appear to function, allowing the FAR to feign operational efficiency, safety and solvency.

To put it simply, any given screw factory has production costs which include workers’ salaries, equipment, electricity, raw materials and a few other things. All these contribute the final retail price. But the GAE screw factory — to use an example — has no fuel costs because this item is already covered in its budget. Besides getting the fuel for free, it can also avail itself of prisoners, soldiers and recruits in precarious employment situations to manufacture its product. On paper a military screw costs nothing to produce and is sold for hard currency. The never-ending story. 

The Cuban government is expert at deception, using its know-how of illegal methods and its undeniable skill at fomenting gossip. These techniques, referred to as “active measures,” generate a fiction that is picked up by the press (both foreign and domestic), and used to sway public opinion, including our own. We then repeatedly echo the lie until it becomes the precarious truth. Besides being used as tool to control companies and ministries, its purpose is not only to generate profits but also torrents of uncertainty.

Fewer Spies in Miami Than Bullfighters in Madrid / Juan Juan Almeida

•October 21, 2015 • Comments Off on Fewer Spies in Miami Than Bullfighters in Madrid / Juan Juan Almeida

1445274193_miamiJuan Juan Almeida, 19 October 2015 — The G2, Cuba’s domestic spy agency, is nothing more than a fun-loving caricature of the former KGB. What is difficult to believe is that the special services headquarters which direct espionage operations against Cuba have shown themselves to be even more inept.

The Cuban government neither has nor could maintain an army of spies. We have bought into this myth. Espionage is an expensive proposition and recruiting spies is not like planting rice. Though difficult for us to accept, Cuban authorities are talented and treacherous enough to know how to stoke paranoia, distrust and confusion by creating a constant and frantic struggle for reaffirmation against “a person unknown.” This has made us prone to isolation, some degree of lunacy and a few too many hallucinations.

Albert Einstein, that most international of physicists, said, “You cannot solve a problem with the same mindset that created it.”

Now is the time to find common ground in order to face the obstacles that divide us. There is no point in inventing yet more informants, those agents created for a specific task and trained for a specific mission. We routinely label people as “agents” with dangerous and contagious certainty. We should realize that no single nation can simply go around recruiting and sending infiltrators out into the world like spores in search of information.

From the enigmatic Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to a young physicist named Klaus Fuchs, from former CIA officer Aldrich Ames to Soviet military intelligence colonel Oleg Penkovsky, and to the legendary James Bond, history and literature are replete with spies who have captured our imagination. Adventurers or idealists, altruistic or greedy, heroes or informers, the world certainly knows of spies who succeeded in altering the course of history. But such cases are a far removed from our all too mundane reality. The fact is there are fewer Cuban spies in Miami than bullfighters with mustaches in Madrid.

Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, a Dutch woman known worldwide as Mata Hari, was a famous exotic dancer, high-class prostitute and a well-known actress who used her luxurious perch to collect information and sell it to both the French and German intelligence services. She was caught, tried and executed, but not — it is said — before blowing a kiss to the firing squad. You’ve heard of Percy Alvarado*? Listen, the life of agent Friar is more an embarrassment than a source of pride.

There was the wily and charismatic Richard Sorge, — a man with an exquisite sense of humor — who was a Soviet spy and German national who worked for the NKVD, the forerunner of the KGB. A student of political science, he served as a volunteer in the German army and worked as journalist in Japan. Closer to home, the story of Antonio Guerrero — one of the five Cubans convicted on espionage charges in the US — is more foul than the dog mess on my shoes.

It is a profession older than prostitution, or even carpentry. The Cold War continues to feed into our exaggerated and overly fanciful mythology with the obvious glamour this secret activity acquired in the last century. Perhaps that is why terminology such as “intercepting communications,” “reading encrypted codes” and “eavesdropping” bring to mind intrigue and stimulate the imagination.

But the G2, Cuba’s domestic spy agency, is nothing more than fun-loving caricature of the former KGB. What is difficult to believe is that the special services headquarters which direct espionage operations against Cuba have shown themselves to be even more inept. It seems they relied on informants who knew how to sell information that was full of gaping holes.

The only way to make our dream a reality is to wake up and stop seeing spies, informers and snitches among our next door neighbors.

*Translator’s note: A Guatemalan national who infiltrated the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami on behalf of Cuba’s security services. Known as “agent Friar,” he now writes a blog from Havana.

Camajuani in Suspense over Corruption / Juan Juan Almeida

•October 21, 2015 • Comments Off on Camajuani in Suspense over Corruption / Juan Juan Almeida

1443142995_camajuanensesJuan Juan Almeida, 24 September 2015 — Cuba is trying to silence a national “explosion” of great intensity, which implicates officers of the Interior Ministry (MININT), the Ministry of the Armed Forces (MINFAR), the Cultural Goods Fund (a Cultural center promoting and selling art and handicrafts), the National Bank of Cuba, foreign businessmen and artisanal shoemakers in the Camajuaní municipality of Villa Clara.

According to sources inside the National Prosecutor’s office, one of those implicated was surprised overseas by the news, and in order to evade justice, prefers not to return.

Fraud, falsification, bribery, extortion, contraband, abuse of authority, illicit enrichment, tariff violation, tax evasion of the National Tax Administration and influence peddling are among the presumed crimes for more than 50 people in different training centers.

The estimated amount of bribery charges exceeds five million pesos (US$188,679) and is expected to continue being sniffed out; right now there’s an impasse in the legal process.

By decision at the highest level of Government, the affair acquired a “character of secrecy” in order to not tarnish His Holiness’s visit to the island, to not give a bad impression to possible investors, and, furthermore, because it involves several officials whose names don’t appear on the list of those implicated.


Camajuaní is a small municipality, founded in the 19th century, located in the northeast of Villa Clara, right at a crossroads and railroad lines. This easy public thoroughfare converted it into a settlement for merchants and traders.

Because of this, decades of a planned economy and “revolutionary” experiments (half revolutionary, half communist) didn’t manage to keep the entrepreneurial spirit from passing, like DNA, from generation to generation.

In Camajuaní, the footwear industry is the local engine of growth. So an important number of artisanal shoemakers are members of the Cultural Goods Fund, a State institution that has the peculiarity of permitting artisans to break the State’s monopoly on imports.

The artisans in the Fund can leave Cuba and buy raw material, machines and/or tools to use in production; they can import quantities of material from specified countries by making use of a special document called the “Importation Document;” and they can sell their products to people, businesses and/or ministries.

This may seem simple, but no: This sector of Cuban entrepreneurs also has to face the general corruption in a narrow legal framework and a widespread social prejudice. It’s very easy to offend when almost everything is prohibited.

So, faced with increasing demand, these artisans, in order to expand production, and because State procedures are so cumbersome, falsified the Importation Document.

Others, more astute, began to alter the import permit and their productive capacity by bribing Customs bosses and agents, MININT officials and important executives of the Cultural Goods Fund, who permitted them, in exchange for green bills, to change the classification “artisanal machinery” to “industrial equipment.”

A secure market. The boots bought by the Armed Forces and the Youth Labor Army normally are made by COMBELL, a depressed company that tries to guaranty a supply to the military.

But when this isn’t achieved, a practice that appears premeditated, the Armed Forces impresarios open up a bidding in which the artisans participate.

The Cuban authorities presume that these operators, now in prison, won the bidding after buttering up those in uniform with decision-making power, along with National Bank officers, who, after receiving a commission, gave preference to the Fund.

What’s bad is that the private workshops that gave a living to a good number of people, including former workers from the health industry, who before earned a laughable salary and, today, as private individuals, can earn 100, 150 and even 200 pesos daily, will have to close for lack of raw material; it’s only a question of time.

The Camajuaní municipality has a population of under 60,000 inhabitants. It’s worrisome to know that an important part of them will be left unemployed; and, logically, this will cause major problems.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Holguin: Cholera and Dengue Fever Patients Kept Out of Sight of Pope / Juan Juan Almeida

•October 18, 2015 • Comments Off on Holguin: Cholera and Dengue Fever Patients Kept Out of Sight of Pope / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 31 August 2015 — For the Cuban Government, the level of job insecurity, the index of diseases (above all those provoked by the deterioration in the control of hygiene, epidemiology and health) is politically sensitive information that must be hidden or, at the very least, disguised.

For that reason, and because of the epidemiological situation that exists today on the island, all the institutions and organisms of the central administration of the State, the Party and the Government worked tirelessly to ensure that the visit of the Supreme Pontiff would be a success, and this included camouflaging that which couldn’t be exposed.

His Holiness Pope Francis helped to forge the historic rapprochement between the United States and Cuba. His pastoral visit to Havana, and even more his later travels around the island, awakened special interest in all sectors of the country.

It was, undoubtedly, a delicate moment that was calculated with the precision of a Swiss watch, so that no one, beginning with the head of the sacred Catholic Church, nor any members of the retinue accompanying him, including the foreign press and parishioners, would receive more information than what was previously determined.

The priority was to hide what was ugly and shameful for the Cuban Government’s propaganda. The alarm went off when the Government-Church Commission designed the itinerary for the papal visit.

Immediately after they knew of His Holiness’ plans, on Monday, September 21, to visit the province of Holguín, there was an urgent “flash,” and as required by the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba for disasters, the Council of Defense had a meeting, and in coordination with all the competent authorities in every corner of Holguín, ordered that an exhaustive analysis be done of the health situation in the province.

And later, armed with the evidence of colossal chaos, even more with the need to hide their own responsibility, they elaborated a plan of action with specific guidelines, not to solve the problem, but to cover up that which must not be shown.

Poverty can’t be seen when it’s generalized, but the overwhelming number of those sick with cholera and dengue in Holguín’s Vladimir Ilich Lenin General Hospital, jumped out like dynamite in the middle of hostile terrain.

Controlling that immense truth necessitated something more than whitewashing the facades of the streets through which, presumably, the Holy Father’s caravan would pass. So, not to take any chances, it was also ordered that the patients be hidden by moving them to less accessible and, of course, less visible centers.

It’s been approximately a month since the dengue patients have been returned, without the required antiseptic conditions, to the poorly adapted rooms in the province’s nursing school, and to the classrooms of the ancient school for social workers.

For their part, those infected with cholera found a “new hospital bed” in one of the rooms in the old renal building, in equally bad condition, located next to the surgical clinic.

It’s a Hippocratic cataclysm and an extravagance of governmental hypocrisy; nonetheless, it’s good to know that, miraculously, in none of the cases has the relocation of patients been implicated in the elimination or loss of their records; and, according to information coming from overseas, the provincial health department’s data base from last Wednesday reports a discreet decrease in the population hospitalized for cholera and dengue in Holguín.

Luck or disinformation? I don’t know, because I don’t believe the Cuban Government even when it’s telling the truth.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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