Everything changes, so that nothing changes in the Cuban armed forces

•December 25, 2015 • Comments Off on Everything changes, so that nothing changes in the Cuban armed forces

Juan Juan Almeida, 14 December 2015 — For the Cuban government, December is a month of notable events and anniversaries. And, although  it tramples on the right of people to support Human Rights Day, it is worth repeating; it allows people to celebrate the anniversary of the landing of the yacht Granma, the Revolutionary Armed Forces’ birthday, the jubilee of the Battle of Ideas, the anniversary of the Battle of Alegria de Pio, and praising the fact that, since 1977, following a historic manoeuvre  of calculated ambiguity, it also permits the celebration of Christmas Eve and Christmas.

Strange, cruel, and unusual, because partying is what is important and because, as my grandmother, who didn’t need to study to gain wisdom, said, “All believers think that their religion is better than their neighbour’s one.”

Nevertheless, right now, when the phantasmagorical menace of an imperialist invasion has ceased to exist, when the fable which describes the subversive presence of the enemy in the north has lost all its efficacy, when it looks like Raúl’s reforms are going to last, and when we shouldn’t say that Cuba is a dictatorship, but an “authority” which, without doubt, continues to commit ignominious excesses in pursuit of the interests of the state, the Cuban idealogues should abandon the “poetry of ’59”, and work hard at developing an institutional make-up which crystallises, I am not saying makes transparent, Cuba’s vision to the world.

What I am talking about is, obviously, a psycho-political veneer. For example, the Union of Military Troops could change its name in order to change the facade, and in this way the new recruits to Military Service will emerge a little more agreeable than when they went in.

“To change everything so that nothing changes”; well-known paradox of the novel The Ocelot, by the Italian writer Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, is the sophistry of the Cuban government. What was once called the Rebel Army, and then the Ministry of Defence, and later MINFAR; can now be called PATRIGAL, which is a bit closer to the present-day business reality, which is a mix of “patrimony” and “national”, and which is led by a General.

The uniform and soldiers’ ranks, which still belong to the dead structure of the non-existent Warsaw Pact, could also be redesigned. Get rid of the uncomfortable, ghastly and rather undignified and hot olive-green uniform, and turn to a more symbolic, indigenous and airy one, like the ones used by the Mambisas in the struggle for liberty. The difficult bit will be in equalising the distinguished, cultured and recognised Camagueyan strategist, Major General Ignacio Agramonte y Loynaz with Brigadier General Lázaro Pichs Sobrino, Director of the Ministry of FAR, without adjectives to set them apart, and to know that the only war he has seen is Fast and Furious (Part II), on the small screen.

I am not suggesting the Adidas sweat-suit should be the national uniform, because that has become the preferred get-up of the ex-leader, and that would be a complication. Quite apart from the recent corruption scandal, of volcanic proportions, which involved a representative of the famous German company and unscrupulous directors of the Cuban sports industry.

Lastly, and only from eagerness to attract sympathy, as an additional measure, they could transform the military barracks into motels, just as they did one day with lodgings number 222, in order to convert it into the garrison which now includes Mr. President’s house.

To end now, as the Chinese proverb says about China, “BIG SOULS HAVE FREE WILL”

Translated by GH

Cuba Prepared in Advance for the Venezuela Crisis / Juan Juan Almeida

•December 22, 2015 • Comments Off on Cuba Prepared in Advance for the Venezuela Crisis / Juan Juan Almeida

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Cuban President Raul Castro

Juan Juan Almeida, 22 December 2015 — In addition to a being a major victory for the Venezuelan opposition over the Bolivarian coalition led by the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), many analysts have claimed that the December 6 elections in Venezuela could also lead to a something approaching an energy crisis in Cuba.

I do not think it is true that, after years of mismanagement, the Chavez movement exacerbated the country’s divisions, insulted the dignity of its people and, in return, got what it deserved: punishment at the ballot box, which — as in the story of Cinderella — turned an allegorical carriage into a hideous pumpkin.

The results upended the order of the Venezuelan National Assembly and undoubtedly dealt a hard blow to the Latin American left. But I would be hasty — perhaps even impulsive if not downright reckless — to claim that this important event could unleash a socio-economic crisis in our country, Cuba, similar to that experienced during the harsh years of the Special Period.

The truth is I have enormous respect for expert analysts of Cuban issues, especially those who do not take refuge in partisan positions. But to claim that the island’s government did not prepare for the looming quagmire from the moment it learned of Hugo Chavez’ illness is either to underestimate the demonstrably farsighted nature of Cuba’s leaders or to deny that the island’s economic performance, as measured by published but not yet released statistics, has shown some degree of growth that did not result from Venezuelan crude.

The reports that were coming out of Caracas and raining down on the offices of Cuba’s intelligence experts were as ample as a May downpour. Havana knew before anyone else of the enormous difficulties that Venezuelan officials were facing. It skillfully managed the growing tensions between Nicolas Maduro and his Siamese twin: the Speaker of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello. It analyzed in minute detail every aspect of the petroleum supply.

Even if it could have hypothetically gained all 167 seats in the National Assembly, the Venezuelan opposition would have had to think long and hard about fulfilling its campaign promise to cut off fuel supplies to Cuba. It knows that this is not really a gift but rather a bilateral exchange between two countries in which Venezuela supplies petroleum and Cuba exports thousands of professionals to work in a variety of social programs, most notably those related to health care.

Since the fall of the Soviet bloc, the Cuban government has learned to never again put all its eggs in one basket. It has a plan A, B, C, D and even a plan E (for Estados Unidos, or United States). The Venezuelan opposition knew they did not have a better (or cheaper) solution for confronting the country’s health problems. And with crude oil prices as low as $40 a barrel, they could not — or they could but should not — reverse course and turn down for political reasons the hundreds of Cuban doctors who treat thousands of poor families in Venezuela.

On the contrary. By leaving well enough alone, or even improving upon it, they not only would preserve an important social investment, they would also retain the votes of a strategic and valuable constituency. It’s gone for many years; it’s called politics.

A Cuban Cocktail: The Adjustment Act, Remittances, Emigration and Change

•December 15, 2015 • Comments Off on A Cuban Cocktail: The Adjustment Act, Remittances, Emigration and Change

The delicate subject of Cubans stranded in Costa Rica was a topic at the fifty-fourth meeting of the Central American Security Council and the Central American Integration System (SICA). It is quite clear that these compatriots of ours, driven by the fear that the Cuban Adjustment Act will be modified or repealed, are leaving the island with one destination in mind: the United States.

It matters little to me if they see themselves as political or economic refugees. They are fleeing poverty that has its roots in politics. For me this is reason enough. But be aware that, if today they manage to set foot in the United States or if some other country takes them in, tomorrow they will be travelling and/or sending money back to the island. 

So I set aside my own ideological prejudices and, after much effort, managed to talk to a Ministry of Tourism official, who assured me that “the government is not encouraging the exodus of anyone and cannot stop it except through force.” He notes, “What we are experiencing is a transformation. People are emigrating today for various reasons but tomorrow they will find opportunity here. Some believe this is a transition to democracy; others do not. This crisis is only the final stage of a process in which some will win and some will lose. Look, because of this the tour operator Havanatur is making 60,000 to 70,000 CUC a day selling tickets to Cubans.”

But that is not to say the Cuban government has created this crisis to make money. Advancing such a claim would be a risky proposition, a dangerous presumption that would, if nothing else, discredit the intellect of anyone who repeats it.

There is no demonstrable evidence that Cuba is sharing in the huge profits that this lucrative form of human trafficking is generating. Furthermore, although I agree that the island’s government could not care less about the fate of its citizens, I venture to say that it is not involved in either human trafficking, much less drug trafficking. In the 1989 Cuba sacrificed an important group of people as pawns in order to cooperate with the United States and international agencies in fighting this activity.

Protocols have been signed with the United States to ensure and maintain a legal and safe emigration process, and there are severe sanctions under Cuban law for trafficking. Conditions have changed so the regime has had to learn to play within the boundaries of international jurisprudence.

I threw out the question as to why this emigration crisis is happening now and got the best response from a crafty and apparently wealthy trafficker.

“Cubans are used to lying,” he says,” and those people (referring to the refugees in Costa Rica) are also hiding the truth.”

He adds, “The reality is that on December 17 there was a new sense of national hope. People thought that there would be change and progress in three days’ time. And what happened? Nothing. We’re in the same little box, or worse. The news articles and news broadcasts were the trigger. First, Cubans see that the United States and Cuba are talking about emigration and they conclude that the Cuban Adjustment Act is going to be repealed. Then there was Raul’s trip to Mexico, which was the starting shot that set off of the race.

“It spread like wildfire. There was an agreement to block the Cubans’ path through Mexico. It’s only natural. People listen to news and gossip. ‘Emigration agreements’ is the thing everyone is talking about but at the time no one said anything about it.

“Things are bad in Cuba. People cannot see the light at either the beginning or end of the tunnel. The Cuban psyche is focused on one thing: emigration. And no one is talking about this business because everyone wants to be trafficked.”

I recall that historic but vague strategy Fidel Castro outlined in a long-winded speech given in August 1999 dealing with emigration. He made no reference to exerting pressure or attempting to overturn the Cuban Adjustment Act. Quite the contrary. He lobbied, committed resources and knocked on doors to convince the region’s leaders they should demand that their citizens receive the same exceptional and privileged treatment from the United States that Cubans received when setting foot on American soil. In other words, to use our emigrants as missiles, not to launch attacks but to change American demographics and thus influence the political decisions of a country that listens to its citizens and respects those in the minority.

“…no one is talking about trafficking; Cubans want to be trafficked.”

Decision by Raul Castro Complicates Cuba’s Legal Landscape / Juan Juan Almeida

•December 12, 2015 • Comments Off on Decision by Raul Castro Complicates Cuba’s Legal Landscape / Juan Juan Almeida
"House for Sale" in Holguin, Cuba. REUTERS/Marc Frank

“House for Sale” in Holguin, Cuba. REUTERS/Marc Frank

Juan Juan Almeida, 7 December 2015 — During one of his famous tantrums, General Raul Castro shamelessly ordered a review of all the paperwork related to the sale of nine private homes as well as investigations into their new owners.

The Office of Personal Security got to work and the public prosecutor intervened, seizing some twenty homes. The same chain of command also closed two private restaurants in prime locations which had been leased from the state-run company Palco for of 3,000 CUC a month.

It has been said — and this is gossip, so I do not know if it is true or not — that one of the restaurants, located near Fifth Avenue and 68th Street, was closed because Alex Castro, Fidel’s photographer son, had commercial interests and was trying to get permits.

But, as I said, this has not been confirmed. The fact is that the actions by the district attorney’s office have created a firestorm that they are now trying to put out. To calm things down, Samuel Rodiles, a special envoy and the current director of the Institute of Urban Planning, and Miguel Gomez, director of Havana’s Collective Buffets corporation, have appointed an attorney to handle the case.

An appeal is being heard in order to, as many believe, quiet things down. But the well-known female attorney with the beautiful legs, angelic name and iron will claims otherwise.

“This is not a trial involving the public prosecutor, she claims. “It is an administrative issue, a civil matter. There has been no illegality, no crime. What has been done is an injustice. Currently, there is a housing law allowing for the sale and purchase of houses and property. If the owner is a Cuban citizen or permanent resident alien named  Juaniquito Perez and the deed confirms that the owner is Juaniquito, then there is no irregularity. So what is the problem?”

The pending process promises to be long and complicated. The prosecution claims that the actual owners are not Cuban and that property deeds indicate that Cubans are serving as fronts for Italian, Russian, Chinese and Spanish buyers.

But the young and experienced jurist argues that the confiscations are groundless and is demanding that the properties be returned and that those affected be compensated. She also points out, with thinly veiled sarcasm, that “if Raul Castro does not like the new neighbors, he should move or change the law.”

The issue could have consequences. Two Urban Reform Laws in 1960, and two General Housing Laws (1984 and 1988), along with an infinite number of resolutions, circulars and rules of lower standing, long rules by “apolitical” Cuban real estate until, in 2011, the Decree Law Number 288/2011 marked a radical change on repealing the major constraints in the area of the right to personal property (please, do not confuse private property with personal property).

Although legislative change is always welcome, Cuba still retains a stunted system of civil law. There is a huge disconnect between reality and the registry office. Some urban areas have been declared special zones or areas of special significance related to “national security” based on their proximity to houses or routes used by Fidel or Raul. The property registry office is completely cut off from reality. It has been overhauled not to fulfill its intended purpose but to meet the government’s demands that it present a positive appearance to foreign investors.

This case has caused new Cuban investors to lose faith in the security and credibility of the system. They legally purchased or leased property and are now on the verge of eviction. All of the confiscated homes were duly registered. The act of sale was legal and the corresponding taxes were paid on each property. These were formal, legal transactions conducted in compliance with new government-imposed regulations. Where is the illegality?

As repeated ad nauseam by my unbearable professor of Procedural Law: “The worst case scenario is when the law exists, but does cover it.”

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

•November 25, 2015 • Comments Off on Bucanero/Cristal Exploits Ties to Self-Employed and Palco and Habaguanex Executives / Juan Juan Almeida

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

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 • Comments Off on What Can the Opposition Offer to Cubans? / Juan Juan Almeida

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