Exiled Cuban Businessmen Come to Havana for Its Horses

•February 22, 2015 • Comments Off on Exiled Cuban Businessmen Come to Havana for Its Horses

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

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

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 on Reflections from Compañero Juan Juan


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.


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 on The Betrayal of Humboldt 7 or the Legal Art of Looting

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

The Most Rehearsed Funeral in Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

•January 24, 2015 • Comments Off on The Most Rehearsed Funeral in Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

So much passion and apathy for “Our Country or Death, We Shall Overcome” has ended up creating a certain inclination toward false patriotism and a funeral mentality. This was in evidence at the end of last week, when yet another widespread rumor of the ex-ruler’s death came to light.

With this new passing, the tagline “Fidel Castro Dies” stands out from other trending topics on social media, triggering a kind of hypnosis, a carousel of emotions. It is like a wistful zombie apocalypse in which fabrication becomes information.

It is not the first time nor will it be the last that rumors swirl around the former Cuban politician. This is why I find the widespread alarm so odd. I had the same exaggerated reaction when I turned twenty-five and had to face the loss of my childhood and my hair. It seems that, rather than wanting to forget, there is a need to preserve this ancient, ubiquitous presence who, because of age and illness, saw fit to withdraw from the scene.

One day he will die, like all human beings. But I doubt it will be on a day when Alejandro Castro Espín, one of his nephews and the most powerful man in Cuba, happens to be strolling through Greece, as was the case in this instance. In fact, the odds are better at winning the lottery.

As dictated by the protocol, the death will not be announced to journalists at a press conference in the International Press Center (CIP), but through an official statement issued by the Council of State and Ministers of the Republic of Cuba. At a time to be announced, all coverage on national television and radio will be linked, as happened on the night of July 31, 2006.*

It should come as no surprise that the funeral has already been rehearsed (even by the future deceased), which I discussed some time ago. There will be the twenty-one-gun salute, the eulogy, the mournful ceremony, the complete soundtrack with maestro and orchestra. As expected, some will be dressed in black, others in military fatigues. It will also include popular participation, foreign guests and a plan to “safeguard the physical integrity of the nation and preserve order.”

Several official documents indicate that, like Juan Almeida and Raul Castro, Fidel is to be buried at his command post in the Sierra Maestra, out in La Plata, along the foothills of Pico Turquino. But that could all change. I recall on one of my visits to Biran, the birthplace of the Castros, a guide pointing to a nonexistent spot. Like a soothsayer in a trance, he prophesied, “Here, next to those of his mother, will lie the remains of the commander-in-chief.”

I would like to point out that Santa Ifigenia is not an option. Fidel Castro is not about to share it with Jose Marti. And if someone decides to fix up this historic Santiago de Cuba cemetery, it won’t be to bury Fidel Castro but rather because January 28 marks the 162nd anniversary of the birth of Cuba’s “Apostle.”

I do not have a crystal ball and we are living in unusual times but there is also another option yet to be determined and it would be during one of those Sunday family lunches in Rinconada (Raul Castro’s house) in which the future of Cuba is decided.

The Castro family (which embodies the state, the nation and the government) which may decide to give Fidel an intimate funeral and quiet burial. He is no longer head of state, no longer first party secretary, so a low-key death would not be a violation of protocol.

And as in those dark novels that deal with injustice, Fidel Castro might remain the only dead person who never passes away. A thousand prerecorded programs and scripted epitaphs would be erased in one fell swoop. As my grandmother used to say before she began her prayers, reality always trumps fiction.

*Translator’s note: On this date Fidel Castro temporarily transferred the duties of the presidency to his brother Raul as he underwent a surgical procedure.

14 January 2015

Raul Castro’s Few Options / Juan Juan Almeida

•December 23, 2014 • Comments Off on Raul Castro’s Few Options / Juan Juan Almeida

Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro shortened the 90 longest miles of all history, and it begins to melt the ice in the Cuba Libre [lit. “Free Cuba”; also the name of a drink served over ice]. It is a historical conversation that tries to put an end to years of confrontation and zoom in or zoom out, depending on the approach, to the day in which we Cubans can finally decide our destiny.

The news was welcomed with satisfaction by several personalities. The wind of cordiality blew so strong in South America that in less than 24 hours, the guerrilla group FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army) announced a unilateral ceasefire for an indefinite period starting on December 20.

On one side of the political scale, this is the wish that we Cubans all have of enjoying a country free from tyrants. A dream which, to some extent, we have not been able to achieve due to our disunity, the lack of strategies, and an excess of posturing. On the other hand: It is that to improve the bilateral climate between the two warring nations, an isolated Russia with financial problems, and a changed relationship with Africa and Latin America — especially with certain extremist groups and the ALBA countries (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) — with the United States.

It is no secret that the global energy map has changed, that the current price of oil has dynamited the political capacity of Venezuela, and with the Port of Mariel Megaproject wavering from lack of investors, Raul remained without options; he has none, other than to get aboard the train and open up to investment, trade, and American tourism.

In logical reaction, the pendulum leaned towards rapprochement. Whether we like it or not, I understand that the circumstances and the life lived by each one of us define the way in which we approach certain things; but realpolitik, which deals with practical interests and concrete actions, unfortunately does not pass through human rights, nor a multi-party system, nor civil liberties.

The images have been very eloquent; the physical condition of the three Cuban spies is far from that of Allan Gross, including dental care, which clearly in the Cuban penitentiary system does not exist.

What’s next?

The increase in tourism and trade between the United States and Cuba will create new sources of revenue which, undoubtedly, will benefit rank and file Cubans, especially those who do not have relatives abroad. A new outbreak of bricklayers, gardeners, restaurant owners, bartenders, tenants, taxi drivers, etc.

But in the current circumstances, with the import permits in the hands of State-owned enterprises, no Cuban can market products for his private business; no entrepreneurs in the agricultural sector can import farm implements or quality seeds to increase their production, or animals for breeding stock; no cuentapropista [self-employed entrepreneur] in the field of construction or mining, can import any machinery. And that’s not going to change; at least for now.

Other freedoms will be opened up, yes; but I see little chance of General Raúl Castro permitting any political opening. He gave the speech dressed as a General from his old office, located on the 4th floor of the MINFAR [Ministry of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces]. Impressive symbolism.

The government will fight to maintain control, increase repression, and the methods and resources of its repressive forces.

No, it is not the end of the Castros, but the beginning of a stage in which all Cubans have to learn how to fly using our own wings.

Translated by: Hombre de Paz

23 December 2014


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