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It is quite clear that these compatriots of ours, driven by the fear that the Cuban Adjustment Act will be modified or repealed, are leaving the island with one destination in mind: the United States.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

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.


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