Cuban Government Plans Severe Penalties to Control Private Businesses / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 21 February 2018 — The Cuban government is in the process of updating an old, punitive legal statute that would allow it to control the growth of the self-employment sector and independent commercial activity as well as to curb private initiative, which has in recent years been expanding in the country.

Martí News reports that authorities are meeting with groups of small business owners to explain what is expected of them. Meanwhile, the Attorney General’s Office is under orders from the highest levels of government to revamp the country’s laws in a way that would allow for stricter control over the private sector.

“The crime used to be prosecuted as ‘actions harmful to economic plans related to state hiring,’ but now is being used to charge certain self-employed individuals with ‘actions harmful to economic activity related to hiring’,” explained a source associated with the Attorney General’s Office. continue reading

It is not simply a matter of imposing fines; it involves jail sentences of eight to twenty years.

In 2016, the Seventh Communist Party Congress identified the need to “advance the improvement of the business system, gradually granting the management of the various entities new powers.” To do this, it was necessary to repeal a decree, the General Regulations of State Enterprise, and an accord, the Union and State Enterprise, which had been adopted by the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers in 1979 and 1988 respectively.

On December 12, 2017, a set of new regulations took effect which are intended to advance the improvement business sector by granting all state-owned companies greater autonomy.

Although certain existing legislative restrictions on state enterprises were eliminated, and the ability of these companies to operate more freely was broadened, low profitability and a lack of incentives prevented the anticipated results from being met. Within a short period of time, private-sector companies were far outperforming state-run companies, which has given them greater importance in the Cuban economy.

According to information obtained by Martí Noticias, since early 2018 a government commission made up of representatives from the labor ministry, the police, immigration, the Communist Party, the public health ministry and the Confederation of Cuban Labor has been meeting with groups of individuals employed in the private sector, essentially those in the tourism industry.

In meetings with private business owners, authorities are explaining the need to report all the employees on their payrolls and are encouraging the use of hiring contracts that define the rights and obligations of all parties. Meanwhile, they have already revamped an old statute, Section 7 of the Cuban Criminal Code, which previously applied only to state-owned companies.

“This is not a trivial matter. Even the smallest infraction can lead to penalties that range from three to eight years in prison. But for more serious infractions, the penalty is eight to twenty years,” says the source.

And that does not include additional sanctions, such as the seizure of all assets which a judge determines to be related to the crime.

The cases being tried under this revised law are being handled by attorneys from a collective law firm located at 41st and 60th streets in Havana’s Playa district. They have been christened by the locals as the “cooperatives’ lawyers.”

Alleged Head of US/Cuba Money Laundering Network Arrested in Havana / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 13 February 2018 — A Cuban businessman residing in Ecuador was arrested in Havana, suspected of being the ringleader of a criminal gang operating between Cuba, Panama and the United States, engaged in swindling, extortion, human trafficking and money laundering, Marti News has confirmed.

Alexis Castro Maspoch, 34, is being held in pretrial detention at Valle Grande Prison, located in the Havana’s Arroyo Arenas municipality, and could be charged with illicit enrichment, smuggling and bribery. continue reading

He was prevented from leaving Cuba last August and days later the authorities proceeded to arrest him. At the time of his arrest he had Ecuadorian legal residence and a US visa, valid until 2022.

Castro Maspoch was born in Havana on 10 August 1983, studied at Vladimir Ilich Lenin Pre-university Vocational Institute of Exact Sciences, and later abandoned his engineering studies at the Technological University of Havana, known as CUJAE.

According to the Ministry of the Interior’s investigative file on Castro Maspoch, he traveled too frequently from Havana to Panama City, Quito and Miami to contact people and buy merchandise. He is accused of bribing officials and functionaries of the General Customs of the Republic of Cuba (AGR), who allowed him to violate customs regulations.

In order to import large quantities of household appliances and containers with household items to Cuba, the detainee handed out gifts to a legal adviser of the AGR. The official, who is also under arrest, has not been able to account for her sudden increase in assets, sources related to the case report.

The group led by Castro Maspoch, known as El Millonario, was also engaged in trafficking people, exporting currency and public securities in violation of the law, and money laundering.

Part of the profits of the lucrative business was used to purchase properties in Cuba to sell to foreigners and to invest in private businesses such as restaurants and rental houses. Among the properties sold by the group are properties located on Avenida 5-B, between 66 and 62, in Miramar, and another on Avenida 33, between 30 and 32, in Havana’s Playa neighborhood.

“They sell Panamanian visas for $4 thousand dollars per person. Then, in addition to the costs for the visa and travel paperwork, they give their victims cash which they must take out of the island, and then later return to them ‘cleaned of dust and straw’,” one of victim of the operations reported, remaining anonymous for fear of reprisals.

The witness related how the money was transferred through a financial framework and then — after the charging of a commission — was delivered in Miami through a Wells Fargo bank account.

Even though he is under arrest, Castro Maspoch has managed to overcome the restrictions on his freedom by bribing the authorities in Valle Grande prison, who are allowing him to continue to operate his business from the visiting room.

The United States and Cuba held a technical meeting in Washington on Monday, to address preventing and fighting against money laundering. Together, they analyzed regional trends, experiences in confronting this crime and “the next steps to be adopted to advance bilateral collaboration on this matter.”

The Death of a Young Man Who Fell Into a Coma Because of Medical Negligence in a Cuban Jail / Juan Juan Almeida

Raidel García Otero

Juan Juan Almeida, 31 January 2018 —  The young Cuban, Raidel García Otero, who was reported on Friday to be comatose, as a result of alleged medical negligence and irresponsibility on the part of the Cuban prison authorities, died on January 23rd at 3:10 pm, in the company of his family and doctors in the Salvador Allende hospital in Havana.

A hospital source told Martí Noticias that he “Died as a result of a multiple organ failure.  His organs were collapsing up until the point when he was pronounced clinically dead. I want to scream, I want to cry.” continue reading

His sister,  Mariela García Otero, submitted a formal complaint to Doctor Sara Infante, Head of Medical Services in the Ministry of the Interior, on the basis of medical negligence in the prison

García Otero, a 29 year old economic technician in a military company, had been under arrest, as the subject of a restraint order, in the Valle Grande jail since October 27th.

Last January 15th, his mother Delia Otero, and his father, who worked in the administration section of the official Juventud Rebelde newspaper, were worried as they hadn’t received their usual Monday call. Therefore, they phoned the prison and were told that the kid had a cold.

A family friend told Marti Noticias “On Tuesday, January 16th, one of Raidel’s companions rang the family and told them the young man was in a bad way and hadn’t received proper medical attention. His parents went to the prison but got no information, and they wouldn’t let them see him either.”

The friend said that it wasn’t until the Friday of that week that the prison phoned to say that the young man had been admitted to the Salvador Allende Hospital, in Old Quinta Covadonga, in Cerro.

The evidence said that at 2:00 p.m. on Friday, January 19th, García Otero was moved, in critical condition, from Valle Grande prison to Covadonga.

The last medical report on 23rd January, at 2:00 a.m.,  to Martí Noticias, said that the young man had necrosis of the legs, brain damage, and was entering organ failure.

The deceased prisoner’s twin brother, Reinaldo García Otero, explained that he “suffered multiple failures and was receiving blood transfusions.”

He added that “His legs were black, none of his organs were responding, he was in a bad way, and was in a coma from when he entered the hospital.”

A military spokesman, identified as Lt. Henry Mendoza, spoke to Radio Martí  about the medical attention he had received: “This comrade, this ill person, received  substantial medical attention, from when he fell ill until he passed away, and the appropriate drugs were  administered.”

On being asked what medicines were administered, he replied “I can’t say what the drugs were, I am not a doctor, I am just  duty officer Lt. Henry Mendoza.”

Translated by GH

Haiti is the New Route for Cuban "Mules" in Search of Drugs and Illegal Surgical Equipment / Juan Juan Almeida

Toussant Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Juan Juan Almeida, 5 February 2018 — Haiti is becoming the shortest, cheapest and most popular route among mules and Cuban merchants, who travel there for “shopping tours” to supply the informal street businesses and the dangerous market of illegal surgical drugs and equipment.

“A lot of hidden goods are entering the country from these opportunistic excursions,” a source linked to the General Customs of the Republic of Cuba informed Martí Noticias.

According to the customs official, those seeking business in this market incur the crime of smuggling because they try to evade regulations and import duties. continue reading

However, in the case of Haiti, the worst thing, says the official, is not the trafficking in clothes, costume jewelry, household appliances or spare parts and cell phone accessories, but the clandestine importation of drugs such as Diclofenan, vaginal suppositories, vitamins, anesthetics, bottles of liquid silicone, botox, or prostheses for breast surgeries, without proof of origin, which can represent a real danger to human health.

Several travel agencies promote tourist packages to Haiti from Cuba. Some of them, for 945 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC), offer a tourist visa good for 3 months, the flight, a hotel with breakfast and dinner, plus a day of walking around the city to make purchases, with all airport transfers coming and going.

But other agencies, as an additional incentive and for 1100 CUC, add to these services the process — from within Haiti — to obtain legal residence and a work permit in the impoverished country.

Cuban entrepreneurs have gone to Guyana, Panama, Mexico, the United States, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and other nearby countries to procure the necessary products for their work, but access to those countries is complicated by their visa requirements..

On the other hand, Russia , and especially the Lyublino Shopping Complex in Moscow, has become an ideal destination for island merchants from the non-state sector. There they buy clothes, shoes, food, car parts and a number of items for the informal business of imported merchandise.

However, the cost of travel to and staying in Moscow is high, which is ultimately reflected in the prices that must be charged by the island’s businesses supplies by Russian merchandise.

Despite being the poorest country in America, Haiti is positioning itself as t the most in-demand destination for these ‘working’ trips, because in addition to the short distance, the low prices, the six weekly flights, the natural charm of the country and the new hotel infrastructure catering to Cubans, airline passengers are allowed almost 80 pounds of luggage, of which 13 pounds can be carry-on.

In February 2017, the Haitian airline Sunrise Airways began its trips to the largest of the Antilles bound for Santiago de Cuba, and later added flights to Camagüey and Havana.

Diplomatic relations between Port-au-Prince and Havana were established in February 1904, and since then the bonds of friendship have been strengthened. Brigades of Cuban doctors have been serving in that nation since December 4, 1998, when a group of 100 doctors arrived in Haiti after the disaster caused by Hurricane George.

Young Man in Coma Due to Medical Negligence in Cuban Prison / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 22 January 2018 — A young employee of a Cuban company run by the military company, on remand in Havana, is in a coma due alleged medical malpractice and the irresponsibility of the prison authorities, his family reported.

Raidel Garcia Otero, 29, an economic technician, has been under arrest at Valle Grande Prison since 27 October. The young man suffers from a disease that causes inflammation in the vital organs . continue reading

On 15 January, his mother Delia Otero, and his father, an administrative employee of the pro-government newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth), were worried because they had not received his usual Monday  phone call. They called the prison and and were told that the boy was suffering from a cold.

On Saturday, Cuban photographer Pablo Pildain Rocha, a family friend, published the young man’s photo on his Facebook page, accompanied by a message in which he says he will report the case if the outcome is fatal.

Raidel Garcia Otero

Valle Grande prison is a part of the Ministry of the Interior’s Department of Penitentiary Establishments and is located in Arroyo Arenas, on the outskirts of Havana.

“On Tuesday, 16 January, one of Raidel’s classmates called the family and alerted them that the young man was sick and that he was not receiving adequate medical attention. His parents went to the prison but received no information and were not allowed to see him,” a source close to the family told Marti Noticias.

The source said that it was not until Friday of that week that the prison called the parents to tell them the young man had been admitted to Salvador Allende Hospital, formerly Quinta Covadonga, in Havana’s Cerro municipality.

According to the source, at 2:00 PM on Friday, 19  January, García Otero was transferred in critical condition from Valle Grande prison to Covadonga.

According to information obtained from the hospital, the patient must have been in critical condition for at least 4 or 5 days before his transfer, considering his condition when he arrived there.

This case from Valle Grande prison is not an isolated incident.

In March 2010, in the same prison, the death of prisoner Pedro Márquez Bell due to lack of adequate medical attention was reported. The testimony of then inmate Raúl García Ramos was also made public; Garcia Ramos, despite demanding specialized attention for acute liver cirrhosis and esophageal cancer, was always denied assistance.

Far from being solved, the demands and protests of the convicts only seem to aggravate their reality. It is unknown if García Otero’s parents will file a complaint, although there are enough factors to file complaints of a civil and criminal nature against the authorities and doctors of the penitentiary.

A Curious Fact about Bachelet’s Visit to Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 19 January 2018 — As part of President Michelle Bachelet’s recently concluded visit to Havana, a Chile-Cuba Business Seminar was held.

During the activity, celebrated Monday, January 8, in a room at the Hotel Nacional, the Chilean president met with several businesspeople of her country who reside on the island. Among those present were Ángel Domper, Manuel Tomás Gahona, Guillermo Leiva and others.

Note that Ángel Domper was married to the Cuban veterinarian, Celia Guevara, one of deceased guerrillero Che Guevara’s daughters.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Cuban Government Plans Blow Against Management of Non-Agricultural Cooperatives / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 12 January 2018 — The Cuban Government is preparing a new blow to restrict the rights conceded to non-agricultural cooperatives of production (CNAs), specifically those devoted to the construction sector.

According to information obtained by Martí News, the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers is developing a set of new judicial regulations with a view to controling the boom in this type of non-agricultural production association. One of the steps would be intended to complicate the process for the forming of these consortiums.

“The CNAs didn’t appear on the Cuban scene as a natural phenomenon regulated by the laws of the market, but rather as a result of an emergency strategy to attenuate the effects of the constant national crisis,” said a source from Havana who is linked to criminal proceedings against the owner of one of these private associations. “But some members of these associations drive around in rented autos, and the Government is trying to put the brakes on them by means of legal instruments that asphyxiate this enterprise.” continue reading

The source noted that the Council of State implemented, as an experiment, Decree Laws No. 305 and 306, No. 309 of the Council of Ministers, and another series of regulations for the forming, registration, functioning and termination of the non-agricultural production cooperatives and the services of 222 private activities.

The poor profitability and lack of autonomy of State businesses, among other factors, allowed the private entitites to achieve a real importance in the business system in a short time. They work efficiently, but they constitute an impediment to State businesses, because they show they do well, and they fearlessly exhibit the wealth they acquire.

On December 12, 2017, there appeared in the Gaceta Oficial Extraordinaria No. 58, a group of laws that intended to improve the business system by conceding a larger autonomy to State businesses. Even so, State production has not responded in the manner expected, because even with their increase in strength, they are incapable of guaranteeing service, quality and delivery times, according to the State authorities themselves.

However, the non-State sector continues to visibly increase productivity and labor discipline, which is why they have publicly received important contracts for the design and remodeling of tourism hotels, winning out over the now-stagnant State businesses.

“These corporations have better builders, do better work and, in certain cases, get permission to import machinery from China and other countries. However, the form in which they were originally designed and the experimental character of the whole legal basis mean they are badly limited,” argues an attorney who requested anonymity.

The lawyer explained that no legal way exists for two private cooperatives to join together to organize complementary activities to add value to their products or services. They have to acquire everything through the State businesses, and this doesn’t work.

“They have to violate the rules if the Government doesn’t expand the legal framework. How can you buy the necessary raw material like cement, sand, gravel, marble for the floors or wood for the formwork?” asked the lawyer.

“In this fradulent way,” he added, “they control the people in the cooperatives by submitting them to constant fiscal audits, which are practically impossible to pass. They now have closed some, and their members are in court.”

“We hope this will change, or we shall soon see the end of the private initiative,” the witness concluded.

This past August, the Ministry of Finance and Prices revoked the formation conceded to the Scenius Cooperative, an accounting service, and approved its termination for “repeated violations committed by the cooperative in its fulfillment of the approved social reach.”

The CAN experiment began in 2013, and presently there are only 429 of them in existence in the whole country, according to official figures.

Translated by Regina Anavy

New Locomotives in Cuba: Investment, Waste or Corruption? / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 28 November 2017 — The first seven Russian TGM 8 locomotives arrived in Cuba last week as part of a questionable railway development project that includes another 28 by 2018.

Cuba’s primary official media from the Granma newspaper to the Cubadebate site and the Russian Sputnik reported the arrival of the first seven of 15 locomotives in a lot that will be completed this year. Each locomotive has a price of $ 1.7 million dollars.

But the acquisition of this equipment has been a real question for railway transport specialists from the government’s own ranks. continue reading

Cuba is a country with over 5,000 miles of railroad right-of-way and the government purchase has materialized in a relatively short period, despite the high cost of the investment.

“Someone is making money but in the highest spheres waste is not a crime, and transportation, in everyone’s view, seems a problem that deserves to continue to have money spent on it,” said a Havana-based source from the Ministry of Economy and Planning (MEP).

In 2006, the Cuban authorities authorized the start of a national program, supervised by the Ministry of Transportation (MITRANS) and MEP, to restore and develop the national rail system.

The process was structured in phases:

1.  Restoration and maintenance of the trackways.

2.  Restoration and modernization of locomotives and freight cars.

3.  Modernization of railway maintenance facilities.

All of these being investments necessary to recover passenger transport.

In an obvious breach of the established order, on January 14 of that year, the government imported the first locomotives of the Chinese brand DF7G-C.

Some $15 million dollars was invested in 12 modern engines with 2,500 horsepower and automated systems. The problem was that, even with easy payment, the contract of sale between the Cuban railways Union (UFC) and the Chinese company never came to fruition.

Another similar number of Chinese locomotives were expected to arrive but never did so. It was reported that funding sources had failed, although the money was approved. But it never reached its destination nor did it return to the state coffers.

It apparently remained in some dark pocket. Now, in what seems like a cycle, the history of 2006 repeats itself, but this time between the Russian company, SINARA Transport Machines, and the Cuban import company, TRADEX.

In Cuba there are trains categorized as short and medium distance; the rest are nationals: Havana-Santiago de Cuba; Havana direct to Bayamo-Manzanillo; Havana-Guantanamo; Santiago de Cuba to Santa Clara; as well as the service from Havana to Sancti Spíritus.

“We do not need as many locomotives. The urgency is to improve the state of the central trackways, the restoration of the railroad, the terrible health and safety conditions of the cars, and the repair of the railway stations, many of which have leaky roofs and lack drinking water,” the source added.

The only thing that exists is the investment, which was made in its entirety, for the construction of high-quality double track that connects the Port of Mariel and the facilities of that Special Development Zone with the national rail system.

Raul Castro Will Do Everything Possible To Preserve His Immunity / Juan Juan Almeida

Raul Castro with his grandson/bodyguard who is always at his side.

Juan Juan Almeida — The world has taken many turns since February 24, 2013, General Raul Castro himself officially announced that he would retire at the end of his second term in 2018. But a few days ago I read an article in the press where an experienced analyst suggest, as his own opinion, the possibility that the “Excelentísimo” General in Chief will not keep his word and May delay the handing over of the throne.

So much clarity dazzles. Very intelligent people often make the mistake of elaborating theories so lofty that they end up levitating, and when they lose contact with the ground they can mistake a Dalmatian dog for a Holstein cow, simply from looking at the spots.

It is a dissolute sovereign who associatea the concept of realpolitik with that strange ability that Cuban rulers have to keep themselves in power. continue reading

It is unquestionable that from 2013 to today the world political map has undergone some changes. The current price of oil has destroyed Venezuela’s political ability to act, the Port of Mariel megaproject in Cuba is constantly trembling on the verge of collapse due to lack of investors, and the rhetoric of President Donald Trump against Castro has placed the panorama of relations between Cuba and the United States at risk. But nothing can stop or slow the thousand miles per hour at which our planet revolves on its axis, nor the 18 miles per second at which it moves around the sun.

Speculation is the main sauce of political analysts, but time is unstoppable. I understand that our island is one of the countries that has one of the most elderly populations in the world, and that this reality not only exhausted the already slight financial sustainability of the Cuban pension system, it also affected the vision of many scholars who are determined to make the concept of “the third age” disappear, which may be why they cannot see that Raul Castro is an old man, at 86, and one who, unfortunately for him, does not have the health of the legendary Superman.

Of course he’s leaving. It is only necessary to reread the press to remember that among the agreements of the VII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, (April 2016), it was agreed to set a limit of two consecutive 5-year terms as the maximum for one person in the performance of the “fundamental political and state positions” (according to the Central Committee, Secretariat and Political Bureau), and an establishment of 60 years as the age limit for members of the Central Committee, although people up to age 70 years may hold leadership positions in the party.

On that same date, Raul Castro, with skill and a bit of a joke, said from his rostrum “anyone out there who is 70-years-old, knows that he will not join the Central Committee in the next Congress.”

So, in 2018, not only will Raúl leave, but so will the vice-president of the Councils of State and Ministers, José Ramón Machado Ventura (who is 87 years old), and the Commander of the Revolution Ramiro Valdés Menéndez, will also ’cash in his ticket’ because of old age given that he is 85.

Added to this, we will lose Army Corps General Leopoldo “Polo” Cintra Frias (76), and alsoArmy Corps General Álvaro López Miera (74) and almost all the geriatric members of the current Nomenklatura.

Paradoxically, this final little epic in which we will see the Castro era come to a close could not be more hoped for. And if General Raul Castro stays at the head of the Communist Party as some prophesy he will, it will not be “to defend the island from the return of the ghost of the Cold War” but for the simple reason of ensuring he maintains immunity for all his past and present actions.

Upon leaving the presidency, he will lose his influence over the leadership little by little because the old leaders, those who fused their allegiance in the struggles of the Sierra Maestra, will be dead. The intermediate group, those who were forged in the wars that Cuba sustained in Nicaragua, Ethiopia and/or Angola, are retiring; and the rest, those of the wheeler-dealer group, who grew up and were educated competing in the market of influences, will find that it does not occur to any of them, not even jokingly, to hinder the useful present in order to cling to a past that has no future.

Corruption Scandal Shakes Up Popular Havana Brewery / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 19 December 2017 — A police operation at the popular Factoría Plaza Vieja Brewery, in the historic center of Havana, caused the temporary closure of the establishment and the arrest of several people who are being prosecuted on charges of corruption.

According to reports obtained by Martí Noticias, the process began when one of the staff members, after having a money dispute with the management, decided to complain to those in charge and, not getting an answer to their disagreement, reported part of what happened at the police station at Cuba and Chacón Streets, in Old Havana.

“There, one of the investigators, thinking of the future and eager for a promotion, looked into the issue and used the informant as a kind of unpaid mercenary to prepare their own case of corruption,” said a source who requested anonymity. continue reading

But the copy of the police report, which asks for authorization to investigate, was received at the head office of the business group led by Brigadier General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, president of the state-run Business Administration Group SA (GAESA) .

The investigation into the brewery is ongoing.

“During the investigation, data on a chain of illegalities came to light where the same modus operandi is repeated. A group of employees have been reporting losses and taking out cash, governed by their own rules and those of other executives of the company who, due to their position, are beyond the scope of our responsibility,” says the report, according to a source from the sector who asked not to be identified.

The brewery has now reopened its doors to domestic and foreign tourists.

Some of the workers are among those detained for allegedly swindling millions of dollars from the national economy, and it is expected that the process will involve several GAESA executives, who have controlled the management of Corporación Habaguanex SA since July 2016.

Located on one of the corners of the old Plaza Vieja, specifically where Muralla and San Ignacio converge, the Factoría Plaza Vieja brewery was founded by Eusebio Leal, the Historian of Havana, and the firm Habaguanex SA, on June 6, 2003

And although today in Havana there is another brewery, located in the old wood and tobacco warehouse, the Factoría Plaza Vieja was the first of its kind and rapidly became famous, which led to the opening a new space with similar operations.

Since its creation, Factoría Plaza Vieja has been visited daily by hundreds of habaneros and tourists who love the taste of beer and enjoy Cuban cuisine in a pleasant environment in Havana’s old quarter.

However, the establishment has already been overshadowed by scandals on two other occasions. The first, shortly after its opening, when some of its workers were accused of adding marijuana to the fermentation process of dark beer along with hops, barley and water; and in May 2012, for another case of corruption that ended up sending several of its employees to prison.

Cuba Will Reduce Health Workers Abroad to Avoid Desertions / Juan Juan Almeida

Cuban medical personnel preparing to leave to work in foreign countries, a huge source of revenue to the Cuban government.

Juan Juan Almeida, 5 January 2018 — The Cuban government plans to implement as soon as possible a group of measures aimed at reducing the number of health workers who work as non-physicians and desert from missions abroad.

According to information obtained by Martí Noticias, the authorities of the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) issued a resolution that must be consulted and approved by all provincial and municipal directors and deputy heads of Public Health, Medical Assistance and Collaboration Departments.

The circular makes it very clear that the highest incidence of deserters from Cuban medical aid postings abroad are those who are not working in posts directly related to healthcare delivery,” said a source linked to MINSAP from Havana. continue reading

The document confirms the country’s top management level of concern regarding the increase in the desertions of the workers (who are not doctors) from the missions, or who, during the missions, focus on arranging individual contracts with the intention of earning money, and providing services that are not even related to healthcare.

The two-page circular was leaked from emails sent to the heads of the provincial health directorates, and could soon become an addendum to Resolution No. 279/2014, which regulates the “Procedure for the development of the availability of human resources that provide medical and health services abroad.”

The measure reflects the need of the Cuban government to increase control over those collaborators (not physicians) who have already completed work abroad, in order to prevent them from repeating missions.

The reactions have not been long in coming from within Cuba.

“So from now on, before preparing each file for the personnel who will travel abroad to support the collaboration from non-medical specialties, we will be required to have a more rigorous control. The idea is to reduce the number of these types of workers, to prevent those who have already done so from traveling abroad again, and thus to cut off the relations they were able to establish during their earlier stay abroad,” said a source consulted by Martí Noticias.

During 2016, the Cuban economy received income from the ‘leasing’ of professional services abroad, mainly health, that totaled over $11.5 billion in US dollars, a figure that far exceeded the estimated income from tourism, which contributed $2.8 billion to the national economy.

“The medical mission is one of the fundamental programs of Cuban public health, it is part of our principles of solidarity, it greatly helps to sustain the country’s economy, it offers a bonus that benefits the volunteer and, above all, it is the basis for the training of better professionals,” added the interviewee. “But every defection or flight, represents a concern for the Cuban authorities because white-coat diplomacy is also an effective tool for political influence.”

Among the restricted data that have escaped into the public domain is the peculiarity that, before the document becomes a resolution, several collaborators of non-medical specialties have shown their dissatisfaction by raising complaints through letters addressed to José Ramón Machado Ventura, second secretary of the Communist Party and vice president of the Council of State and Ministers that serves the Health sector.

More than 50,000 Cuban collaborators currently serve in 67 countries, about 25,000 of whom are doctors.

The Magnified Danger to Castroism / Juan Juan Almeida

Raul Castro, President of Cuba

Juan Juan Almeida, 13 December 2017  — Time is an indelible and important imprint in any perspective. It is true that Cuba continues to be a country governed by a group incapable of coexisting with the opposition, beating down those who think differently, a criminal state that encourages the rupture of democracy and legality.

It is also a great truth that without Fidel Castro at the head of it, and with the bit-by-bit deaths of the historic leaders, the island loses its capacity to seduce, and today lacks the strength that allowed it to continue to be a force among certain sectors in Latin America.

The vacuum left by the largest of the Antilles is gradually being filled by the leaders of Russia and China respectively, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. Both maintain a fairly aggressive line of commercial diplomacy, based on the growing importation of raw materials, loan offers, and investment agreements in infrastructure, energy and telecommunications. What should concern the US with regards to Cuba is the issue of global security. continue reading

The Maduro regime can survive without Havana. Venezuela is the main destination for Chinese investments in Latin America and Russia’s second largest trading partner in the region.

We must understand that, even with the diffuse romantic vision we have of history, Russia today is not the Soviet Union of yesterday. Moscow annulled the “Antillean Titan” when it announced the construction of an international training center in Nicaragua to provide regional training in the fight against drugs. A reasonable decision given that the Central American country has more to offer than Havana. And that’s what the Nicaraguan Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Luis Molina, let be known in March 2016 when he assured the Montevideo forum that his country wants to offer land to the Russians. “Of the 4.9 million hectares [12+ million acres] available in the country, only one million is being worked, the rest is waiting for the Russians …”

Nor can we say that the today’s Beijing is Mao’s China. The Asian giant has become the world’s leading economic power taking into account its gross domestic product, as well as its geo-economic and geo-strategic  presence and influence in all corners of the planet. However, the Caribbean island does not seem a priority for the golden dragon. Chinese exports to Cuba plummeted in 2017, dropping nearly 30% compared to the same period last year.

The trade between China and Bolivia is remarkable considering the volume of the economy and the Bolivian market. Chinese investments in that nation exceed three billion dollars in mining activities, construction of infrastructure and roads. At the moment, China intends to participate in the megaproject that proposes to build a way to connect the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

Without looking away from an island where the rights and freedoms of all its citizens are constantly violated, we should accept that, today, the regional danger is not located in Cuba but in this Russian-Chinese alliance that is emerging as a new world power with an explicit policy — with its overarching geo-influence in our hemisphere — to de-dollarize the world, to extend the use of the encrypted currency. Keep an eye on that.

Maybe it’s a bit late but I want to recall an old saying that my grandmother often repeated when I was about to make a mistake: “The best way to prevent a problem is to stop it before it is one.”

Something That Can’t Be Fixed in Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 20 December 2017 — With a little money, housing can be arranged; with fiscal resolution and a legal framework that offers real confidence to the investor, the growth of the national economy is stimulated; with an effective campaign aimed at achieving social awareness, the problem of moral degradation is solved; and if our decadent politicians want to cede a portion of their political will, we will restore the civil liberties that we Cubans demand. What has no solution, at least not in the short term, is the very poor state of the national pension fund that is incapable of guaranteeing Cuban citizens a dignified old age.

In 2005, the Cuban government tried to confront the problem, or rather, tried to shake it up, when it began the so-called “updating of the socialist model” by cutting state jobs and dismissing officials who without a vocation, had no choice but to take refuge in a nascent private sector which offers no coverage in the pension system. continue reading

Thus we saw the transformation of doctors and soldiers who, taking up an abandoned line of work became farmers; and lawyers and engineers who left their professions to serve as taxi drivers or sellers of french fries.

It is true, by way of compensation, that the country’s management ordered an increase in the monthly payment to all retirees by enacting laws in this regard; but the continued devaluation of the Cuban peso reduced the real value of the amount of money received by a pensioner so that today, they receive more but it is worth less.

Without wanting to look for culprits but rather to draw attention to finding solutions, it is not difficult to understand that irresponsible policies caused our island to today have one of the oldest populations on the planet. The reasons are well known, emigration increased over time which, in parallel, decreased the birth rate and population growth.

For all elderly, retirement is a desire; except for the Cuban president who, according to the current Social Security law, exceeds his “expiration” limit by more than 20 years, the required number to retire and receive a pension.

But for the common citizen, it is shameful to know that the country exhausted the financial sustainability of the pension system, and that it stretched the fiscal deficit  so much that today there is not enough money to pay pensions throughout the years of retirement.

In the current circumstances, for the Cuban State to offer certain status to the working population near retirement, the government would have to increase the contribution paid by island workers and, at the same time, increase the retirement age to the ridiculous and extravagant age of 200 years.

To give you an idea, a strong and healthy young man, born in 1997 and with the rights of a resident on the island, would have to work more than his whole life to be able to collect a pension. Of course, the issue of the disabled is a whole other story, one which, for different reasons ,just gets worse and worse.

Cuban Government Shuts Down Businesses of Son of Former Minister of the Interior / Juan Juan Almeida

José Raúl Colomé

Juan Juan Almeida, 6 December 2017 — José Raúl Colomé, son of former Minister of the Interior Abelardo (Furry) Colomé Ibarra, and Osmani Cisneros, son of the late leader Ángel Cisneros, both with extensive experience in food service and successful as private businessmen, are involved in a criminal proceeding that seems to lack logic.

Several establishments owned by them have been closed by the authorities, and the very busy Starbien restaurant, located on Calle 29 # 205 between B and C, in Vedado, has already been confiscated and repurposed as a children’s shelter. continue reading

“Even though the court has not ruled against them, the two self-employed people were subject to a precautionary measure without any justification,” a specialist in labor law who works for the legal department of the National Tax Administration Organization (ONAT) informed Martí Noticias.

As part of the government’s war against self-employment, another restaurant run by Colomé and Cisneros, El Chachachá, located in Monserrate between Tejadillo and Chacón, just behind the Museum of the Revolution, was also closed.

According to the lawyer, the restaurant Starbien offered an exquisite service at affordable prices and managed to stay among the first choice of Cubans and and international tourists for merging service and culinary innovation.

In a short time it went from a quiet but fashionable restaurant to part of a private entrepreneurial group with entrepreneurial leadership. The group bought parts of other restaurants, offered workshops on the use of social networks, financed projects for new entrepreneurs, fostered social works in their environment and distanced itself from many by adopting an aggressive strategy, such as seizing opportunities to expand trade within and outside the island.

The Ministries of Finance and Prices and of Labor and Social Security, along with ONAT, regulate the obligations of Cuban entrepreneurs, but in none of their many ordinances is it clear what the rights are, and what defense or protection is available to the self-employed with aspirations to multiply businesses.

The curiosity that this case arouses is understandable, because it involves one of the children of the once powerful General Colomé Ibarra.

The versions shared in the street accuse Colomé and Cisneros of crimes such as money laundering, drug trafficking, influence and others, but the record of the case fails to show any act of corruption, or alteration of the rules established for the private sector, according to reports obtained by Martí Noticias.

“The process that the authorities try to follow against these two entrepreneurs does not have legal logic. It seems to be a settling of accounts ordered by someone who wants to and can make use of the law at will, and also institutions and the national legal-normative order,” said the source.

The new strategy of the government — according to the source — is to turn the rifle of the state sniper towards another sector of those engaged in private initiatives, such as that of non-agricultural construction and/or production cooperatives.

Marxism Professor is Cuba’s Social Networks Czar / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 19 October 2017 — A Marxism professor who is also an official of the Ideological Department of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) is responsible for implementing the Cuban government’s strategy for the use of social networks from the island.

Joaquín Suárez González , 52, a graduate of Marxism, Leninism and History at the  “Félix Varela” Pedagogical Institute in Santa Clara, and an official of the Ideological Department of the Central Committee of the PCC, is in charge of organizing the propaganda maneuvers through the social networks, and distributing among an army of netizens the tasks approved and supervised by the Council of State, the Council of Ministers, the National Defense Council, and the National Defense and Security Commission, Martí News has learned. continue reading

Engineers, programmers, designers, specialists in Support and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), make up this small elite group led by Suárez González, who, upon the conclusion of the elections and the installation of the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) in Venezuela, won the recognition of President Nicolás Maduro for working actively and without rest for more than 24 hours in the rapid dissemination of the campaign and the hashtags for use in different platforms.

Social networks are the most active and dynamic phenomenon in the world today, so the tactic that the Cuban government manages is not to impose the benefits of the communist system and its doctrine, but to reach as many users as possible, and try fascinate them by showing the most attractive and unique side of the so-called “revolution.”

To carry the message of the Cuban government through social networks, all the state administration agencies, ministries and the press are subordinated to this commando of technologists and ideologues.

The Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP), Intelligence and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX), are responsible for transmitting “when and how to act” to the different embassies, consulates, collaborators, and “Friends of Cuba” so that all of them, in unison, can activate profiles on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and support each entrusted mission, whether it be to ask for help for the destruction caused by a hurricane, to enhance the firmness of a people that provide solidarity to a needy nation, to discredit dissidents and/or influence, with the help of cyberspace, the opinion of thousands of young people everywhere in the world.

The most recent action took place during the “Networks Operation for the 149th anniversary of the Beginning of the War of Independence,” on October 10, when the remains of the hero Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and the outstanding patriot Mariana Grajales were buried in the Santa Ifigenia cemetery of Santiago de Cuba (where they joined the remains of José Martí and Fidel Castro).

According to Joaquín, on that occasion, the hashtags #VivaCubaLibre, #Cuba, #10deOctubre, #CubaEsNuestra and #SantiagodeCuba were the most significant.

Currently the cybernetic troop is training on the networks to launch incentive politics with the purpose of collecting opinions to design strategies and hashtags, and to “viralize” the last stage of the nomination process of candidates with a view to the elections for Cuba’s presidential turnover in 2018.