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. Continue reading
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? Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Juan 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. Continue reading
Juan Juan Almeida, 24 September 2015 — Cuba is trying to silence a national “explosion” of great intensity, which implicates officers of the Interior Ministry (MININT), the Ministry of the Armed Forces (MINFAR), the Cultural Goods Fund (a Cultural center promoting and selling art and handicrafts), the National Bank of Cuba, foreign businessmen and artisanal shoemakers in the Camajuaní municipality of Villa Clara.
According to sources inside the National Prosecutor’s office, one of those implicated was surprised overseas by the news, and in order to evade justice, prefers not to return.
Fraud, falsification, bribery, extortion, contraband, abuse of authority, illicit enrichment, tariff violation, tax evasion of the National Tax Administration and influence peddling are among the presumed crimes for more than 50 people in different training centers. Continue reading
Juan Juan Almeida, 31 August 2015 — For the Cuban Government, the level of job insecurity, the index of diseases (above all those provoked by the deterioration in the control of hygiene, epidemiology and health) is politically sensitive information that must be hidden or, at the very least, disguised.
For that reason, and because of the epidemiological situation that exists today on the island, all the institutions and organisms of the central administration of the State, the Party and the Government worked tirelessly to ensure that the visit of the Supreme Pontiff would be a success, and this included camouflaging that which couldn’t be exposed. Continue reading
Juan Juan Almeida, 12 October 2015 — Alejandro Castro’s role in the secret talks between Cuba and the United States was akin to that of Arnaldo Tamayo on the Soyuz 38 mission.
No crisis comes with prior warning. Just as the term “opposition leader” is used to describe people who are neither leaders nor have ever been in opposition, the government mythologizes events to find a place for slackers in the national consciousness. Following this useful tradition of political dishonesty, it seems the time has come to create a reformist profile for the most obtuse of the island’s traditionalists: Alejandro Castro Espin. Continue reading
Juan Juan Almeida, 7 September 2015 — The reduction in products imported from the United States could be explained as an unspoken attempt by the Cuban government to manipulate an important American commercial sector with the goal of derailing the embargo.
A government strategy? According to statistics published by the US-Cuban Economic and Commercial Council, commercial activity by state import conglomerate, ALIMPORT, has decreased. From 2009 until today, the Cuban government has significantly reduced its purchase of food, drugs and medical equipment from its neighbor to the north, which reached a high of 710,000 million dollars in 2008. Continue reading
Juan Juan Almeida, 5 October 2015 — Why deceive US businessmen by assuring them they can come to Havana and, just like that, set up shop in Cuba?
The Cuban government is cautious and equates the word freedom with a certain brashness. For a foreign business to establish itself and do business in Cuba, it must fulfill requirements so complicated that most businessmen ultimately tire of the process or end up feeling cheated.
Any country that formally announces it is open to foreign investment knows it must face the challenge of improving its quality of education and legal infrastructure.
In contrast to what the revolutionary government proclaims, bureaucracy, corruption, poor teacher training, disorganization and certain practices such as fraud have become the norm and are reasons for the decline of the educational system. Continue reading
Raul Castro at the United Nations
Juan Juan Almeida, 28 September 2015 — Cynical, bitter and misanthropic, Raul is also a man who knows all too well how to sell himself.
The Cuban nation inhales the scent of a dangerous power vacuum and exhales a weird tension. More or less everyone on the island senses it: those on the top and those on the bottom. Some want it to happen sooner; some hope things stay as they are. Cuba, the state that until recently was the most authoritarian in the region, has begun emitting a disturbing sound, the result of a curious melding of dissident voices which had previously been silenced or sidelined. It represents the disenchantment of a country which now knows that its “brighter future” is not on the government’s agenda, that top leadership positions give birth to and nurture a desire for power within the rank and file, that an overwhelmingly elderly population — stifled by fear and apathy — is hampering productivity, that a constantly evasive youth — exhausted by lies and pressure — poses questions that have no answers. It was under these circumstances that Raul Castro arrived in New York. Continue reading
Juan Juan Almeida,14 September 2015 — Homecomings are a big business.
The same problems can often be seen in different cities, states and regions, but comparable solutions to those problems often yield very different results.
Convincing certain people to travel or return to Cuba — whether it be for family, vacation, work or out of sexual desire — is yet another obvious strategy by the government of Raul Castro. It amounts to a kind of de-marketing campaign intended, among other things, to capture people’s attention and enhance its image by using us to its advantage while downplaying the significance of exile. Continue reading
At the bottom right of the photo the general-president’s plastic bag can be seen.
Juan Juan Almeida, 22 September 015 — When, before a crowd gathered in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana, Pope Francis celebrated the first of three Masses on his visit to Cuba, in the first row was the elegant Lorena Castillo de Varela, first lady of Panama, and next to her General Raul Castro, and on his other side the president of Argentina Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. And, in the row behind, between the legs of the famous bodyguard and grandson Raul Guillermo Rodriguez Castro, almost hidden in a corner, the inseparable representation of Cuban culture, la jaba — the plastic bag.
Perhaps no foreigner noticed this detail. Reasonable, for the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language defines la jaba as: a dark stain on the lumbar region with which some children are born; a box specially made for carrying bottles, china or other fragile objects; a kind of basket made of woven reeds or palm leaves; and/or a bag of cloth, plastic, etc. to be carried in the hand. Of course, the scholars cannot imagine that the word jaba, in Cuban, has a special dimension, almost solemn, representing much more than any of its forms. Continue reading
Juan Juan Almeida, 30 September 2015 — Alejandro Castro Espín’s intrusion into Cuba’s political scene has led to a whirlwind of Homeric fantasies in which his biography emerges as a genuine epic poem. This is quite normal; it is how myths are created. But be careful. To either demonize or idealize someone is to make the same mistake: It mythologizes a figure who will later end up embarrassing us.
Alejandro is not, nor will he be, the person who succeeds his father. There is a popular joke that goes like this: Eight out of ten Cubans complain about the government; the two who do not are Raul Castro’s grandson-bodyguard, Raul Guillermo, and his son-advisor, Alejandro.
Popular wisdom. Vilma and Raul’s son was born on July 29, 1965. I do not want to rehash the past — there has already been a ton written on the subject — but it is worth recalling that he began his university education at IPSJAE (José Antonio Echevarría Polytechnic University), only to abandon his studies in refrigeration engineering barely two years later to focus on a less demanding and more promising military career. Perhaps this earned more gold seals for his resume than the appellation on a bottle of cheap wine. Continue reading
Juan Juan Almeida, 3 August 2015 — In redundant speeches, more rhetorical than combative, the Cuban Government has requested — among other things — the return of the territory where the Guantánamo Naval Base is located.
But given present circumstances, since Washington and Havana have decided to stop being best enemies to become respectful neighbors, it’s worth asking if the U.S., by delivering that territory, would lose control of the zone and its regional influence.
History tells us the Naval Base was established in 1898, when the military occupation of the U.S. on the Island took place, after defeating Spain in what many of us know as the Hispano-Cuban-American War. Continue reading
Juan Juan Almeida, 24 August 2015 — More than 500 barrels of fuel disappear daily from the terminals or storage tanks of the Camilo Cienfuegos refinery, located in the province of Cienfuegos on the south-central part of the island.
The theft, in addition to being really ingenious, has an organization that shows even seasonal patterns, revealing that there are fewer robberies in summer than in winter.
The Cienfuegos industrial enclave, after being shut down in 1995 and later materializing in the ALBA accords, with a remodeling and modernization project that cost over $83 million, reopened its doors in October 2007, as part of a large, mixed binational business between Cuba and Venezuela. However, with a processing capacity of over 8,000 barrels a day, the thefts are crippling and, let’s say it, frightening. Continue reading