General Raul Castro’s Plastic Bag at the Papal Mass / Juan Juan Almeida

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

What Does Alejandro Castro Espin Do? / Juan Juan Almeida


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

A New Treaty Between Cuba and the U.S. for the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base / Juan Juan Almeida

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

Million-dollar Robbery at the Cienfuegos Refinery / Juan Juan Almeida

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

Raul Castro’s Grandson Expels a Spanish Businessman from Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

Raul Castro with his grandson, Raúl Guillermo Rodríguez Castro

Juan Juan Almeida, 18 August 2015 — Esteban Navarro Carvajal Hernández is a serious, respectable Spanish entrepreneur, who has done business in Cuba for twenty years. He has a trading firm, legally registered with the Chamber of Commerce, and a Cuban family. He lives on 30th Street, between 5th & 7th Avenues, in the Miramar neighborhood of Havana, next door to the Canadian Embassy.

As a good businessman, clever and calculating, he seized the moment and the new opportunities presented. Convinced also that the revolutionary government needs infusions of capital from private enterprises, he expanded his business beyond his commercial ties to several enterprises on the island, and associated separately with three Cuban citizens to create the following companies:

1. Up & Down, the bar-restaurant at the corner of 5th Street and Avenue B, Vedado, Havana, open daily from 3:00 pm to 3:00 am

2. Shangri-La, the tapas bar, party room, and nightclub located on 21st between 40th and 42nd, Playa, Havana

3. El Shangri Lá, in the province of Las Tunas.

And so, like foam, the gentleman entrepreneur grew. During that boom, without realizing he was walking down a dark and slippery path, he met the grandson of Gen. Raul Castro, Raúl Guillermo Rodríguez Castro, who became a nightly regular at Shangri-La. Continue reading

Alarming And Strange Increase In Illness Among Cuban Colleagues In Venezuela / Juan Juan Almeida

“Outbreaks of illness increase and official silence persists.” (YA!@Ya_Venezuela)

Juan Juan Almeida, 11 August 2015 — The suspicious increase in certain inopportune illnesses is now the most sensitive factor for the normal development of the Cuban medical mission in Venezuela.

During the present year, and especially in these last weeks, an alarming and strange increase has been reported in the number of Cubans who get sick while fulfilling their “internationalist” service.

Undisclosed official data reveal that up to week 28 of 2015, there have been 514 cases of Cubans affected by respiratory infections, mainly caused by outbreaks of H3N2 influenza, Rinovirus, Parainfluenza and Metapneumovirus. The states with the highest rate of those affected are the Distrito Capital, Barinas, Monagas, Falcón, Sucre, Nueva Esparta, Mérida, Trujillo, Vargas, Carabobo, Bolívar, Yaracuy, Amazonas, Cojedes and Lara. Continue reading

Cuba’s Illegal Manipulation / Regina Anavy

Cuban Institute of Radio and Television

Juan Juan Almeida, 13 August 2015 — The Cuban media today will even use illegal techniques (indoctrination through subliminal means) in order to manipulate the population and oblige it to associate Fidel’s birthday with the opening of the U.S. Embassy.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Cuban Doctors are Sent to Brazil Without a Stopover in Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 25 May 2015 — To ease the growing popular discontent, soften Petrobras’ recent and resounding scandal and regain credibility, President Dilma Rousseff, taking into account that “improving health” was the principal demand during the June 2013 demonstrations, wants to repeat history. She has asked the Cuban authorities to increase the number of physicians in order to help strengthen the “More Doctors” program and calm the majority who, as always, are the most needy.

According to official figures, up to April 2015, the health project “More Doctors” counted 18,247 professionals in more than 4,000 municipalities. And I celebrate this: healthcare should be the right of everyone without exclusion; it’s a pity that commercialization puts at risk the lives of those who can’t pay for lack of resources. It’s difficult not to consider the Brazilian request, which, although clearly without half-measures, conveys a clear Party intent, requiring the Cuban Government to send only experienced doctors. But the Cuban rulers, using and abusing an effective disloyalty, without consulting the Bolivians, respond without delay to the chords of this samba, even affecting the long-term commitments they have with the Venezuelan health programs. Continue reading

Cuba’s Automotive Heritage Has Been Virtually Plundered / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 11 May 2015 — With the relaxation of relations between the United States and Cuba, speculation has been unleashed and is causing mischief. Some experts guarantee that several U.S. companies are ready to buy the famous “almendrones”* on the island. It could be the arrangement is real; there is always some nostalgic person whose passion, need or disinformation makes him confuse reality with desire or imagination.

Absolutely out of focus, Cuba’s automotive heritage has been virtually plundered. Most of what remains – Cadillacs, Chevys, Studebakers, Pontiacs, Thunderbirds and Buicks – which still circulate on the island, had their engines replaced to be used as collective taxis (“boteros”), and upon losing originality, they also lost their exceptionalism. Continue reading

Exploring the Role of Alejandro Castro in Cuba’s Future / Juan Juan Almeida

Alejandro Castro Espin, son of Raul Castro, in Panama

Juan Juan Almeida, 22 June 2015 — The prestigious agency Reuters is exploring the role that Alejandro Castro Espin could have as his father’s successor, drawing on three sources: a former CIA official who supports his views with experience studying a still-unknown family—their fears, habits, tastes, preferences, mores, and even the personality of each of its members; a former Cuban ambassador now living in Brussels in fear because one day he decided to provide refuge in the diplomatic residence to two of his grandchildren and a daughter married to a former Russian citizen who fled the armed conflict in Chechnya; and a Canadian historian who wrote a book about Raul Castro the strategist.

It is absurd to assume that Alejandro, just because he is Raul’s son and is a colonel, has the support of the military high command. It is like believing that Nicolae Ceausescu could have ruled indefinitely in Romania and then have been civilly succeeded by his beloved son Nicu. Continue reading

Art Is A Bridge That Unites Miami And Havana / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 1 June 2015 —  In 1984, at the suggestion of Armando Hart and Marcia Leiseca, Lilian Llanes, then the director of the Wilfredo Lam Center, the Biennial of Havana was created, and since then, the dialogue of the Revolution with Cuban culture has seen itself obligated to change, passing from an intense tone to a prudent one, and it’s truly regretful that our opposition hasn’t ever managed to capture the attention of this brotherhood.

The Government knows that no respectable social movement exists without artists in the vanguard, and it also knows that the Biennial is the place where artists get together to promote art.

What’s interesting is that this cultural rendezvous, the Twelfth Biennial, in addition to converting Havana into a world center for contemporary visual arts, and invading Havana with an artillery of paintings, regiments of video art, battalions of sculptures, squadrons of installations and platoons of performance art, is creating a new manner of communication and collaboration among artists residing on the Island and in Miami. Continue reading

Access to International Banks: Cuba’s True Objective in These Negotiations / Juan Juan Almeida

Josefina Vidal, Cuban negotiator

Josefina Vidal, Cuban negotiator

Juan Juan Almeida, 25 May 2015– For many, it was a surprise that the United States and Cuba should conclude its new round of negotiations without achieving the expected agreement, the reopening of new embassies–more so when both delegations described the recently concluded meeting as “respectful, professional, and highly productive.”

Thus does the Island’s government operate; it maneuvers with painstaking craftiness any process that entails sociopolitical transcendence for the country.

I hope (although at times I doubt it) that the US State Department and US authorities involved in these proceedings clearly understand that not Josefina Vidal–member of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party and director for the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Relations director for relations with the United States–nor José Ramón Cabañas, chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, nor any other member of the Cuban delegation, have decision-making authority. They are simply employees who have been given precise instructions: explore the actions and reactions of their counterparts, buy time, maximize media coverage (which they easily do because all media around the world are covering the big story), and show toughness. Continue reading

The Congress on Soil, where soil is not cultivated / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 3 June 2015 — The 2015 Congress on Soil begins today, June 3, in the Convention Palace in the capital. Experts from more than 20 countries will discuss the sustainable management of this vital resource for food security. But if more than 40 percent of the arable surface in Cuba remains idle, what can Cuba contribute to this meeting?

Translated by Regina Anavy

Who do you do business with in Cuba, the military or civilians? / Juan Juan Almeida

Raul Castro at the National Asssembly in Havana

Juan Juan Almeida,8 June 2015 — In an admirable surge of ratification in the most pure tradition of sovereignty, out of an infinite commitment of respect for human rights and in support of the Cuban people, this past June 3, on the birthday of Raúl Castro, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the prohibition of exports to the Cuban military.

I assume, without the least reluctance, that the General took it as an excellent gift. That measure won’t affect the ruling class at all; it will only shatter, even more, the agonizing economy of Cubans who don’t have sufficient resources to reach the end of the month. As my grandmother said, “What’s just is not only what suits the ones who dictate the sentence.”

Relying on memories etched by force and in the authority granted to me by the experience of having lived in the monster and knowing it, I can guarantee that in terms of effectiveness, this recently approved statute will not even begin to make a dent in the pentagram of Cuban authority.

To stop exporting American products to institutions directed by the Cuban military implies not selling anything to Cuba. And if the idea is to stop exporting in order to augment the discontent and provoke a hoped-for social conflict, we are more out of place than a piraña on the high seas.

The CIA, congressmen, think-tanks, analysts, scholars and advisors should come back to earth and understand for once that the civil-military parallelism with its commercial and banking tentacles in several places in the world, which for years sided with Fidel and Raúl, has ceased to exist.

Since 2009, when the GAE (Business Administration Group, S.A.) appropriated CIMEX (Cuba Import-Export, S.A.), they made Colonel Héctor Oroza Busutil president and arranged that the Center of Purchasing and National Imports would remain under the orders of Tecnoimport (which is not a fake business – its central offices are in the Marina Building, Ave. del Puerto, No. 102, between Justiz and Obrapía, Old Havana).

It seized, among other things, the last civilian redoubt divesting itself of the Panamerican Shops, the Servi-Cupet (service centers), the El Rápido cafeterias, the Video centers and the photo shops, Photoservice, the Commercal Centers, the shipping company, Zelcom (which includes the free zone, the industrial parks and the storage services in bond), the International Group of Tour Operators and the tour company Havanatur, the services of Rent a Car and taxis, Black Coral (jewelry), Contex (design and production of uniforms and fashion collections), Coinage of Money, the Customs agency, Images (publicity and production of videos), Ecuse (repair and maintenance of automotive equipment and construction of property), the Estate Agent, the Center of Credit Cards and financial services, the BFI (International Finance Bank), Cubapacks (messaging, parcels and catalog sales), Abdala (recording studios, record labels and music editing) and the division that manages all the trademarks and patents.

The same thing happened in Habaguanex, in the system of self-employment and in all the ministries and institutions, be they governmental or not. In all of them there are colonels and generals dressed like CEOs with clothing from Anderson & Sheppard.

You only have to look to see that the social, economic, financial, business and institutional structure today is under the control of the military and/or the families of the legendary leaders of the Cuban Revolution, who paradoxically fake their ideological positions but in reality are more committed to their generation and their own desires than to their loyalty to Raúl.

Without a doubt, with this measure they will entrench themselves, and it will help them reorganize the rank and file that is already divided and with serious internal conflicts. I am sure that other ways exist, including better ways of making this ruling class implode, from the inside, without having to affect the Cuban people.

Translated by Regina Anavy