Recollections of Police Extortion: A “Rebar” / Frank Correa

Police on patrol in Havana. Photo from Internet

Cuban police on patrol in Havana. Photo from Internet

HAVANA, Cuba – I recently participated in a course on Criminal Procedure taught by Dr. Wilfredo Vallin, an independent lawyer, to members of civil society. We learned what the law requires and how police are supposed to act when making stops, searches, seizures, or arrests.

Each one of us there related some personal experience of police misconduct. Dr. Vallin explained to us in each case what kind of violation of the law had been committed by the officers. We finally reached the conclusion that ignorance of citizens’ rights is the primary cause that encourages these infractions.

We learned that to carry out the search of a home, a warrant signed by a prosecutor and two witnesses is needed. The search warrant must describe the “specific object” being sought: they cannot seize any property other than that “specific object.” In addition, everything seized must appear on a list, and a copy must be delivered to the person affected. The confiscations must be presented in court, and if invalidated must be returned.

We had a slew of examples of violations of this law. As with the other one, Dr. Vallin explained: on the street, only a uniformed police officer can stop you, never a plainclothes officer. And to perform a search a police officer must present a warrant, or else take you to a police station and search you there. This is a law that is violated in Cuba every day; just ask the hundreds of street vendors who are stopped, searched, and deprived of their property in full public view.

We also learned that you cannot be detained in a police station for more than twenty-four hours without an arrest warrant. After that time an investigator must be assigned to you, who has three days to present the prosecutor with a report of the completed investigation. The prosecutor has three more days to issue a decision—of a fine, detention, or immediate release. Many of those attending the course complained of spending days in a jail cell without any compliance with this law.

I remembered the meetings of the Agenda for Transition, in Jaimanita. And how they detained me when I left my house in the morning so I could not cover the news! They locked me in a cell in the 5th precinct station, popularly known as “The Warehouse,” along with other dissidents also prevented from attending the meeting. Without a word of explanation, they left us among dozens of common prisoners until late afternoon. Then the “file folder” (receptionist) called us one by one, gave us our identity cards and let us go.

I also remembered the time I was on a corner in Old Havana, talking with my friends “El Mapa” and “Pulu,” when I saw boy dressed in a school uniform coming down the sidewalk, followed by a row of detainees. In his hand he was carrying a bundle of identity documents and asked us for ours and told us to get in the line.

I was stunned, watching how the men meekly followed single file toward the police station in  Dragones, but when I started to protest, “El Mapa” told me:

“Don’t even open your mouth! He’s a policeman disguised as a student . . . and he’s vicious! Now they’re going to lock us up and search us . . . then they’ll let us go for a ’rebar.’”

Without understanding anything I followed the line to a vast courtyard inside the station. A captain ordered us to stand facing the wall and empty our pockets. We complied. They didn’t find any drugs, or weapons, or anything that would incriminate the men against the wall, who didn’t let out a peep.

Then he left, and we sat on the stones in the yard or on the floor, helpless, without an arrest warrant, without having committed any crime, and not knowing how to assert our rights . . . or to whom.

After a while I saw that the men began to leave, one by one. Before leaving, “Pulu” passed me the sign: the passage to the street cost a “rebar” (1 cuc, national currency equivalent to one dollar). This was well-known in the neighborhood about their police, but I, who believe that bribery is one of our worst crimes, was not going to contribute to it.

I remained alone in the yard, with three other poor devils who had no “rebar.” Our passport to freedom that afternoon was to carry a heavy iron tank between the four of us and load it on a wooden cart in the kitchen.

Afterward they handed us back our documents. Without even thanking us for loading the tank on the cart.

Cubanet, April 4, 2014

Translated by Tomás A.

How to Survive a Collapse? / Frank Correa

Rescuers extract the body of Isabel Maria Fernandez, age 50, victim of a collapse that occurred in Vibora, Havana, in September of 2013. Photo: www.cubadebate.cu

There is nothing written, except to be touched by luck.  “Suicides” that inhabit collapsed buildings talk about the time bomb.

HAVANA, Cuba.  An anonymous survivor of a collapse (he did not want his identity leaked), in a shelter with his family in a place in Playa township, told me the story of when part of the building where he used to live went down.

He occupied an apartment on the second floor of a four-story building.  It was night.  By luck, his wife was in the polyclinic with their son who had asthma, and another child was in the Latin-American Stadium, watching the game between the Industrials and Santiago with two neighbors, who were also saved.

He says that he was alone, seated in an armchair in the living room, watching the news, when suddenly the television and half the living room disappeared from his view with a roar, and he saw the two upper floors falling.

He will never forget the bulging eyes of his neighbor Leovigilda, washing the dishes in the kitchen, when she passed downward and asked him with signs what was happening. Then he saw the last floor pass by, crumbled, and some woman’s legs on a bed, and a cat that was jumping through the rubble. Later the roof passed in a jumble.

When he recovered from the shock, in the middle of a cloud of dust, he peeked out and observed a mountain of rubble. His armchair had remained at the edge of the abyss and he didn’t move from there until the rescue brigade arrived.

“We inhabitants of those buildings are suicides,” he says.  “They need to build many Alamar neighborhoods*, and get everyone out of those time bombs, which with each minute it brings death closer.”

Where do the “creatures” that make the night live?

The housing infrastructure of Old Havana, Central Havana, Cerro and 10th of October townships can be classified as “deplorable” because of the age of their buildings, lack of maintenance and violation of building standards on the part of their inhabitants who, for lack of dwellings, subdivide the spaces without order or control in order to accommodate new tenants.

In a building on Animas and Virtudes streets, which at the beginning was designed for 10 families, 45 are living there today. And in one on Marcaderes and Aramburen the stairway collapsed completely. The order by the Housing Authority to abandon the building was given, but the residents placed temporary steps and go up and down constantly putting their lives at risk.

On Cuba and Amargura streets there is a site that resembles a beehive.  No one can calculate exactly how many people it shelters. By day a certain number is counted, above all children who leave for school and old people running errands, but at nightfall a legion of characters comes out to make a living: transvestites, homosexuals, pimps, prostitutes, and criminals.

Given the extremely poor physical condition and lack of sense of belonging of their tenants, these old buildings ruined by time and governmental incompetence are a breeding ground for collapses which jeopardize the lives of the inhabitants.

*Translator’s note: Alamar is a “model community” built in east Havana in the early years of the Revolution. A video is here.

Cubanet, 6 March 2014 |

Translated by mlk

Colome Ibarra’s Son “Visits” a Freelance Journalist / Frank Correa

Restaurant belonging to the son of Cuba's Interior Minister

Restaurant belonging to the son of Cuba’s Interior Minister. Photo by author.

HAVANA, Cuba , January 14, 2014, Frank Correa / www.cubanet.org.- On Monday afternoon freelance journalist Leon Padron Azcuy was visited at his home, 860 25th Street, between A and B streets in Vedado, by José Raúl Colome, son of Army Corps General Abelardo Colomé Ibarra, Minister of the Interior, on the occasion of an article published in Cubanet on this family’s properties and its ownership of the Starbien restaurant on 19th Street.

According to what José Raúl Colomé told the journalist, the General is very upset with what is reflected in the article and promised to handle the matter personally .

Colomé’s son protested to Padrón Azcuy because, he said, this information had damaged him, to which the reporter replied, on the contrary, now the audience’s desire to taste the delicious dishes had been increased by the promotion.

Although he suspected State Security would visit him at any moment, given the news, the reporter never thought he would be visited in his home by the protagonist of the article.

Frank Correa, Cubanet, 14 January 2014

The Eye of Cubanet / Frank Correa

Venus Bustamente and her family

Venus Bustamente and her family

HAVANA, Cuba , January www.cubanet.org – In 2013, I had two clear references to the attention is paying to the allegations of some independent journalists, divulged in the fee media, especially the digital.

The first occurred in October, about the case published in Cubanet about a young single mother named Venus, who lives with her four children, her father and her brother, in total overcrowding and misery, in a small room on 232 Street, in Jaimanitas.

Venus’s father and brother are occupationally disabled — mentally ill — and she has claimed support for her two daughters from a nephew-grandson of the diseased president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, a young man who while studying at the Latin American School of Medicine, had a six-year relationships with Venus.

As of today, she has not received a response from the Venezuelan Embassy; in exchange, on three occasions officials of the Cuban government have visited the address that appears in the article and were able to see the misery, the lack of protection and lack of hygiene in which this family lives. Continue reading

Angola Volunteer Scammed / Frank Correa

22aem_cuba_angola_feria_libro-300x250HAVANA, Cuba, October, www.cubanet.org – Recently returned from the Republic of Angola where she served as a volunteer, an official still can’t hide her astonishment while telling her story. I’ll call her Mireya because she asked me not to reveal her real name.

She is fifty years old. Thirty-two years ago she gave herself to the Socialist Revolution. She really internalized the “New Man” advocated by Che; at twenty-three she held dual membership in the Communist Youth and the Party. She was serious, deep, devoted to her work and above all to the Party.

She transferred from a job as a quality inspector at the municipal flour company in Guantanamo, to the National Bread Administration in Havana. During the inspections, the administrators and inspectors feared her. Over the years she had learned how to find when a problem was being hidden and always uncovered violations and crimes in fulfilling the technology directives.

The drivers also feared her, they said she “looked like a general.” And even the Board of Directors respected her. Besides being an excellent professional, she was the secretary of her Party cell.

She was selected to advise the Angolan Food Ministry with regards to bread, as reflected in an agreement signed by both countries in 2002. Mireya was tasked with implementing Cuban technology directives in the far off African country. For three years, she organized the work of seven Angolan provinces and the capital, Luanda.

She was under a contract with the Cuban firm ANTEX, SA, with an employer who was paid six thousand a month for her work, but she was entitled to only six hundred, of which she never got more than one-hundred-sixty. And at the bottom of the contract it said the other part was for “Cuba sí” (for the victims of hurricane Sandy), and forty for food. During her mission her two granddaughters were born and she was crazy to see them, and in order to save money and be able to take it to Cuba, she skipped the evening meal.

But when Mireya arrived at José Marti airport, she says she met with a capitalism worse than Angola’s. The Customs officials demanded that if she wanted to bring in her household goods she had to pay as if she’d bought them there, a huge amount of money they left her stunned. She argued that she’d already paid for them to ANTEX, but the Customs officials responded that this was another payment, a different one. And Mireya, crazy to get home and meet her granddaughters, paid very grumpily.

And at home, with her granddaughters in her arms, she said the shock didn’t end. She learned she had lost her job, the law stipulated she could only be gone two years and a day and she had to start from scratch.

And when she went with the letter to buy the car, they told her there was a delay with the older volunteers, of two years. And she had to deposit the money in the bank and wait her turn. And she couldn’t touch it because she would lose the “right to a car.”

Now Mireya, with no job, no money and no car, authorized me to write her story. Everyone knows that three years in Angola isn’t easy.

Frank Correa

From Cubanet, 16 October 2013

Inventory Adjustment / Frank Correa

HAVANA, Cuba , August, www.cubanet.org – Among the best thought-up institutional ways of stealing was, for a long time, the “Inventory Adjustment,” a concept introduced in commercial enterprises, which allowed them to absorb a kind of black hole of countless “oddities,” which were not being analyzed and much less being called by their name: Theft.

Inventory Adjustment was a standing item on the agenda of the Board of Directors. Masking multiple benefits through misappropriation, that no one dared to denounce, for fear of being frowned upon by the other leaders of the company.

At the end of the month, all the warehouses undertake a count of their products, but there was always a disconnect between the records of the department of Economics and what really existed. This is called “Inventory Difference,” a concept where losses occur due to deterioration, breakage, confiscation… in numbers that reached tens of thousands of pesos, which added up between all the companies in one province could amount to millions, and which grew each year, to an uncontrollable point.

The difference in inventory was a complex economic event where several factors converged. From broken roofs which let the rain in which in turn spoiled many products, with the reports doubling or tripling (and with the “losses” later sold on the black market), to unpunished “credit notes,” where the sole signature of the Head Manager justified spending money from a bill in the cash register directly to the pocket.

In the wholesale companies one anecdote became proverbial, which occurred in warehouse 637 in Guantanamo, when surprise inspection found a half ton of rice accounted for as “sweepings,”  that is not fit for consumption, having been spilled during the downloading. With irony, inspectors congratulated the warehouse workers, “for having collected the spilled rice to pack it back into the bags, and then seal them, as if they had just left the producer in Brazil.”

The ultimate of these company directors, deputy directors, accountants and financial managers, was to institute an internal call for “Inventory Adjustment,” which , at the end of the month, magically erased 14% of the difference issued in inventory. That is, of every hundred thousand pesos, twenty-eight thousand are automatically subtracted first day of each month.

Very few of these authors of authorized embezzlement ever paid for their crimes. Today almost all are retired, or dead. Those who survive look askance at the new Comptroller, and — although they know that corruption is alive and kicking –  the take as their greatest enemy the new discourse that calls for a fight against it. They dream of the happy times when no one talked about the issue, when everything was easy and everything was resolved with “Inventory Adjustments.”

About the author

Frank Correa, born in Guantanamo in 1963. Storyteller, poet and freelance journalist. He has won prizes in the Regino E. Boti, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Savignon contests, all in 1991 . He has published a book of stories, La elección.  beilycorrea@yahoo.es

30 August 2013