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.

Cubans Eat the Most Expensive Eggs in the World / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida — The lack of planning on the part of the Ministry of Agriculture has been the main trigger for the fact that hundreds of poultry farms have generated a crisis now experienced by Cubans as the absence of eggs, along with the high cost of such an important food when it can be found.

Low egg production, allegedly caused by severely stressed hens after the passage of Hurricane Irma, has forced the black market importing of this essential food from the beach resort of Cancun, in Mexico. The whole thing seems like a plot invented by some filmmaker for a science fiction movie, but no, it’s real news, coming from the island.

Cuban TV national and provincial news programs are showing repeated images where some producers in the national assembly debate the steps necessary to rescue the production of eggs, and attribute the scarcity of the product to the indisposition of the birds, in addition to the destruction of more than 615 poultry houses by Hurricane Irma. continue reading

But the main trigger continues to be the lack of planning by Cuba’s Ministry of Agriculture, such that hundreds of poultry farms have generated the crisis that Cubans suffer today for the lack of this food source that is such a staple for ordinary Cubans.

A note published on October 1 in the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth, the official voice of the Cuban Communist youth) announced that as an emergency measure to meet the needs of the people, the government will sell “more than one million eggs, five per consumer, at a price of 1.10 pesos each.”

I do not know the psychology of birds; but it is crazy that within the Cuban fauna, the hens belonging to the State are the only ones stressed out. The private farmers are, according to all reports, “raking it in,” selling eggs from small producers at 4 pesos each.

The origin of this crisis, which is not the first and I suspect will not be the last, is not found in avian tension, anguish or depression, but in other elements that affect the production of the most popular of all the foods that make up the essential diet and the basic Cuban food basket.

The hurricane is not the culprit. The poultry industry in Cuba has had a continuous and acceptable development, has good breeding stock, mainly in layers, and has achieved a production per bird of 280 eggs per year, with a weight of 3.2 pounds per ten eggs produced. However, by not respecting the living space requirements of these animals, plus the low availability and quality of water, causing a high incidence of prolapse, along with the lack of adequate food, has caused the layers to acquire the vice of picking at each other’s feathers, and harassing their companions, especially when they are in their nests. All this has a very negative effect on egg production.

The egg crisis on the island has no quick solution, and it also affects self-employed workers in restaurants that survive between the desire to hide, the need to trade and the frenzy of the market.

“We have a partner who supplies us with flan, custard, pudding, cakes and other desserts that we offer in the restaurant; but they aren’t selling because if the police grab them in the street with any product that contains eggs in the recipe, they charge them with receiving stolen goods,” explains the owner of a small paladar (private restaurant).

But that small group of restaurant owners who, cautiously and shrewdly, have managed to scale the ladder and break, in plain sight, although invisibly, the egalitarian aesthetic imposed by the Revolution, managed to find harmony in the contradiction and devised the solution (quite expensive, by the way). They travel as a group and import, without formal permits, cartons of egg that accompany them as luggage from Cancun to Havana. No doubt, André Breton (author of the Manifesto of Surrealism), lacked imagination.

Where the Influential Are Above the Law / Juan Juan Almeida

Ariel Pestano Jr. crouching in catching position. His father played on the Cuban National team and won silver and gold medals in the Olympics. (Foto: Mayli Estévez Pérez)

Juan Juan Almeida, 25 October 2017 — Pressured by the influential and under the protection of a superior command, a Cuban court imposed a prison sentence on a young self-employed worker who, acting in legitimate self-defense, caused minor injuries to the son of a well-known Cuban sports figure, Ariel Osvaldo Pestano.

On July 1, Renny Ferrer Suárez, 31 years old, with no political or criminal background, the son of a math teacher, freely turned himself in to the authorities in the town of Caibarién [a coastal municipality in the center of the island] , after having had an altercation with Ariel Pestano Jr. and a friend, who assaulted him. The reaction of Ferrer Suárez caused slight injuries to the son of the Cuban baseball star. continue reading

“No one arrested him, he showed up at the local police station and after taking statements, they released him; but the [former] star receiver of the Cuban team and deputy to the National Assembly of People’s Power (the Cuban Parliament) [father of the injured], used his influence beyond the borders of this small town. He spoke with Raúl Castro’s grandson in Havana and, without anyone expecting it, a counter-order appeared that ended up imprisoning Ferrer for 49 days until the day of the trial,” explains Leonardo Rodríguez, resident of the town of Camajuaní.

During the time that Ferrer Suárez was detained, his family was harassed, threatened and even stoned.

Ferrer says that the people who harass him are taking advantage of the prestige that Ariel Pestano has in the area. Several members of the police, lawyers who know the case and even Lieutenant Colonel Soto, a delegate of the Ministy of the Interior in Caibarién, know that they have been vicious toward Renny, but they cannot act against the power of Pestano and his powerful friend from Havana.

“Maria del Carmen, Renny’s mother, is terrified. She is a person who maintains an irreproachable behavior and, as a worker, there are no complaints about her. She is a selfless teacher who stayed to fight against all odds, facing difficult periods like the mass exodus of workers in the education sector. This is a small town, everyone knows each other and we all know that Renny is a quiet boy who worked as a self-employed person in the shoemakers’ guild. But the Pestano family are boasters who function as modern chieftains. Here in Camajuaní, as in any other small town, being a player on the national team is more important than being mayor,” the source adds.

The trial for Case 42/17 was held on September 6 in the municipal court of San Juan de los Remedios, in the province of Villa Clara. The Pestano family attended; but the boy who was next to the alleged assailant when the altercation took place did not appear at the hearing. Instead, the prosecution put a pair of false witnesses on the stand who were dismissed because the judge could not hide that they did not know the defendant and that the testimony they gave was riddled with inconsistencies. However, Renny Ferrer Sánchez was sentenced to serve one year in prison, with the additional sanction of being restricted from visiting the beach of Caibarién for three years.

“They denied my appeal, I filed a complaint for harassment, but they did not take it into account. I am ready to serve a year in prison, but I am also willing to denounce what happened. Not only for justice, but also so that no one else has to suffer what is happening to me,” Renny Ferrer concluded in a telephone conversation.

Cuba Converts Cultural Venue to State Business / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 16 November 2017 — The Cuban authorities decided to close a private cultural venue that revolutionized the Matanzas nights, place its employees in front of a court, and then reopen the place as a state disco.

Located on General Betancourt Road, in the residential area of Peñas Altas in Matanzad, and under the slogan “A universe to be discovered,” the modern Galaxy club became the most famous private audiovisual iniciative for young people with fat wallets.

Customers had to book in advance if they wanted to enjoy the shows or theme nights, among which were parties with different themes: beach, Brazilian, Hawaiian, gym, fitness shows, or the attractive “semaphore parties” (where those who dress in green are single, yellow means looking for a couple, and red signals committed). The club was attended by more youth from the capital than from the city of Matanzas itself. continue reading

Things go well in Cuba, until one day they go badly. Galaxia was a busy club until it ceased to be a successful ship and became the Titanic. The raids and arrests were carried out in mid-August, but in early November, local authorities decided to reopen the site using the same equipment and furniture as before. They just changed the name; now it’s called La Bella Atenas.

“For the municipal council, the club had a culture of drug consumption and pimping practices that neither the police nor any of its employees were able to control; but as the space left by the Galaxia club was an essential part of the local income and the cultural landscape that the province devotes to the recreation of youth, it was decided to reopen, change the name to clean up the image and make it work as part of the state company that operates nightclubs and luxury restaurants,” says a municipal party official who prefers the prudence of anonymity, saying that there is a fine line between telling the truth and forced silence.

“The officers of the Anti-Corruption Unit of the DTI (Technical Research Department — i.e. State Security) said they found elements indicating that drugs were trafficked there, foreign capital was laundered, and paid sexual acts were directed, controlled and performed to the benefit of the managers,” said sources close to the case who can not explain why the owners of the place and most of the employees, without even being military, were all put before the Western Military Court of Matanzas.

Part of the popular rumor says that due to the gravity of the case and the evidence collected of the illegal activity that took place in Galaxia, the prosecution determined that the acts constituted a threat to the well-being and the security of the area. The other part of the proclamation says that the whole scandal is a dirty plan orchestrated by someone with influences who wanted to close the place to appropriate an established business. The Cuban authorities, for a change, have not offered any version of their own.

It is appropriate to remember that during the extraordinary session of the National Assembly of People’s Power [Cuba’s single unicameral parliament], held on May 30, Cuban Vice President Marino Murillo said that in the new socialist model of the island “the concentration of the property and wealth, even under the existence of private forms of management is promoted.”

Translated by JR

Cubans Between Openings and Closings / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 1 November 2017 — As of this November, Cubans will be able to do the paperwork to get a visa to travel to the United States in third countries. The application for an immigrant visa can be made at the United States consulate in Bogota, and for a non-immigrant visa at any US embassy outside Cuba.

The measure, taken in response to the sonic attacks, and which to some extent has as an objective to pressure the Cuban government with the removal of a great part of the US embassy personnel in Cuba along with the closure of certain consulate services, will increase the work of American officials and result in costs and travel inconveniences to Cuban families. But it will not upset the Castro leadership which, by the way, just a few days ago, announced a dodgy counterattack with spectacular effect. continue reading

An agreement signed on 4 November 1994 by his excellency Señor Pardo García-Peña, former Foreign Minister for the Republic of Columbia, facilitates visas for indeterminate times for Cubans who have a diplomatic passport.

The agreement, ratified on 27 October of that same year, by the former Cuban Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina, also allows that citizens who are holders of official passports will be allowed to enter Columbia either in transit or to remain in the country for up to 6 months.

The government of Cuba maintains a similar protocol with Belize, Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Guyana, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Suriname and other 66 countries.

And this is normal. According to international treaties, diplomatic and official passports should be issued only to people who require them for matters of an official nature during their trip abroad. But what the advisers of the government of the United States apparently ignore is that the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX) and a group of travel and immigration laws that have been very well designed by the government of the Republic of Cuba, delay the use of this type of documentation to a much wider group.

Decree 26/78, which regulates the use and issuance of passports in Cuba, authorizes the possession of a diplomatic passport to members of the Politburo and the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, as well as a very long list of other other officials that includes: Members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba; heads and deputy heads of departments, heads of sections and officials of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba; members of the Council of State; deputies to the National Assembly; members of the Council of Ministers; Presidents of Organizations of the Central State Administration that are not part of the Council of Ministers; General Secretary of the Cuban Workers Center; president and vice president of the Supreme People’s Court; Attorney General of the Republic; deputy prosecutors of the Attorney General’s Office; Judges of the Supreme People’s Court; first secretaries of the Provincial Committees of the Communist Party of Cuba; Presidents of the Provincial Assemblies of Popular Power; vice-presidents and vice-ministers of the Organisms of the Central State Administration; diplomatic and consular officials of the Republic, advisers and commercial, economic, cultural, press, military, air and naval attachés; officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Diplomatic Post; department heads of the National Assembly of People’s Power, of the Council of Ministers and its Executive Committee; advisers to the vice presidents of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers; advisers and officials of the Council of State, Council of Ministers and its Executive Committee, as well as their respective Secretariats; department heads of the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and of the Ministry of the Interior; department heads of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment and of the Central Bank of Cuba; delegates to International Conferences or intergovernmental or diplomatic conferences; and as many other officials of the Communist Party of Cuba, the State and the Government, the Minister of Foreign Affairs deems convenient and necessary for the full accomplishment of the entrusted missions; and, very especially, family members of the people listed above. And all this includes authorizing travel even if the trip is not for any official purpose.

Now, if the American intention, in addition to protecting its consular staff assigned to the embassy of Havana, seeks to encourage popular discontent on the island, I am sorry to say that the advisers, at least on the Cuba issue, are more confused than Don Quixote at a wind farm. Popular approval of the Cuban government has just been noted, with the official decision, already published, to eliminate the “authorization” of the passport for Cuban emigrants to Cuba; to allow Cuban citizens residing abroad to enter and exit Cuba on pleasure boats; to allow Cuban citizens who left the country illegally to enter Cuba; and tofacilitate the process so that the children of Cubans living abroad, born abroad, can obtain Cuban citizenship and an identity document. A measure that, incidentally, responds clearly to the current occasion in a theatrical way to show the “integrative” and conciliatory face of the government. It is no coincidence that it was announced at just the moment when the member countries of the United Nations (UN) are preparing once again to vote for or against the Embargo.

Cuba, as always, has an economic, political purpose and seeks to incite the exiled-emigrant pulse; but this time it has a sarcastic addition; repealing the infamous “habilitación” — the special permission now required for Cubans abroad to to return home — and to allow more family and nostalgia-related trips with affordable prices make an infallible convoy. Starting this coming January 1, instead of going out to spend a Saturday night on the town in Miami, it will be cheaper to spend the weekend in Havana.

US Citizen Sentenced to 13 Years for Espionage in Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

Alina López Miyares

Juan Juan Almeida, 10 October 2017 — A US citizen and her husband, a former Cuban diplomat, were sentenced to long prison terms by a military court in Havana on espionage charges.

Alina López Miyares and her spouse, Félix Martín Milanés Fajardo, were sentenced to 13 and 17 years in prison, respectively, in a summary proceeding that took place behind closed doors, according to reports obtained by Martí Noticias. continue reading

The trial was held in the Court of Justice of the Military Court, located in Marianao, on October 2, with the relatives of the accused forbidden to be in the court.

The process, delayed twice, came three days after the United Statesdecided to withdraw most of its diplomatic staff from its embassy in Havana, amid growing bilateral tensions over acoustic attacks on 22 members of its legation .

López Milanés was arrested last January at the Havana airport when she was about to travel to Miami. In December 2016, her husband, Milanese Fajardo, a retired Cuban diplomat  had been arrested; he worked at the Permanent Cuban Mission to the United Nations in New York. They met in New York and have been married for over 10 years.

Both were being investigated by Department 1 of Cuban Counterintelligence under suspicion of providing information of a secret nature, the use of which could damage state security, according to a source related to the case.

López Miyares was born in Havana in 1959 and left Cuba when he was 8 years old. She was educated in the United States, obtained three doctorates and is a teacher by profession. Shee had recently been repatriated to Cuba.

The trial, registered as Case Number 1 of 2017, took place between 10 am and 2 pm. The inmates arrived at the military court in separate cars, handcuffed and guarded by officers in olive-green uniforms. The defense was undertaken by criminal lawyer Abel Alejandro Solá López.

The mother of López Miyares, who lives in Miami, was able to see her daughter at the entrance to the courtroom, but could not witness the trial, said a source consulted by Martí Noticias.

For the crime of espionage, the prosecution requested 30 years of deprivation of liberty and an equal term of abstention of rights.

“During the investigative process, the prisoners were pressured to modify their statements and influence the prosecutor’s decision,” the source said.

The court handed down a sentence of 13 years for Lopez Miyares and 17 for Milanés Fajardo. The final resolution will be signed on 24 October and the parties will certainly agree to appeal the sentence.

Cuban Medical Collaboration Suspended in Kenya and Mozambique / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 3 October 2017 — Kenya and Mozambique indefinitely suspended their collaboration with Cuban medical services which were under contract in both countries.

The announcement was “restricted information” distributed through emails send to the heads of all the provincial health services, between 25-27 September, according to Marti Noticias.

The sudden action is a concern to the Cuban government, which has gained international recognition and credibility through its health programs. continue reading

The email explained, briefly, that Mozambique refuses to contract through “More Doctors” (General Integral Medicine), and until further notice Kenya has stopped receiving new Cuban health workers.

This is a hard blow to the program of exporting Cuban doctors, which generates both income and gratitude for the “white coat” diplomatic policy.

In 2016, the program of professional services — primarily medical — generated $11.5 billion dollars in income for the Cuban treasury, a figure that greatly exceeds the profit fro tourism, which brings the national economy $2.8 billion.

The Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) maintains strict secrecy about the causes that gave rise to the unexpected and simultaneous revocation of agreements with two countries that maintain excellent relations with the island.

It is worth noting that Cuba and Kenya signed a Memorandum of Understanding at the 70th World Health Assembly in Geneva on May 24, with the aim of encouraging the start of medical cooperation in that African nation. And on June 18, Cuban President Raul Castro received his Mozambican counterpart, Filipe Jacinto Nyusi, and the official press reported that both leaders spoke in a fraternal atmosphere about the state of relations, historical ties, collaboration and international issues.

The sudden decision of both African nations not only surprised the Cuban authorities, but also the 602 doctors who were planning to travel to Kenya this October 2.

Cuba: Endangered Cybersecrets / Juan Juan Almeida

DATYS employees

Juan Juan Almeida, 26 September 2017 — Developing Information and Communications Technologies as a strategic sector is an old premise for the Cuban government, but the migration of professionals to the non-state sector is the main enemy for the computerization and national cybersecurity program.

“Let’s say that structurally we can have control of the data that circulates in the different cellphone networks, cybercafes, wifi sites and the more than a million users who have access to the Internet through Nauta accounts [from ETECSA, the state telecommunications company]. We also work together with a group of attorneys to structure a legal and regulatory framework for navigation, that contains decrees and complementary rules according to the cybernecessity,” says a graduate of Jose Antonio Echeverria Technology Univeristy (CUJAE), speaking to Marti Noticias.

In 2015, the First Vice-President of Cuba’s Council of State and of Ministers, Miguel Díaz-Canel, announced the creation of the Council for Computerization and Cybersecurity, which would be subordinate to the country’s top management and fulfill the mission of coordinating and controlling policies and comprehensive strategies associated with the world of technologies, and that would put cybersecurity ahead of computerization. continue reading

Several institutions remain associated with this Council, whose mission is to safeguard integrity, independence and technological sovereignty; as well as to strengthen the presence and impact of the Cuban system in the social networks: The Computer Network Security Office (OSRI) is directly subordinated to the Ministry of Informatics and Communications.

The Computer Network Security Office (OSRI) is directly subordinated to the Ministry of Informatics and Communications.

“I am terrified of this group because they are very well equipped and like hunting dogs they can inspect and find even what you have erased.” says the source, one of those potentially chosen to be part of the Cuban delegations that will participate in the 19th World Youth and Students Festival, in the Russian city of Sochi.

DATYS is another group of programmers that belongs to the Ministry of the Intertior (MININT), and is responsible for manufacturing and selling software. This is the group that makes biometric programs for fingerprint recognition, it was this group that implemented the identification system in Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, among other countries.

SOFTEL is another small, strategic, vanguard community that offers advanced IT solutions, explains the interviewee. It has its headquarters within the University of Computer Science (UCI) and now is working on GalenLab, a software for the implementation of digital medical records.

The source referred to two systems created by SOFTEL: Galen Lab “Blood Bank,” to create blood banks and donor registries; and Galen Lab “Diagnostic Methods,” engaged with the process inside a laboratory that allows access to the exams of each patient of the Cuban medical system and of any of the medical missions of Cuba abroad.

SERTFOD is another group of young people dedicated to cybersecurity. It belongs to the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) and since last July was authorized to provide services outside the FAR. Now it is in charge of repairing computer media, in addition to installing alarms and surveillance cameras in several civilian companies, and even in foreign companies. This group is in charge of managing the technology and methods that operate in a condition of secrecy or compartmentalization.

“The organization exists and is up and running; the problem is that our leaders belong to an age group that refuses to be a part of the digital age and that has sidelines the more than 25,000 professional experts in this area,” adds the source.

With low wages, poor working conditions, zero professional achievement, and the inability to negotiate patents and intellectual property, it is understandable that these specialists, skilled personnel with well-kept secrets, emigrate.