Venezuela and Cuban Pretensions / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 5 June 2017 — It was exercise in risk-taking in which the cons outweighed the pros. As it overlooked the fact that the Attorney General of Venezuela raised to sixty the number of fatalities and to more than 2,977 the number of those detained in less than nine weeks of anti-government protests, the Cuban Parliament seemed to be living in a parallel universe as it publicly declared its firm and resolute support for the government of Nicolás Maduro.

The controversial statement, signed by all the Cuban legislators, was published in the June 1st digital edition of the Cuban Communist Party’s official bulletin and one day later in its print version.

If Cuba is a nation dying of thirst, Venezuela is like a glass of water. It is quite understandable that political commitments have to be made to maintain alliances. But Nicolás Maduro is not Hugo Chavez. And the the South American country is not prepared to take on responsibilities toward the island that had been assumed by the former Soviet Union. So why demonstrate widespread support with such singular tenacity? continue reading

Even Russian president Vladimir Putin has been more restrained than the Cuban government, noting that “the crisis in Venezuela must be resolved in accordance with Venezuelan law.”

According the newspaper Granma’s overwrought gobbledygook, deputies of the National Assembly of the Republic of Cuba are demanding respect for the legitimate rights of the Venezuelan people to continue building a social system that advances the Bolivarian Revolution while simultaneously recognizing the efforts of the Venezuelan government to bring about peace and understanding.

This is a smokescreen. As Cuba’s leaders see it, the current, boorish Venezuelan president in office today is simply as a result of another man’s health problems. Once he has served his purpose, he becomes disposable and the “kind-hearted” opportunist who knows how to take advantage of the situation will be the only thing standing in the way of Nicolás Maduro and his hold on power.

Like the king who only makes promises that benefit his kingdom, the Cuban government , which knows its allies all too well, is attempting to achieve several things with this declaration.

The first is to focus on the conflict within its own borders and avoid intervention by international organizations.

The second is to flatter — this always works — an out-of-control tinpot dictator with no credibility in order to manipulate his emotions and hold onto power in a country also happens to have large reserves oil, gold and uranium.

The third is to mediate a resolution to the critical, systemic political crisis caused when Nicolás Maduro obstructed the country’s National Assembly by hinting at support for a possible (and perhaps already selected) alternative government to which he could assign an undue degree of power in the hopes of calming the opposition. This would also technically fulfill agreements to hold talks while satisfying certain minimal expectations for reviving hope in the Bolivarian nation.

Cuba is Preparing to Send Military Doctors to Venezuela / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 1 June 2017 — An email leak circulating on servers in Cuba confirms that Havana is planning to send soldiers to Venezuela.

According to the document, it is a small contingent of military doctors who are members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR).

The message, to which this author has had access, was sent on 22 May 2017 at 15:47:49 hours, ordering the authorities of Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health to carry out an urgent survey of doctors in the FAR who are studying in the following specialities: Surgery, Neurosurgery, Angiology and Imaging. continue reading

The professionals surveys, continues the order, “must state their willingness to travel to the brother Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and, if they are outside Havana, will have to travel in the coming days to the capital.

The Ministry of the Armed Forces will deal with the paperwork and the transportation. “They will not stay,” the document says, “in the UCCM.”

Curious. The Central Unit for Medical Cooperation (UCCM) is subordinated to the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) and has the responsibility of guaranteeing the fulfillment of the commitments contracted by the Cuban government in the field of international medical cooperation, and is where those going to serve on medical missions abroad are always housed before leaving.

As always, the information the leaves the island is generating doubts: why has it become necessary to investigate people who have something to do with the regular sending of physicians to the South American nation?

“On the flight lists for Venezuela,” comments someone who deals with the paperwork for this type of agreement, “none of the names of the supposed collaborators appear. The majority of the flight lists we handle, are vacationers who are in Cuba and are returning. But there’s an explanation, maybe the doctors you are referring to are leaving or will leave on private or military planes.”

Lacking answers to why this is being handled this way, another Ministry of Public Health official comments:

“We are taking out of Venezuela the Cuban health workers who have already completed their missions, even if those who will relieve them have not yet arrive, and now they are surveying military doctors who are working in civilian hospitals, to put together a group of workers to send them urgently to Venezuela.

“This is not usual. The FAR residents, specifically, are doctors not very high up in the hierarchy, they are mostly lieutenants or majors, who do their specialities in our hospitals and, later, when they are specialists, return to their units.

“There is no difference between a civilian and military doctor. The objective must have military purposes, or the Armed Forces are using their doctors to guarantee some kind of secret that they don’t want to divulge.”

3D Film, Raul Castro’s New Hobby / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 12 June 2107 — With a decade’s worth of fledgling but stalled attempts at reforming Cuba’s economic system, a convulsive situation in Venezuela that could have repercussions in Havana and less than eight months to go before the end of his term as president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers of the Republic of Cuba, General Raúl Castro’s preference is for the novelty of the three-dimensional image.

“In collaboration with the Office of the Historian of the City of Havana and with financial support from the European Union and the Barcelona city government, the Interpretive Center for EU/Cuba Cultural Relations opened last month in the Palacio del Segundo Cabo. As part of the project, a 3D movie theater also made its debut. Its goal is to provide support to scholars and researchers studying Cuba’s cave formations and natural heritage. But ever since Raúl Castro learned of the facility and discovered the third dimension, he hasn’t left the place and his constant presence is hindering normal activities in the area,” claims someone who works at the center, which is housed in a historic structure. continue reading

“The general,” the employee adds, “is not coming here to learn more about the subterranean riches of the Cuban archipelago, which is our reason for being. He is coming to see Godzilla, Jurassic Park, Pompeii, The Hobbit, Spiders and other 3D movies he brings with him, as though this were his private screening room or neighborhood movie theater.”

“What goes around comes around,” he sarcastically notes. “The Palacio del Segundo Cabo has reverted to its original use as military fortress. Raúl Castro might show up at any hour of the morning, noon or night. Security around the site has been tightened, with uniformed military personnel present. They have even removed the horse-drawn carriages and 1950s convertibles that tourists like so much. Military-run businesses in the area are suffering but, with Habanaguanex in charge…”*

According to the official online encyclopedia ECURED, “in commemoration of Europe Day on May 9, 2017, the permanent exhibition spaces in the Center for Interpretation of Cultural Relations between Cuba and the Old World were inaugurated in the renowned Palacio del Segundo Cabo. The building’s restoration is a major project made possible with funds from the European Union and with the direct involvement of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The most up-to-date technology has been used to create a beautiful center that will allow for exploration of cultural, historical, literary and artistic phenomenon but, more importantly, of our shared communal legacy.”

During the opening reception and in the presence of Cuban officials and foreign diplomats — among them was Herman Portocarrero, ambassador and head of the European Union delegation — Dr. Eusebio Leal, Historian of the City of Havana, referred to the founding of Europe, based on deep and solid traditions, and made a timely reference to the collapse of the Roman Empire and the formation of a new era.

*Translator’s note: In 2016, profitable tourism-related businesses such as hotels and restaurants in restored sections of Old Havana that had been operated by the Office of the Historian were taken over by the Habanaguanex conglomerate, led by the Cuban military.

Prosperous Cuban Entrepreneur Arrested / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 16 June 2017 — Alejandro Marcel Mendivil, successful entrepreneur, owner of El Litoral, a restaurant located at Malecon #161, between L & K, and the restaurant Lungo Mare, located in 1ra Esquina C, in the Vedado district, was arrested in Havana on June 8.

The reasons are not clear. Some claim that Marcel Mendivil is accused of money laundering and ties to drug trafficking; and others claim that if you are “noticed” in Cuba, it has a price.

“Alejandro is a young man hungry for challenges and pleasure. He has money, social recognition, he helps all his neighbors, has ties to diplomats as important as the ones in the American Embassy. He also has dealings with high ranking Cuban military and maintains very important access to the government elite. His ambitions go beyond those of common entrepreneurs, and to that add that the fact that he has charisma. Isn’t that a lethal combination? Alejandro is no drug trafficker or money launderer; he only tested power and ended up making it angry,” says one of the neighbors of his restaurant El Litoral, a retiree from the Ministry of the Interior. continue reading

“It was early in the morning, says an employee, the sea was flat as a plate when the operative began. Not even the Interior Ministry (MININT), nor the state officials gave any explanations in order to close the restaurant. They (the police) only told the employees that were present that we had to leave the place and look for another job in another restaurant because this closure was going to last. We were closed once, when an issue with the alcohol, but Alejandro solved it”.

“They got in and identified themselves as members of the State Security’s Technical Department of Investigations (DTI). They checked the accounting, the kitchen, lifted some tiles from the floor and they even took nails from the walls. An official with a mustache, who wouldn’t stop talking with someone on his BLU cellphone, was saying that they would find evidence to justify the charge of drug trafficking.”

“That looked like a theater, but with misleading script. It was not the DTI. In fact, Alejandro was not jailed at 100 and Aldabo, but rather held incommunicado in Villa Marista (a State Security prison). The whole thing was a State Security operation to put a stop Alejandro, who was earning money working and was becoming an attractive figure; in a country such as this one, where leaders, all of them, are very weak.”

The incident is timely to a discussion held during the extraordinary session of the National Assembly of People’s Power, which took place last May 30, where the Cuban vice-president Marino Murillo asserted that the new model of the socialist island “will not allow the concentration of property or wealth even when we are promoting the existence of the private sector.”

According to sources consulted in the Prosecutor General of the Republic of Cuba, there are plans for measures similar to those taken against Marcel Mendivil for these wealthy and influential owners of a paladar (private restaurant) located in Apartment 1, Malecon 157, between K&L, Vedado. And also against another one in Egido 504 Alton, between Montes & Dragones, Old Havana, in addition to two in Camaguey that were not identified.

Translated by: LYD

The Death of a Cuban Doctor in Ciudad Tiuna, Caracas / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 19 June 2017 — Teresa Sulien Castillo Sotto, a 27-year-old Cuban doctor born in Bayamo, died due to multiple fractures and traumatic brain injury on the night of Tuesday 13 June, at 10:20 PM, after jumping off the 8th floor of the C-05 building of Ciudad Tiuna in Tiuna Fort.

“It’s a delicate issue that they are treating with great tact and major caution,” comments a member of the National Coordinating Department (COOR), which, along with the National Directorate of the Cuban Medical Mission in Venezuela (MMCVEN), located in the Crillon Hotel. “We are talking about the death of a cooperating doctor within a military community where the only ones who enter are Cubans who are linked to some military person, people with overwhelming confidence, cases that call for control, or some of the collaborators who are related to Cuban leaders.” continue reading

Tiuna Fort is an enormous military installation, the most important in Caracas, and also in Venezuela which, among other things, is the headquarters of the Ministry of People’s Power, the General Command of the Army, the official residence of the vice president, and sports, cultural and financial facilities. It was in this urban complex where, in apartment 10-F, the young Cuban doctor lived.

Several officials from the Homicide Division of the Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigations Corps (CICPC) came to the scene of the tragedy. The prevailing narrative is that Teresa made the tragic decision to kill herself because she found, on the cellphone of her husband, also a Cuban doctor, compromising text messages involving another woman. However, on her personal profile on Facebook, the deceased young woman appears as single.

That night, troops from the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) and Cuban officials who have not been identified, put Teresa’s body in a van, took it to the morgue and did not allow members of the CICPC to preserve the scene of the tragedy nor to collect expert evidence.

The next day, Wednesday, three Cuban citizens came to the morgue in cars with official plates with the intention to accelerate the paperwork to collect the cadaver of the Cuban doctor. They accomplished this the same day and at four in the afternoon, after establishing contact with high level officials of the Bolivarian government and the representatives from the Cuban embassy.

“Normally what happens,” my interlocutor continued to explain, “they close the box in the morgue and send it to Maiquetia [the International Airport]. There, they finish the paperwork, and with the first flight they head to Cuban, accompanied by two officials dispatching the coffin and then the family members. In extreme or strange situations, the deceased is simply buried and they don’t even allow them to hold a funeral.”

“What they don’t want to reveal,” my informer breathes deeply and adds, in a tone appropriate to the shocking confession, “is that Teresa maintained a close relationship with a military man, an official with the National Guard who was captured by SEBIN for being involved with the right and the opposition marches against chavismo. They used the girl as an informer, she couldn’t refuse, because it would mean cancelling her mission, expulsion, threats and a ton of other things. She felt cornered with no alternative. She couldn’t do anything other than betray her friend and, in an act of honor, with a certain touch of ethics, she committed suicide, or she was pushed to suicide.”

The body is already in Cuba, having left on Thursday the 15th in an A320 airplane of Cuban Aviation on the Caracas-Havana route.

Raul Castro Apparently Decided to Change His Personal Image / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 11 July 2017 — The President of the Councils of State and of Ministers of the Republic of Cuba recently underwent cosmetic surgery to improve his chin. The chief of Cuban communists wants to be rejuvenated so that young people won’t feel they are being governed by an old man of 86.

The absurdity is that a process so normal and ordinary acquires, on the island, the unusual dimension of a “State Secret.” The problem that arises from such a “mystery” is that as a recognized public figure he is under the magnifying glass of the public observer who, from now on, will compare his current appearance with old photographs of him. continue reading

Apparently, and this could not be confirmed, patient Raul Castro refused general anesthesia for fear of bad intentions. The truth is that the operation on the president was performed by a Cuban eminence of cosmetic surgery, a celebrity of the guild, of whom I will only say that he is an assistant professor and first class specialist in plastic surgery, because I want to protect his identity from future attacks or implacable witch hunts. Some time ago he had problems at CIMEQ hospital, and later started to work in one of the most well-known teaching hospitals in Havana.

General Raul Castro is a man of particular appetites that grew over time, the influence of alcohol and a real frivolity. It is normal with this surgery to try to correct the traces of a person’s excesses, without exaggerating or abandoning his disagreeable natural aspects. However, he is not the first president, nor will he be the last, who tries to improve his image using surgical techniques.

Plastic surgery (“plastic” derives from the Green “plastikos” which means to mold or give shape) is the medical specialty that deals with the correction or restoration of the form and functions of the body through medical and surgical techniques.

In 1994, while Libya was faced with an international embargo, a group of Brazilian doctors traveled to Tripoli via Tunisia, to perform a hair implant and neck surgery on the now deceased Muammar Ghaddafi.

In 2011, the former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi underwent a long cosmetic surgical procedure on his jaw which, according to reports from his personal doctor, lasted more than four hours.

Argentina’s former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner also succumbed to vanity and was remodeled with the help of the scalpel.

And although the Kremlin spokespeople insist on the contrary, one only has to look at old photos and images of President Vladimir Putin and compare them to recent ones. The change is obvious.

It is normal that the Cold War raised the conflict between ideologies and the leaders of that time needed to focus on strategy and wisdom. Then, with the coming of globalization, nationalist discourses lost political strength. Now, in today’s world, several leaders, some fierce, some bullies, prostitute their political ends paying special attention to self-promotion on the internet and on social networks.

Raul Castro cannot escape the desire to look like a modern old man and subjects himself to discrete adjustments with the truculent intention of showing himself to be less despicable.

Cuba: Cavities and Abscesses in the Oral Health System / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 23 June 2017 — Located in the stately building with its exquisite art-deco style, at the Havana intersection of Salvador Allende Avenue (formerly Carlos III) and G Street, is the Cuban symbol of the oral health system. Officially known as the Raúl González Sánchez Dental Medicine Faculty, it is also on the point of collapse.

“The budget is tighter than the screws on a submarine. Most of the time the autoclaves used for sterilization don’t work, nor is there aseptic paper to wrap the dental instruments in; but the human material is there. Prices fluctuate between 15 and 300 CUC, according to the treatment or the urgency,” says a person who travelled from Miami to be treated in the “signature” Havana institution.

“There is no air conditioning in the treatment room, the windows are open and they have to position the chairs to avoid facing the sun. So you either bring a fan, or spend an extra 50 CUC to be treated in an operating room where there is only hygienic equipment, green clothing and adequate air conditioning. Being treated in Cuba, besides being cheap is folkloric,” my interlocutor continues, in tone so celebratory it provokes indignation. The saliva extractors are broken and so you have to bring a bottle of water and towel. And when the slime accumulates the dentist says, “spit it out.” continue reading

According to the constitution currently in force on the island, the Cuban state guarantees free medical attention to the population as one of the fundamental social paradigms; but the Healthcare system is suffering the restrictive effects of lack of resources because of the economic crisis, neglect, corruption and negligence, which among other things is a consequence of political mistakes.

“The politics of the country stipulate that the attention of every dental clinic should be free from payment; but then there is what we experience,” explains a professor of the fames institutions, who prefers to remain incognito, because to survive he has, at home, an old dental chair, a light and a pedal machine.

“Unless it’s an emergency, getting a regular appointment is very complicated and the receptionists charge for facilitating it. We have to live,” he breathes deeply and recites his price list. “For a mouth exam, prophylaxis, a light filling and a clinic diagnosis — 15 CUC. We visit many patients, the majority with chewing problems, gingivitis, periodontal disease. These conditions require long treatments, and this case they cost 2 to 10 CUC per visit. There are more expensive ones that require complex operations that in some other country would cost around $10,000 or more. Of course, the difficulties of the country force us to tell patients that to avoid problems they should bring their own anesthesia and the braces should they need orthodontic treatment.”

“Our prices,” concludes the professional, “vary depending on the patient. If it’s a Cuban living in Cuba, a Cuban living abroad, or a foreigner.”

The National Council of the Performing Arts under Scrutiny / Juan Juan Almeida

Performance in Cuba

Juan Juan Almeida, 26 June 2017 — Another legal trial is threatening the invulnerability of the Ministry of Culture. This time the prosecutorial gaze is focused on officials at the National Council of the Performing Arts (CNAE) while overlooking the culpability of Cuban leaders who, were they to fall, would make too big a noise.

The Cuban government maintains a “zero tolerance” policy against any form of human trafficking or related crimes. Its measures are intended to enhance prevention, confront offenders and severely punish those found guilty. But the business is lucrative, involving hundreds of thousands of dollars. Very conservative estimates indicate that more than 5,000 Cubans have emigrated legally using fraudulent documents procured for them by CNAE officials.

“The investigation is snowballing. After interviewing each new witness, investigators have to expand the probe,” says a source close to the Office of the Attorney General of the Republic of Cuba. continue reading

“According to our documents, there are several ongoing investigations. On the one hand, those presumed guilty remain silent for fear of reprisals. On the other hand, the victims being questioned — people willing to assist in the investigation — allege they consented to bribery by CNAE officials in order to emigrate safely. Everything points to the government as the sole culprit because it has not been able to provide them with the opportunity to have a decent life or a decent job.”

“Passing judgement should not be a political issue and we aren’t even at that stage yet. The question is: Did the people who committed these crimes do so in every case with the consent and for the benefit of those affected? Does it make sense to continue exploring the causes of the problem when we all know what the solution is? Whom does it harm? The law will have to wait but I imagine that in the end the case will be dismissed.”

Founded on April 1, 1989, the National Council of the Performing Arts is a legally recognized, financially independent cultural institution whose mission is to promote the development of theater, dance, pantomime, humor and the circus. All these categories were used as a ruse by non-artists to escape the fiefdom. For the time being, CNEA’s practice of issuing exit visas is “on hold” and the documents are in the possession of the state prosecutor after being seized as evidence.

Some members of the council have been temporarily suspended from their jobs. All of them are under investigation, accused of issuing visas and emigration documents to people with no formal connection to the institution who paid 90 to 300 CUC to secure a safe and guaranteed escape.

A former employee of the Ministry of the Interior — someone fired for political reasons who is now self-employed — notes with no small degree of irony, “Investigators are doing everything possible to keep news like this away from people like you because the consequences could be wide ranging.”

Cuba: More Implicated in the Interior Ministry’s Stolen Documents Case / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 5 July 2017 — The case is notable for its strict secrecy and a degree of coercion. The highly irregular trial and mystifying plight of those already found guilty and sentenced make “the top secret theft from the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) of the Republic of Cuba” perhaps the most surprising example of Cuban justice in the last twenty years.

Though a verdict has been handed down, the legal process is not yet over. The most recent defendant is Colonel Rafael, who coincidentally was the principal interrogator during the initial investigation but is now himself being investigated for leaking information about the indictment and the locations of those involved. continue reading

These post-trial developments are at odds with normal legal procedures. Though accused on May 9 of high treason, theft and sale of classified material to foreign governments, encouraging desertion and disobedience among senior officials, spreading malicious rumors intended to cause discontent among senior military commanders, personal enrichment, bribery and abuse of office, none of the defendants have been sent to prison. They are being detained in three houses in Havana’s Siboney neighborhood, where family members have been allowed to visit some of them.

“Look, Colonel Carlos Emilio Monsanto was sentenced to thirty-seven years in prison. Major Ernesto Villamontes was sentenced to thirty, Jorge Emilio Pérez to thirty, Román to twenty-two and the rest got similar sentences. Do you think they are going to serve those sentences in houses that are now serving as prisons? People like that are dangerous whether they are free or locked up. I don’t think they are going to serve those sentences under house arrest and I don’t think they are going to go to prison. Based on available information, it is logical to believe they will suffer some accident or come down with a sudden illness as happened to General Abrantes,” says a relative of one of the convicted men with resignation. This person requested anonymity, citing a non-disclosure agreement that family members were forced to sign in order to be able to visit their relatives.

“The one thing that is clear is that Ernesto (Villamontes) and the other defendants were sending money out of country and that they had been authorized to do so by the former directors of MININT and the country’s top leadership with the goal of investing in businesses and buying property. The documents were not taken from the ministry’s Building A in order to sell them; they were to be used as protection. And that is unforgivable.”

What keeps them safe?

“Corporations like Financiera Ricamar, Financiera Eurolatina and Financiera Bescanvi Occidental laundered money. Some of these corporations belong to Panamanian businessmen, including former president Martinelli. The Panamanian government is currently investigating the matter. That’s why they haven’t been sent to prison yet. On the contrary, the plan is to use them as scapegoats in a possible prosecution against the former Panamanian president. For better or worse, this could be significant in a political, media or international context and would go a long way in covering the tracks of the Cuban government, just as happened with Cause I and Cause II in 1989.”*

*Translator’s note: Cause I and Cause II refer to two famous trials of multiple Cuban military officials. In the first, General of the Western Army Arnaldo Ochoa was tried and executed by firing squad on charges including drug trafficking and treason. In a second related trial, former Minister of the Interior General José Abrantes, was sentenced to twenty years in prison but died in custody, allegedly of a heart attack, in 1991.

A Cuban Rapper Rebels against a Corrupt Bureaucracy and Wins / Juan Juan Almeida

Henry Laso Martinez, known as “El Encuyé.

Juan Juan Almeida, 17February 2017 — After two years and eight months of prolonged struggle, the inconclastic Santiago de Cuba rapper Henry Laso Martinez, known as “El Encuyé,” won the first round in a battle against corrupt officials in charge of the country’s most powerful musical organization, the Cuban Institute of Music.

In the summer of 2012, the young musician and former leader of the group Pasión Caribe needed a permit to work as a singer. He claims that Orlando Vistel Columbié, who was then vice-president of the Institute of Music, told him he would have to pay 500 CUC (USD $500) for the right to audition.

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Laso paid it, assuming this type of extortion was normal procedure and because he needed the paperwork. Four years later he needed another permit, this time to be a soloist. Reinaldo Almeira, the director of a music group named for Cuban singer Benny Moré, told him the fee would be 1,000 CUC, 700 of which would go to Vistel for the right to a new audition. Though Laso paid it, his application was turned down.

Thus began the rapper’s painful odyssey. He filed complaints with the police and the attorney general. He sent letters to Raúl Castro, to Orlando Vistel, to Reinaldo Almeida, to the director of Tumbao Mayor Orchestra and to Conrado, a colonel from the Ministry of the Interior assigned to handle musical affairs at the Ministry of Culture. When none of them responded, Laso became radicalized.

“I had posters put up, I had young people screaming. They saw that I had followers behind me and young people supporting my cause. That was when the authorities, who were clearly outnumbered, decided to call it quits, that I was right and that all I wanted to do was work. It’s unfortunate but that’s the way it was. I won but I wonder what would have happened if I was an unknown. If instead of being an artist, I was a laborer,” says the urban musician.

An audition was finally scheduled for February 1. On that date he performed in front of a panel of judges as a solo singer from Cienfuego’s Rafael Lay orchestra.

“Five people decide whether I can sing or not. It makes no sense but I did get legal status. They filmed the recording session and they are now processing the paperwork at the Institute of Music in Havana. It then goes to Orlando Vistel for his signature,” says Laso.

“Today I want to thank all the friends and the media who supported me in demonstrating that there was a group of corrupt officials here. In the midst of my crusade, I had the honor of meeting Pablo Milanés* who told me, ’Fight, and when you get your work back, you will have to confront the things that are wrong, even if they don’t affect you.’ I was impressed, Pablo is a man who, when he is not happy with things, criticizes them publicly. He is a person who helps artists a lot, who supported my cause and was indignant at the injustice to which they subjected me,” he adds.

“First, with respect to my future work, I will rescue the word love but, once in awhile, I will shake things up. I will always tell the truth. Of course, if they want to censor me, I will continue the fight because I am no longer afraid. I have more than fifty reasons to tell anyone the truth to his face,” says the singer.

“I am an artist committed to the society in which I live. I will make songs but I will not remain silent while a bunch of scumbags damages the careers of other artists,” he adds.

“I solved part of the problem. Now I have to work to help my family but I will never forget the cause. I wanted to show that a citizen can take action and I did. And I am taking the opportunity to publicly promise that I will fight to end this fraudulent system of auditions, that my voice will be a constant call to abolish a bureaucracy whose only purpose is to sell paperwork, enrich dishonest officials and destroy the dream of a lot of young people,” he concludes.

*Translator’s note: One of Cuba’s most popular and famous singer/songwriters. Though a longtime a supporter of the Cuban revolution, in recent years Milanés has been publicly critical of it.

Former FARC Guerrillas to Train as Doctors and Journalists in Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 17 March 2017 — From the very moment it gained power, the Cuban regime has devoted precious resources to exporting its ideology and cultivating followers. Overseas military conflicts as distant as those in Africa in the late 1970s and the guerrilla wars in Central America in the 1970s and 1980s relied on Cuban logistics and personnel. And just as it expressed solidarity by sending professionals from multiple disciplines to so-called Third World countries, so too has it brought professionals to the island for training throughout the years, generating a wellspring of sympathizers who feel a huge debt of gratitude.

As part of this successful experiment, there is now a new Cuban “solidarity” contribution to the peace process in Colombia. It was no coincidence that the island’s capital was the setting for the signing of the peace accord. continue reading

The Castro regime has instructed its ambassador in Bogota to announce that it is awarding up to one thousand scholarships to the demobilized members of the FARC guerrilla group and the victims of its armed conflict to study medicine in Cuba.

The communiqué notes that the 200 scholarships to be awarded annually over a five-year period — 100 for FARC soldiers and 100 for its executive council — will be Cuba’s contribution to the implementation of the peace accords reached in Havana and to a lasting peace in Columbia. Students may access their scholarships beginning in the 2017-2018 school year. The Cuban embassy will submit a document to the Columbian government and the FARC outlining the details which, even at the last minute, was still being finalized by Cuban authorities.

This “goodwill gesture” on Cuba’s part — a followup to the final resolution of the conflict — seems more about publicity than plausibility. The war went on for so many years that any attempt to avoid death and violence is noteworthy. Cuba wants not only to promote itself as a champion of peace in the region but also to profit from the naivety of some democratic voices who applaud any action that might help end the long conflict. But above all — and this is very important — it wants to influence the underdogs, the FARC, with aid and support in order to achieve a fundamental objective: to mask their image as crude terrorists by treating them as a legitimate political organization.

Let’s not forget that a significant portion of the two billion dollars that the FARC made from kidnapping and drug trafficking in its own country is now safely stashed away. Having been well laundered, it is used to buy sophisticated, modern equipment for humanitarian purposes at CIMEQ and the Cira Garcia Clinic.* Or it has been invested as Cuba’s contribution to joint venture projects that the government has with business consortiums and large hotel chains operating both inside and outside the country.

Cuban ambassador José Luis Ponce publicly announced the program alongside members of the CSIVI, the commission which oversees the implementation and verification of the peace accord. He addressed his remarks to FARC secretariat member Iván Márquez, who used his Twitter account to stress that “this contribution by Cuba to the implementation of the Havana Agreement and to the postwar period in Colombia is a pure humanitarian gesture.”

Curiously, Piedad Córdoba — a Columbian attorney, politician and leader of the Citizen Power XXI Century movement — used her own Twitter account minutes later to state, “In spite of being under embargo, Cuba not only has the best medicine in the world, it is also among the most supportive.”

Such Twitter coincidences are not exactly a fitting prelude to support for the end of the conflict. Why don’t any of the parties involved mention that, in addition to the one-thousand scholarships to study medicine, the Cuban government is offering as many as five-hundred scholarships to study journalism on the island?

Cuba is well-known for the high-quality training it provides to its health care professionals as well as for the benefits it receives from its program of exporting doctors.

This lab coat diplomacy, which includes training foreigners on the island to be physicians, currently generates more income than tourism, family remittances, nickel or sugar.

Besides operating a well-oiled financial machine, the Cuban government’s main goal is to create an army of grateful people, spread across the globe, who are influential in the social circles. They remain committed and invisible, ever ready to take immediate action in support of medicine and the Cuban revolution.

Let us take this to the exercise of journalism, taking into account the fluidity, or freedom of information that exists today in the world, where even some democratic governments are becoming more and more controlling. A host of indoctrinated journalists is a weapon of significant influence and an effective tool for spreading ideas and ideologies.

*Translator’s note: The hospital and clinic mentioned here were established to treat foreigners and foreign dignitaries as well as members of the Cuban government, the military and their families. Their facilities, equipment and provisions are known for being of a much higher quality than those for ordinary Cubans.

Raul Castro Modifies His Brother’s Orders / Juan Juan Almeida

Fidel Castro and Raul Castro in their “younger” years.

Juan Juan Almeida, 27 March 2017 — At age 85, infirm, and ten months from his much trumpeted retirement, Raul Castro directs the Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces to modify Order Number One of the deceased Commander in Chief.

According to an unexpectedly transparent account from a corpulent and not very young Cuban official, “Cuba has a rusty army that, taking into account all its forces — land, sea and air — as well as reservists, exceeds 700,000 troops [in a country of just over 11 million people]. Every unit, regiment or battalion chief dictates an Order One, that rules the behavior of the men under his command.

“For his part, the Commander in Chief, which in Cuba is the same person as the head of state, decrees an Order One, that governs the conduct of the members of all institutions, be they military or not, charged with the defense and security of the state.

“To violate this precept, as many of us know, could be considered an act of high treason and imply a penalty that ranges from a warning to the death penalty. It is so stipulated in martial law. continue reading

“But Fidel is water under the bridge, he’s dead, and although Raul has chosen not to call himself Commander in Chief out of respect for the memory of the leader of the Cuban Revolution, the reality is that when he inherited the post of head of state, he also inherited that ’honorific rank.’ So now, that he is the Commander in Chief should he change the Order? Not necessarily.”

“The Order One,” he continues, “obliges all the military, among other things, not to have relations with foreigners, counterrevolutionaries or emigres, and to endure with stoicism the rigors of service. That has to change, not because the Commander died, it is transformed because the operative situation changed, the world scenario and the sociopolitical conditions of Cuba.

“We see,” he reflects, “Today, there are fewer trees among the so-called Amazons, family and friends of Cuban leaders, officials, military and revolutionaries living outside this country. Some are coming back,that’s great; but it is not fair, nor ethical, nor moral, that so long as it is forbidden for many, some, I among them, have an exemption to engage with our exiled relatives, which, to a large extent, I must admit, left because of us. That is why the law changes, by the force that, with great dignity, some officers are doing that which we don’t want to call attention to.”

“The other reason is more obvious,” he adds. “At the time that mandate arose, back in the 60s, there was no economic conglomerate of Cuban soldiers with the force today held by the military run GAESA Group (Business Administration Group SA).  The negotiations of this group, or of the Universal Stores, the Mariel Special Economic Zone, or ANTEX, ALMEST, GEOCUBA, GAVIOTA, TECNOTEX, any of the 57 companies owned by the Armed Forces or other civilian companies run by the military are carried out with foreigners, or with emigrant Cubans who now reside abroad. The order fell into obscurity, so that, following it closely, even Luis Alberto Rodríguez Lopez-Callejas [Raul Castro’s son-in-law] should be tried, and sentenced to life imprisonment for violating the regulations.”

“We have to change things,” he tells me like a punch line, “but modifying Order One is only one part of an integrated agenda that includes repealing outdated laws and instituting others that don’t hinder the transition to a more democratic, more participate and open society, without abandoning our principles.”

Task for Alejandro Castro: Protecting Cuba’s Disabled / Juan Juan Almeida

Raul Castro’s son Alejandro Castro Espín.

Juan Juan Almeida, 22 March 2017 — On March 17 of this year, a group of NGO (non-governmental organization) representatives from Latin America and the Caribbean celebrated in Havana Cuba’s political agenda in support of people with disabilities of every kind.  The next day, for the twentieth time, Cuban institutions honored the legacy of Terry Fox by encouraging people to join in the traditional marathon.  It is interesting that, although the Cuban State and constitution guarantee the right to free education without discrimination, there are neither an educational policy nor laws designed to protect people with different abilities.

According to official figures, approximately 3% of the Cuban population lives with some limitation that keeps them from participating in the labor market, and as a result, they cannot access the funds to confront the many obstacles they face in life. continue reading

The present legislation regarding this issue is very clear, but not all people with limitations possesses “special protection” status. In order to prove need, a disabled person needs to be in a situation of vulnerability or of economic dependence.

There is a logical explanation: having a deficiency is not synonymous with being vulnerable.  There are many types of disabilities: physical, mental, motor, and even sensory, and not all necessarily make a person incapable of work. However, in the particular circumstances of the island of Cuba, this justification is very unjust. There is nobody legally responsible for determining or regulating, according to whatever conditions are established, exactly when a disabled person is considered deserving of being included in, or excluded from, “special protection.”  As a result, this right is being denied to all people with hinderances.

Furthermore, we should not forget that any individual receiving subsidies from social security for labor disability continues to be economically dependent.  Simply getting a pension should not disqualify one from “special protection” status. It is not a mathematical equation, but rather question of applying formulas to the present reality in order to be efficient and achieve the greatest social benefit.  What products or services are available to a person who receives 150 Cuban pesos a month (about $6 US)?

I suffer from a disease that, without the right treatment, makes it impossible for me to do certain things.  I speak from the knowledge of personal experience:  I know that Cuban associations for the physical-motor disabled, and for the visually or hearing impaired, such as ACLIFIM. ANSI, and ANSOC, work for the equal rights of people with handicaps, for recognition of their dignity, autonomy and social and community integration.  This, however, is pure publicity, because as long as the Government does not push for a real legal policy designed to stop us seeing disability as disease, they will not begin to tackle this controversial issue from a more inclusive and less discriminatory social perspective.

Perhaps, as Mariela Castro did for the LGBTI community, her brother Alejandro Castro Espín, known for having a visual impairment, should lead a campaign for the respect of equality and the rights of people with disabilities.  But, of course, the masses of handicapped, with shameful frequency, fail to be a priority for a “great leader” who has been held up as champion of human rights.

Translated by Claire Huttlinger

Grow Food In Caves: The Latest Brainwave From The Ministry Of Agriculture In Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 16 March 2017 — Specialists from MINAGRI, the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture, tell us that planting seeds inside or near to the Cuban cave network could quickly guarantee food production, which would help to satisfy the ever-increasing requirements of the Cuban population.

Another insane initiative, launched by the Ministry of agriculture, focuses on sustainable solutions to environmental problems, optimising energy and water, improving productivity, and using human waste as compost.

It is not a new idea. Millions of years ago man took advantage of the humidity in caves and their surroundings. How is it possible that today, in the 21st century, the Cuban government is trying to return to the agriculture of the cavemen?

The insane move, which includes training and the creation of laboratories for studying the quality of water in each cave area of the island, emerged as a response to a presumptuous and pushy ministerial debate on the use of water in agriculture that took place last February, where Inés María Chapman, President of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources spoke about the serious situation regarding this natural resource, and Norberto Espinosa Carro, director of the Livestock Business Group, discussed the development programme being undertaken in the middle of straitened economic circumstances.

Anyone traveling to Cuba, even as a tourist, will know that the island has one of the largest cave systems in the world, 70 per cent of its territory, with the exception of Las Tunas, is composed of limestone and calcareous rock, natural phenomenon that leads to the formation of caverns. I doubt that farmers want to return to the caves, or that the MINAGRI can guarantee an underground irrigation system when, over more than 50 years, it hasn’t been able to guarantee even one-third of the national food requirement on fertile ground.

“It is called permaculture and it is a fashionable nonsense brought here by this new Minister from his trip to Europe. And that is exactly one of our biggest problems, the lack of organization, and Ministerial fantasies”, as we are told by one of the managers of the Institute of Agricultural Engineering Research.

“In Cuba”, he concludes, “the problem is not the water or moisture, but the poor support for the beneficial owner of the UBPC Cooperative, the absence of liquidity, the poor utilization of agricultural land, the very bad selection of water sources used for irrigation and drainage, the thousand and one legal restrictions which prevent farmers enjoying a better life, such as building their own home on the land where they work, the poor livestock management and shortage of cattle feed, the shortage of manpower and technically-qualified personnel, the scarcity of supplies and tools, the unavailability of machinery to prepare the soil, the lack of spare parts in the areas where they work,  the deficit of qualified technical staff and work force, the lack of inputs and tools, the non-availability of machinery for the preparation of the land, the lack of spare parts, and the long-running errors in allocating transport for agricultural marketing.  That’s all”

Translated by GH

Cuba’s Children of Power Take Possession / Juan Juan Almeida

Perla Rosa Rosales Aguirreurreta, newly appointed Havana Historian

Juan Juan Almeida, 13 March 2017 — The appointment of architect Perla Rosa Rosales Aguirreurreta to succeed historian Eusebio Leal as head of Havana’s Office of the Historian is the most recent example of the Cuban regime’s making strategic decisions whose sole purpose is to implement a very well-organized dynastic succession plan.

In order to further strengthen their hold on every corner of the country, family members of high-ranking military officials and leaders of the Cuban Revolution are inheriting key posts and strategic positions in the political power structure controlled by the Castro family.

For example, Fidel Castro Díaz-Balart, eldest child of the late Fidel Castro, is scientific advisor to his uncle, General Raúl Castro. The general’s daughter, Mariela Castro Espín, is president of the National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) and a deputy in the National Assembly of People’s Power, the country’s unicameral parliament and supreme body of state power. continue reading

Alejandro Castro Espín, youngest child of Raúl Castro, is an advisor to the National Commission for Defense and National Security.

Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja — former son-in-law of Raúl Castro and father of two of the general’s grandchildren — is CEO of the Business Administration Group and head of the Revolutionary Armed Forces Department V.

Rodrigo Malmierca Díaz — the son of Isidoro Malmierca Peoli, who was Minister of Foreign Affairs — is the Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment in Cuba.

Ernesto Daniel Plasencia — son of Colonel Santiago Plasencia and close friend of Raúl Castro — is a diplomat who recently concluded a stint as the Cuban ambassador to Qatar.

Leopoldo Cintra González — son of Army General and Revolutionary Armed Forces Minister Leopoldo Cintras Frías — is the commercial vice-president of the Habanos Corporation.

Listing every member of this fraternity would be impossible. However, the case of Rosales Aguirreurreta — daughter of General Ulises Rosales del Toro, vice-president of the Council of Ministers, founder of the Communist Party of Cuba and member of the Politburo — stands out not only for being the most recent example but also for being among the most significant.

It seemed at first that the Office of the Historian would be exempt from the hostile and ruthless takeover of Habanaguanex and Havana’s historic city center by the Cuban military.*

But the distrustful people who control the reigns of power in the country leave nothing to chance.

The talented and very hard-working Leal, who was recently awarded an honorary doctorate by Mexico’s Casa Lamm, held an enviable position which has now been turned over to the daughter of one of the dictatorship’s longtime generals. She is a successor with strong genetic ties to both the party and military.

At this point it is worth remembering that in December 1988 a trilateral accord was signed between Angola, South Africa and Cuba in which all parties agreed  to accept Namibian independence, recognize South Africa, halt support to the UNITA rebels and pull Cuban troops out of Angola.

Three days later, General Rosales del Toro, a career military officer — one unsuited to his career — who was not convinced of the effectiveness of dialogue to achieve reliable results, took a proposal back to Cuba that called for negotiations with the United States and an end to years of hostility. Instead of receiving a response, he was ordered under pressure to preside over the 1989 military trial of General Arnaldo Ochoa.**

“Perla, who is also known by a pseudonym I shouldn’t repeat, studied in the former Soviet Union and spent time working there. She started off in the investment department and moved up the ladder until she evenutally became deputy director. When Leal fell ill, she automatically took over,” says a longtime restorer from the Office of the Historian who, for obvious reasons, prefers to remain anonymous.

“She appears to be a woman who is prepared. But she doesn’t travel alone. A few days ago, we had an emergency meeting in which we were introduced to a new twenty-something Perla: a civil engineer who is Perla’s daughter and General Rosales’ granddaughter. It seems, so we were told, that she is a very intelligent young woman who is emerging as another future head of this institution, which already practically levitates on a kind of forgetfulness,” says the worker in an observation that mixes jest and resignation.

*Translator’s note: The Office of the Historian is a governmental agency dedicated to the preservation of historic buildings in Old Havana, several of them now profitable tourist hotels. In 2016 the agency and its restored properties were taken over by Habaguanex, a hotel chain company operated by the Cuban military, in what some saw as a hostile land grab.

**Arnaldo T. Ochoa Sánchez was a prominent Cuban general who was executed by the government of Fidel Castro after being found guilty of a variety of crimes including drug smuggling and treason.