Prominent Holguin Physician "Escapes" Mission in Brazil / Juan Juan Almeida

Dr. Alejandro Guerrero González

Juan Juan Almeida, 25 July 2016 — Although it is not the first case of a Cuban doctor suddenly abandoning his mission overseas, the desertion in Brazil of Dr. Alejandro Guerrero Gonzalez — a leading specialist in general medicine and a former director of Lucia Iñiguez Landin Surgical and Clinical Hospital in Holguin province — is one of the most significant setbacks for the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) in recent years.

“He has left. That is is a fact. But we cannot comment on it publicly,” said an official at MINSAP’S Department of Cooperation, a branch of its foreign relations bureau. The official, who did not give her name, reported, “His daughter went to visit him for a month; we arranged her trip. We now know that, when it was time for the girl to come home, she threw a tantrum and refused to leave. One thing led to another and it became an issue of family loyalty. But the doctor would never have betrayed the mission on his own accord.” Continue reading “Prominent Holguin Physician "Escapes" Mission in Brazil / Juan Juan Almeida”

At this point, party officials, the government and the health ministry are, quite stupidly, trying suppress the story. But accusing one of the Provincial Health Administration’s principal figures, along with his wife and daughter, of “deserting a mission” has led to anger among authorities and expressions of support from the Cuban medical community and a segment of Holguin society.

Guerrero Gonzalez is known for his hard work and strong commitment to improving the quality of public health services.

A professor and instructor, the Banes native is a member of Cuba’s medical elite who turned the eastern province’s surgical clinic into his battleground by encouraging the development of education and medical specialties. His efforts have put the institution at the national forefront in kidney transplants (thirty per year), corneal and bone marrow transplants, stem cell therapies, surgical treatments for Parkinson’s disease and the use of prosthetic penile implants.

The physician was part of the team that set up the Cuban medical mission in Guatemala. Along with his wife, also a specialist in comprehensive general medicine, he worked in Brazil while his daughter remained behind in Cuba, which is customary for all children of Cuba’s volunteer workers.

“There’s more take here about Dr. Alejandro’s escape than about the blackouts or preparations for the July 26 commemorations. The guy wanted to save a little money and buy himself a refrigerator. We will miss him a lot. People here were very fond of him. His daughter’s name is Masiel. I downloaded three seasons of Violetta, the Disney Channel children’s television series, for her,” says a young male nurse at the Lucia Iñiguez hospital in Holguin, who has a business on the side distributing the Weekly Packet.

Cuba’s Main Airport without Air Conditioning / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 22 July 2016 — Jose Marti International Airport in Havana will continue offering its normal services but, as part of General Raul Castro’s orchestrated set of measures to deal with the economic restrictions facing the country, it has been ordered to reduce the number of hours the facility is air conditioned.

An employee of ECASA (Cuban Airport and Aeronautical Services Company), who declined to give his name, told Marti Noticias, “The management does not know what to do or if the lack of air conditioning will hurt the airport community, the passengers, the airlines, visitors or customs service equipment, which is vital to the protection of our borders.” Continue reading “Cuba’s Main Airport without Air Conditioning / Juan Juan Almeida”

The fall in oil prices, the reduction in the supply of Venezuelan oil to Havana, the collapse in the price of nickel, the fall in Cuban sugar production, the mismanagement of state resources and bad decisions by the current ship’s captain appear to be affecting the most important source of the nation’s income: tourism.

Local merchants and duty free stores operating at the airport are equally affected by the lack of this commodity and are subjected to stifling and severe heat during the hours in which they operate.

“For about ten days we have been experiencing uncomfortable situations due to the cutoff in air conditioning. The high temperatures affect ham, pickles, cabbage and tomato sandwiches that sit exposed on the counters,” reports one of the airport’s medical service employees by telephone. “Some people are more susceptible than others, but you know what it means when food at an airport is in poor condition.”

Paradoxically, one of the first actions of a government program to modernize and expand the country’s major air terminals — this facility is slated for completion in 2018 and is geared towards tourists — was to instruct the Brazilian company Odebrecht to expand Terminal 3 at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana using lightweight materials, high ceilings and large interior spaces designed to be climate controlled.

The images in the accompanying video are explicit. They demonstrate the discomfort of passengers seated in the ticket lobby, waiting area and departure lounge of Cuba’s main air terminal. The measure, which is inherently unjust, affects everyone equally: men, women and children, who grab anything they can to fan themselves. And as you can see, it seems to have begun to affect a number of passengers.

Ice Cream Parlors in Cuba or How Gelato Killed Coppelia / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 7 July 2016 — Yanetsi Azhares is a young Cuban woman who leaves nothing to chance. Only twenty-eight-years old, she knows what she wants. Her mother was a pastry chef who lived close to the Alondra ice cream parlor and whole life was spent saving up enough money to buy a little sweets shop. After a lot of work, she now has the privilege of owning the best and busiest ice cream parlor in Havana.

Located across from the Copacabana hotel, Gelato is an Italian-style creamery that produces its own ice creams. It has five employees and offers a little over sixteen flavors, all artisanally produced and based on traditional, exotic and extravagant fruit combinations. Continue reading “Ice Cream Parlors in Cuba or How Gelato Killed Coppelia / Juan Juan Almeida”

Every week Gelato introduces a new delight. “We have two or three flavors in reserve to replace the ones that run out,” says the owner. “Wednesday is the day for the mystery flavor. We are always innovating. We’ve made flavors from unimaginable sources. From beet, avocado, wheat, fig, mamey, guava, sweet potato, beer, mojito. We also make milk-free and fat-free ice cream for those who are lactose intolerant and for those who are watching their figures. But of all the flavors the best-selling are vanilla, almond, cherry and vanilla chip. ”

In 2009 Yanetsi married an Italian and moved to Italy. When she first tried gelato, the regional version of ice cream, she said to herself, “This is what Cuba needs.” She nurtured her dream, passed a course on gelato-making at the University of Gelato and figured out how to combine Cuban raw materials with Italian technique and machinery. On August 3, 2014 Gelato became the first Italian gelateria to open its doors in Cuba.

“Havanans prefer Gelato because they realize we offer an artisanal Italian product. They understand that Coppelia’s* is mass-produced, is priced differently, is of a different quality and has a different clientele,” says the entrepreneur.

It has not been easy. She must buy sugar, fruit and anything else that might benefit the island’s economy from local retail stores. What she cannot find in Cuba — things like chocolate, pistachios and hazelnuts — she buys overseas and imports at inflated prices as personal items because Cuban law still prohibits private businesspeople from importing their own raw materials.

Gelato’s prices range from 1.50 CUC for a cone, 2 to 5 CUC for a cup and 16 CUC for a kilogram of ice cream, which is sold in a carry-out thermal container.

At the moment Gelato is expanding and is hoping to open new outlets in Havana, Varadero, Trinidad and other tourist destinations. In spite of her success, the young ice cream maker jokes, “In Cuba you have to be ready for anything. You have to be able use your imagination and to adapt.”

*Translator’s note: Coppelia is a state-owned ice-cream producer, which operates a vast ice cream parlor in Havana.

The Military Takeover of Eusebio Leal’s Empire / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 14 June 2016 — Capitalizing on the ill health of Dr. Eusebio Leal* to further strengthen its commercial and business supremacy over every corner of the island, the state-owned tourism company Habaguanex will in one day, October 30, assume ownership of the historic heart of Old Havana. The area will be completely controlled by that hotbed of Cuban predators, the Business Administrative Group (GAE), run by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba (FAR).

There have been numerous leaks regarding the investigation by the Comptroller General and the Council of State into the company, named for Havana’s 16th century tribal chieftain, with evidence pointing to a missing millionaire and alleged corruption in the central warehouses. Continue reading “The Military Takeover of Eusebio Leal’s Empire / Juan Juan Almeida”

“It is common practice for corrupt officials to inspect, discard and then sell new and recently installed equipment from the company’s hotels, hostels, office buildings, stores, restaurants and cafes. But turning Habanguanex into a subsidiary of Gaviota [the state-owned tourism conglomerate] is one of the most brazen and underhanded measures ever taken by this military-run corporation, headed by General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas,” says a source close to the high-profile investigation.

Obviously, its much-talked-about corrupt practices such as parallel accounting have tarnished the compay’s already diminished credibility. But more ominous than its corruption is, I believe, that GAE’s takeover of Habaguanex amounts to a dangerous expansion whose clear purpose is to create a monopoly.

The acquisition of the tourism company will be beneficial to military leaders, who have new financial incentives. It is a subtle way of buying without having to pay and will allow GAE to enter this market sector. It also hands over control of the most profitable and best known commercial real estate in Cuba, Old Havana, which has become a must-see stop for nostalgic Cuban nationals, international celebrities, foreign heads of state and curious tourists. It is also evidence of the fierce grudge General Raul Castro has long carried for the ailing, hard-working and talented Havana historian who, thanks to his efforts and those of a large number of Havana citizens, demonstrated that it was possible to save the Cuban capital’s patrimony, an achievement that has earned it the honorary title Wonder City.

The brutal and ruthless seizure of the historic heart of Havana by the Cuban military — an act that some describe as a “Triple A” strategy (appropriation, audacity and ambition) — does not, for now, does envision a role for another Raulist organization: the Office of the Historian. But nothing is left to chance. All predators use two basic techniques in approaching their victims: surprise and fatigue. To these ends, they have installed, without grace or mercy, the ungainly General Quiñones as the head of transport for this prestigious office, a man who formerly served as head of Counter Intelligence for the Ministry of the Interior.

*Translator’s note: Leal served until recently, holding the official title Historian of the City of Havana, and directed the restoration of Old Havana and its historical center, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

So Where Is General Gondin? / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 9 June 2016 — Why is the minister of the interior not participating in the event commemorating the creation of the ministry he heads?

On Monday June 6 the Cuban military’s top celebrity hosted the main event marking the anniversary of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) at the Universal Hall of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR).

Army General Raúl Castro, first secretary of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party and president of both the Council of Ministers and the Council of State, presided over a celebration of almost epic proportions, which led many of us in the television viewing audience to wonder why the minister of the interior was not participating in an event commemorating the creation of the ministry he heads. Continue reading “So Where Is General Gondin? / Juan Juan Almeida”

It is an obvious question given that Julio César Gandarilla, vice-admiral and first deputy minister of the Interior Ministry, and José Ramón Machado Ventura, second secretary of the Central Committee and vice-president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers, ascended the dais to congratulate the “pussycats” by paying homage to Raúl on the occasion of his recent birthday on June 3 and regaling Fidel for his drawn-out and tiresome ninetieth birthday, coming up in August.

Attending the celebration were members of the government and Central Committee politburo as well as suckups, yes-men, bosses, students, workers, Interior Ministry retirees and even a representative from the FAR.

But it is odd how everyone in the official photo — like loyal friends of Ali Baba — all wanted to leave evidence of their presence. In the front row were Ramiro Valdés (revolutionary commander and former interior minister), José Ramón Machado Ventura, Raúl Castro, Leopoldo Cintra Frías and Julio Cesar Gandarilla. Also visible were Alvaro Lopez Miera (first deputy minister of the FAR), Ramón Espinosa Martín (deputy minister of the FAR), Romárico Sotomayor (general division), and José Carrillo Gómez (president of the National Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution and former head of the Political Directorate of the Revolutionary Armed Forces).

A similar but somewhat livelier event took place in the diplomatic reception hall in the Plaza of the Revolution in Bayamo, Granma province. It was presided over by the revolutionary commander Guillermo Garcia who, I can virtually assure you, later left to organize a enormous shindig at the “house of Maria Antonia.”

It is logical to think that, if all the bigwigs were getting together, some designated minder would see to it General Gondín made it to work. But it is also possible that the wily general is taking some time off, either because he is being punished or because he is ill.

In either case, at some point in time they will trot him out, even if he is being held prisoner. This is standard practice. It is what they did with my father after he had been out of sight for too long and people were starting to wonder. Like taking the bedsheets outside to air out for awhile, even though it means violating every hospital’s rules.

What Does Adidas’ Fame Have to Do with Fidel Castro? / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 4 June 2016 — A study conducted by the firm Boston Consulting Group reveals some very curious findings, which I find questionable, about Cuban consumers. It claims that Adidas is the best known brand on the island due, according to this report, “in large part because of Fidel Castro’s preference for the company’s tracksuits.”

The former commander-in-chief was unquestionably the ultimate promoter of Cuban Revolution abroad. It can be logical to assume that, in a country — and I am talking here about demographics — that is one of the oldest in the Americas, its citizens still look up to the irreverent, bearded young man who angrily challenged US interests from his podium in “the plaza.” But actually it is something much simpler. The leader has grown old and is now looked upon with a certain nostalgia by people over the age of fifty-five. Continue reading “What Does Adidas’ Fame Have to Do with Fidel Castro? / Juan Juan Almeida”

Certainly every time Cuba’s nonagenarian former president appears on television or in the national press, it becomes an international news event, with his name and image splash across world headlines. But on the island it has the opposite effect, one of saturation and annoyance.

It is unrealistic to think that Adidas is popular on the island because Fidel Castro wears its label. This ignores the fact that, until 2012, the German brand was the official sponsor of the Cuban National Olympic Committee and equipped all its athletes with clothes used in both training and competition.

It is for this reason that all of Cuba’s top leaders, not just Fidel, sport the German brand. The stores run by the Ministry of the Interior, especially those managed by the presidential security service, are always fully stocked with clothing and footwear by Adidas. And until a very recent and much-talked-about corruption scandal, sweatshops run by an arm of the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation were turning out unauthorized and obviously fake versions of Adidas merchandise.

It is hard now to remember that the Cuban judo athlete Daima Beltral, who moved us to tears at the time, was wearing an Adidas tracksuit when she was awarded silver medals at the Olympic Games in Sydney (2000) and Athens (2004). That at the IAAF World Championships in Budapest on March 14, 1989 Javier Sotomayor set a new world record of 2.43 meters in the high jump wearing Adidas shorts and sweat shirt. And when the track and field athlete Dayron Robles and the wrestler Mijain Lopez became the only Cubans to win Olympic medals in Beijing in 2008, they were both wearing Adidas.

This, and not the tedious image of an old, worn-out dictator, were some of the emotional moments that on a subliminal level set the Adidas brand apart from all other sportswear labels in Cubans’ minds.

Cuba to Close Medical Missions in Brazil and Venezuela / Juan Juan Almeida

Cuban doctors on medical missions in Brazil (Source: am revista)
Cuban doctors on medical missions in Brazil (Source: Ceara em Revista)

Juan Juan Almeida, 16 Ma 2016 — Quite unexpectedly, Cuban authorities say they are prepared to suspend or cancel medical missions to Brazil and Venezuela.

Ever since Cuban informants, who are spread across the continent, warned that Brazilian legislators were planning to remove President Dilma Rousseff from power and long before President Maduro began facing pressure from the opposition-controlled National Assembly, the Cuban government — calculating as ever and with a proven penchant for creating adversity — secretly devised a plan B, which has now begun to take effect. Continue reading “Cuba to Close Medical Missions in Brazil and Venezuela / Juan Juan Almeida”

The interim president of Brazil, Michel Temer, publicly stated that his government does not intend to get rid of the Cuban medical program “More Doctors,” which was established by Rousseff’s government. Such assertions only demonstrate that the acting president is unaware of the surprise Cuba’s shifty ideologues have in store for him.

Perhaps he will learn the hard way that, for the island’s government, the medical missions are more than just a charitable undertaking and a very profitable enterprise. The are above all instruments of pressure that are one aspect of an aggressive foreign policy.

A commission made up of members of the Communist party, the government, the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) and local officials are touring the island of San Antonio de Maisi to brief staff at every hospital on plans for removing all Cuban health care workers from Brazil and Venezuela at a designated time and returning them to Cuba.

This action has two objectives. One is to forestall more doctors from deserting. The other and more important one is to strike a timely political blow by withdrawing the services of Cuban doctors in remote and impoverished areas.

In conversations with staff, this itinerant commission reported that Cuba receives significant subsidies by leasing out its professionals’ services as part of various overseas health care programs. But it now plans to amortize its economic losses by backing out of its agreements with Venezuela and Brazil.

Cuba is fashionable and there will always be places in the world with a profound need for health care workers. Thus the idea is to redirect Cuban medical cooperation to other countries and gradually increase health care access on the island. But not to Cubans. On April 3 the minister of health, Lina O. Pedraza Rodriquez, signed Resolution 145/2016 which allows doctors to collect up to five percent of the fees billed to foreign tourists.

Concurrently, MINSAP has released more than 200,000 dollars from the hard currency reserve on orders from the Central Committee to launch a big ad campaign that includes an untold number of printed flyers for distribution through privately owned rental homes, hotels, travel agencies (both inside and outside the island), the official Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, Cuban diplomatic missions abroad and MINSAP affiliated facilities, including hospitals. It is intended to promote and sell a range of health care services that the country offers.

On the Trail of the MININT Papers / Juan Juan Almeida

Ministry of the Interior headquarters in Havana, Cuba

Juan Juan Almeida, 9 May 2016 — In connection with a top secret theft targeting the Interior Ministry of the Republic of Cuba (MININT), a high number of officials have been arrested, a colonel in charge of computer operations has committed suicide in his own office on the eighth floor of Building A at MININT headquarters, and a foreign businessman is being subjected to enormous pressure from the Cuban government.

The information had remained secret until March 31 when an article appeared here under the title “MINIT Confronts What Could Be Its Worst Challenge: Information Theft.” In it, I wrote that the Major General Carlos Fernandez Gondin had left his office accompanied by a doctor after a fit of rage, which led to a heart attack and his hospitalization. Continue reading “On the Trail of the MININT Papers / Juan Juan Almeida”

At the time the obvious question was, “What could be so irritating as to reduce the blood flow of someone capable of not only leading a firing squad without the slightest remorse but of also justifying it?”

Now after much effort, some payouts and access to high-level sources, the enigma has begun to take shape. As I previously noted, it is almost impossible to believe that the theft of secret material was not the result of a cyber attack. It was a calculated, premeditated act, paid for by a Canadian businessman. Though he is not now in Cuba, he is being pressured by Cuban authorities to not release or sell the information to a foreign intelligence agency. Though he himself is not currently in the country, the businessman, whose name I do not know, is being cruelly coerced because, among other things, members of his family still live on the island and are not being allowed to leave.

According to one of source, “the information is so secret that, if it came to light, it would be extremely damaging to Cuba and its leaders. It is more serious than the Number One and Number Two Cases of 1989. Never in the entire history of MININT or the former DIER (Department of Army Investigations) has such valuable information been stolen.”

The reports are troubling. It is said that there are documents implicating European intellectuals, American academics and businesspeople, and even a former president of Panama. There is also talk of a list of names of Cubans who have been forcibly “disappeared,” of covert activities carried out overseas, of regional destabilization operations, of money laundering, of the sale of Venezuelan and Panamanian visas, of the government approving trafficking operations under the more attractive guise of humanitarian aid to separated families, and of significant investments by Cuban leaders in Nicaragua, Panama, Mexico and Venezuela. 

A lot can be discerned about the robbery but not very much about the names. Internal control, intelligence, counterintelligence, military counterintelligence and CIM (Defense and National Security Commission) officials are using disinformation to obscure the identity of the Canadian businessman, the number of disgruntled military men involved in the sale of information, and the names of the colonels and general who led the operation and who remain in custody.


MININT Confronts What Could Be Its Worst Challenge: Information Theft / Juan Juan Almeida

The Weighty Legacy of ‘Furry’ / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Antonio Castro’s Fiancee, Manager of Desigual: How a Boutique Works in Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

Antonio Castro, son of Fidel Castro, in the Desigual store located in the Hotel Comodoro shopping mall. From the blog This-is-this.

Juan Juan Almeida, 12 May 2016 — The most expensive labels in Cuba are on the verge of the abyss. Mango, Gas, Zara, Paul & Shark, Adidas, Lacoste, Desigual and a few others present their calling cards to the Cuban government while naïve foreign businessmen in the high-end textile industry look on, allowing themselves to be seduced. The stores pretend to be profitable but it is all an illusion. They are nothing more than a houses of cards, fragile and in danger of collapse.

Commercial concessions like these are doled out on the basis of their usefulness through politically connected friends and with people who, directly or indirectly, wield authority, hold decision making power or have influence. Continue reading “Antonio Castro’s Fiancee, Manager of Desigual: How a Boutique Works in Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida”

One very recent example happens to be talk of the town: Patricia Nuñez, an anchor on the educational channel and the current fiancée of Antonio Castro Soto del Valle, son of Fidel Castro. She recently made her debut as manager of a new Desigual store in the shopping mall of the Hotel Comodoro in Miramar.

Fashion is the new obsession among Cuba’s elite. But not even close ties to Cuba’s monarchs are enough to improve the bottom line of these luxury clothing brands. Having a presence in Cuba can certainly be an added plus, albeit a costly one. Economically speaking, the thrill of being on the island mainly results in huge and continuous losses.

The government’s unpaid bills are piling up in the accounting books of these retail companies. But that is not the main reason these stores are suffering. It is due to their employees who — with a work ethic that includes criminality (specifically, handling stolen goods) — make steady money tax-free while dealing a body blow to their own employers.

Another issue is that, generally speaking, what is being sold in stores like those in the Hotel Comodoro are knock-offs imported by merchants who circumvent Cuban custom regulations, or who sell merchandise produced clandestinely by seamstresses — with or without self-employment licenses — who attach fake labels made by local artisans.

These include blouses, skirts, shirts, leggings and pants. Anything that can be purchased for a price of between five to seven convertible pesos is sold as “the real thing” at one-hundred times the original price. As a result, the legitimate stores lose while these shopkeepers win.

It is for this reason that Cuba’s well-to-do have not been seduced into buying this stuff. They have no interest in the Hotel Comodoro shopping mall.

What interests them are places like New York’s Fifth Avenue, London’s Bond Street, Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Tverskaya Street in Moscow, Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich, Wangfujing in Beijing, Avenue Montaigne in Paris, Via Monte Napoleone in Milán, P.C Hooftstraat in Amsterdam and Madrid’s Serrano Street.

Why? Because for them, as well as for those who talk so much about sacrifice and revolution, the shopping experience at these places far exceeds the average earthling’s retail expectations, whether they live inside or outside of Cuba.

A Friend and Cuban Military Official Just Sent Me an Email / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 11 April 2016 — This will not just be the seventh congress of a communist party condemned to being swallowed up by history. It will be the last.

Cuba is a small island filled with dangerously blinding lights. All this brightness dazzles the opposition. So much so that it cannot even manage to capitalize on the discontent of eleven million Cubans.

This suggests to one segment of the exile community that the rhetorical debate has shifted from victimhood to complicity, that it overestimates a government that is losing power and is struggling to get itself out of a grave that we, the people, have not been able or known how to dig. Continue reading “A Friend and Cuban Military Official Just Sent Me an Email / Juan Juan Almeida”

But there are fireflies who carry on in the darkness, like a friend of mine, who is an official in the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR). I would like to share an email he just sent but, given his ample political, military, intellectual and popular appeal, he prefers to remain anonymous. I have not changed so much as a comma:

“April 16, 2016 will mark the start of the Cuban Communist Party Congress in Havana. Numerically it is the seventh but alphanumerically it is the last. Seven is a magical number in Egypt while it has an anal connotation in charades and in the Cuban vernacular. This is where we are. At the end of communism’s digestive tract. What emerges from this congress will be nothing more than a nebulous and fetid outgrowth.

“Unlike previous events, this one two distinguishing characteristics: an excess of secrecy and extemporization. No one seem able to answer two questions directly. What will be discussed in these sessions and why now? We can only speculate. And since speculation is the spice of politics, here we go.

“Political journalists and some observers both inside and outside the opposition are asking themselves if some ‘logical changes’ in Cuba’s direction are being devised. Vocal opponents and silent opponents, staunch supporters and timid supporters, and those of all political stripes expect nothing of the sort. These supposed logical changes, the necessary reforms, require a mental flexibility that Raul Castro and his cronies do not have. To confuse the undeniable skill that Cuba’s leaders have shown in holding onto power as a sign of Realpolitik would be a mistake.

“This congress is part of Raul Castro’s master plan. It is the next step towards the ultimate goal. To retirement. The most important matter at this event will be trying to deal with the tricky matter that socialist governments throughout the world have had to confront: the problem of succession. It is one aspect of his conspiratorial nature. He is trying to pick the gerontocracy’s successors, people with no political base, some of whom are the result of blatant nepotism. Many of them are already in place. They are the dull, shadowy figures who repeat the same old ideas that no one of their generation in Cuba believes anymore. A straightforward public rollout of these people would have led to even more discontent and disappointment in society.

“The other reason for this mysterious project is the immediate future. The general idea is to  maintain the status quo. In other words, to try to consolidate state capitalism and to capitalize on a five-decades-long hold on power. This has very little attraction for the Cuban people and would further deepen the gap that separates them from the current regime. Cuban leaders are smart enough to know that this project cannot be discussed in public because it would contribute to an increase in social unease.

“All this fits perfectly with the issue of the timing of the congress. You cannot impose new leaders and unpopular policies without suffering the consequences. It takes patience and spit, and the first glob is the congress. Before [Raul’s] permanent retirement after the general elections there will be four sessions of the National Assembly in which to implement the succession.”

Obama Invades Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

A Cuban family watching Obama’s speech during an entrepreneurs’ forum in Havana (21 March 2016)

Juan Juan Almeida, 28 March 2016 — I do not generally like rehashing old topics. It tends to squash conversation. But I am making an exception in this case because a critical reader, who in a confrontational tone accused me of being one of Castro’s spies, asked my opinion of President Barack Obama’s speech at Havana’s Gran Teatro Theater.

Time is a better and much wiser judge, and in politics everything is a production, like a Rolling Stone’s concert.

I will try to remain impartial. But for me the visit was an historic event. No sooner had Air Force One touched down in Havana than the topic was trending on all the social networks. Continue reading “Obama Invades Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida”

It was an outstanding speech: direct, clear and inspiring. He captivated us when he said, “ I can’t force you to agree, but you should know what I think. I believe that every person should be equal under the law. Every child deserves the dignity that comes with education, and health care and food on the table and a roof over their heads. I believe citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear, to organize and to criticize their government, and to protest peacefully, and that the rule of law should not include arbitrary detentions of people who exercise those rights. I believe that every person should have the freedom to practice their faith peacefully and publicly. And, yes, I believe voters should be able to choose their governments in free and democratic elections.”

He later sweetened the sentiment with classic and well-known references to Cuban culture like ropa vieja, Celia Cruz, exile and Our Lady of Charity.

Cubans like myself — those who were born and grew up with the revolution and long expected an invasion by strong, blond Americans in camouflage fatigues, brandishing guns in one hand — were amazed. I do not know if that is the right word. But within one minute of his reference to one of Jose Marti’s most beautiful and famous poems, “Cultivo una rosa blanca,” this skinny little guy — with charisma to spare — demolished the myth that for years had been fabricated, inculcated and exported by our leaders.

Obama seduced. He clearly scored with his visit to Havana but, like it or not, so did Raul Castro. A few days before the start of the VII Cuban Communist Party Conference on April 16 and months before his long anticipated retirement in February 2018, a U.S. president visited the island without Cuba’s leader having to make a single concession.

I understand that an abundance of passion can cloud one’s vision. We have imagined an oasis where there is only desert. This is called a mirage.

At no point did I see Raul Castro looking uncomfortable, as some of my countrymen have claimed.

I believe that his arrogant response to the requisite (and anticipated) question on political prisoners was a very bad move by the Cuban president to stall for time. But at this point in the tournament, even a few seconds count. His cynical closing shot — “give me the list and I will release them” — made it very clear that “on the plantation, he is in charge.”

Rather than an out-of-control dictator, what I saw was really an octogenarian clown with hearing problems. It was the same situation during Obama’s speech at the theater. Assuming they were following the rules of protocol, the president hosting the event would have known in advance what his guest would say.

A close friend of mine says his sources in Cuba have told him that the former commander-in-chief is upset with Raul over Obama’s visit. I don’t buy it. If the ex-omnipresent one is complaining, he must be because no one has changed his Pampers. This development is one he had long hoped for, especially after an unfortunate event during a visit to Europe for a funeral.

Acknowledged for his incomparable skill at managing crises, albeit immodestly, Fidel Castro would have used the attacks in Brussels to his advantage. To gain attention, he would have declared three days of mourning in solidarity with the Belgian victims, discredited Obama’s meeting with Cuban dissidents, suspended the baseball game with the American team when it looked like the Cubans would lose and stolen the show. In this way he would have diminished the significance of the president’s visit to “his island.”

“In politics, it is all about production values, like the Rolling Stone’s outdated concert.

MININT Confronts What Could Be Its Worst Challenge: Information Theft / Juan Juan Almeida

Raúl Castro pins the title of Hero of the Cuban Republic on division general Carlos Fernández Gondín.

Juan Juan Almeida, 31 March 2016 — Not so long ago there was a rumor that high officials of MINIT had been arrested by the Ministry. In agreement with those implicated in the event and making a clear allusion comparable to Case No. 1 of 1989 [a highly respected Cuban general was executed for drug trafficking], there was speculation about a new report. But the rumor faded away under a suspicious silence and a potent, air-tight cloak of secrecy.

Theories have flaws, and even the Roman Empire lasted four centuries longer than predicted.

What’s certain is that the Division General, Carlos Fernández Gondín, left his office in the MININT building accompanied by a doctor, after an attack of rage that gave him a stroke and left him hospitalized. Continue reading “MININT Confronts What Could Be Its Worst Challenge: Information Theft / Juan Juan Almeida”

What could have made him so irritated, or what could be so serious that it could reduce the blood flow of someone who had been capable, without remorse, of ordering the “ready, aim, fire” and, furthermore, justifying it.

A little more than four months after the Army General, Abelardo Colomé Ibarra (alias “Furry”), resigned from the Council of State and as Minister of the Interior, the Ministry faced what could be its biggest challenge: information theft.

What’s certain is that the recent initiate as Minister, Division General Carlos Fernández Gondín, who also holds the “honorable” award as Hero of the Republic of Cuba, left his office accompanied by a doctor, after an attack of fury, which provoked a stroke and left him hospitalized.

The possessor of a sinister countenance, General Gondín is known for keeping himself in the vanguard of the struggle. His principles, as well as his doctrine, begin and end with the word “terror.”

But when he had the new appointment, when he felt part of those who call the shots, a group or an individual, still not identified, entered the warehouse where the ultra-secret rumors are guarded and ransacked a very important data base with privileged information.

What information was stolen? I have no idea! And those who know aren’t talking. However, the Cuban Government has let loose the largest operation ever seen in many years, and, by the aggression of the search, is showing desperation.

Officials of Internal Control, Intelligence, Counter-Intelligence, Military Counter-Intelligence and the Commission of Defense and National Security have been given the task of finding and questioning, completely, without exceptions, those who entered and left the Ministry in question.

And, as all computer networks are fashionable these days, despite assurances that the theft was not the result of any cyber attack, there’s a good group of investigators, working full-time, who are snooping around, with incisive scrupulousness, in the corners of cyperspace.

The fear and reprimand suffered by the sadistic, cowardly, possessed and insecure Gondín, weren’t because he didn’t have copies of the stolen archives, but for the fear and worry of not knowing into whose hands what some consider “delicate information” could fall.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Raul Castro and His Retirement Plan / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 24 March 2016 — It is a few days before the start of the Cuban Communist Party Congress and Raul Castro is counting down the months until his retirement. He has everything more or less figured out. Almost. If you consider everything the president of both the Council of State and the Council of Ministers has said and done in the last two years, it quickly becomes apparent that it is all part of a plan in which he has weighed the possible consequences of an exponential loss of power. He knows that even if he wields power from the sidelines, as I anticipate will happen, there will be a handful of decisions about which he will not be consulted and, as happened to Fidel, he will find himself out of power.

Raul Castro’s plan is to retire while simultaneously reducing the very real possibility that a Baltasar Garzon will come along one day to stand in judgement over his many crimes. He is in jeopardy in Cuba; outside Cuba the risk is greater. Continue reading “Raul Castro and His Retirement Plan / Juan Juan Almeida”

The only person with whom he can cooperate to guarantee some sort of immunity is His Holiness the Pope.

Unlike in journalism, what is important in politics is what you don’t see.

Let’s take a look at recent events. In the past year the president of France, the prime minister of Italy, the president of Austria and now Barack Obama have passed through Havana. In the midst of all the comings and goings of important and elegant visitors, the Paris Club wrote off part of Cuba’s external debt.

It would be logical to think that all this is the result of some great negotiation, especially since we know that the Paris Club does not give away four billion dollars without some kind of agreement.

Tourism in Cuba has grown by more than 20%. Havana is filled with visitors while both profits and remittances are increasing. Clearly, there is a lot of money coming into the country yet the streets are disgusting, street lamps are non-existent, stores go unstocked and people are broken.

Where is all this money going?

A good part is being siphoned off to create a large fund to support the royal family and its retinue of bodyguards in retirement.

The well-publicized battle against corruption allows the general to consolidate the funds into a single treasure chest while at the same time eliminating a certain number of “corrupt” individuals whom he could not trust.

Based on information they had, these individuals accused officials of dishonesty. They had either followed the trail of misappropriated funds or knew where they were ultimately being directed. Rather than being corrupt officials, they became the incarcerated elite.

Such was the case of Thomas Lorenzo, former director of credit card sales at BICSA, a man whose crime was never larceny. His transgression lay in the way he handled information, which is perhaps why he ended up dying in prison.

Another portion of the money is being used to pay creditors and, by paying, gain their confidence and  protection. Russia, China and the Paris Club shelled out because there were demonstrations of an intent to pay and those actions warranted debt forgiveness.

The next person to visit Havana will be the recently elected president of Argentina, who has already warned his country that he will also commute part of the debt.

The strategy is effective but dangerous. It is very similar to the one used Nicolae Ceausescu before he was shot. He tightened Romania’s belt in an effort to begin paying down the country’s debts but his timing was bad. Misery had overtaken the country. It was 1989, the winds of freedom were blowing and the rest is history.

The only thing the general’s ingenious plan lacks is a successor capable of keeping him away from those like me who are always lurking. It should someone who is a loyal apprentice but not, in my opinion, his son. Or Miguel Diaz-Canel. No doubt we will begin to get some idea in the coming days after new appointments are announced during the upcoming VII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba.

Raul Castro Takes His Son to First Private Meeting with Obama / Juan Juan Almeida

Photo: Bilateral meeting between Raul Castro and Barack Obama in Havana.

Juan Juan Almeida, 22 March 2016 — President Barack Obama’s visit to Havana is replete with coded messages and defensive tactics. Why is it that at the start of the official ceremony we do not see Vice-President Miguel Diaz-Canel but rather Prince Alejandro Castro?

As everyone now knows, while the president of the United States was traveling on Air Force One to Jose Marti International Airport in Rancho Boyeros, the inhospitable Cuban government was brutally disrupting a peaceful demonstration by the Ladies in White and civil rights activists, showing us just how much progress it has made on the issue of human rights. Continue reading “Raul Castro Takes His Son to First Private Meeting with Obama / Juan Juan Almeida”

Raul Castro did not lead the delegation greeting this important visitor upon his arrival in Cuba. Instead we saw Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parilla and other lesser government officials in his place. I am not saying this is a serious breach of diplomatic protocol, but in fact it is a rather vulgar response given all the efforts at reconciliation made by the United States.

Obama laid a wreath at the monument to Cuba’s national hero, Jose Marti. Afterwards, it was also very odd to see Prince Alejandro at the first meeting between the two heads-of-state in place of any of the country’s vice-presidents.

While these types of actions may not follow protocol, they can be explained. At the moment the Cuban government is facing a less than full-blown state of emergency. It is in a state of mobilization, a state of war in a time of peace, and not because of the rarity of a visit by an American president. Not at all. It is because things back at the palace are not going well. The post of interior minister is vacant because the recently appointed Carlos Fernandez Gondin was involuntarily removed from office under suspicious circumstances.

Given the current situation and in compliance with some bogus article not found in the nation’s constitution, the country now finds itself under the control of the Commission for Defense and National Security, directed by none of other than the prince, Alejandro Castro.

Authorities Prepare a Lukewarm Welcome for Obama / Juan Juan Almeida

Cubans advised to stay home and watch Obama’s visit on TV

Juan Juan Almeida, 17 March 2016 —  Obama arrives in Havana on March 20. However, arbitrary arrests continue and we see only the most minimal progress on the issue of human rights and respect for basic freedoms.

The truth is Raul Castro is not pleased by all the enthusiasm surrounding his visitor, who on Havana’s streets is more popular than George Clooney.

An employee at the Cuban Export-Import Corporation — a man who is a current official and former officer in the Revolutionary Armed Forces — notes, “They are telling us is it not important to go and greet Obama and that we can see the events better on television, that everything will be very formal without a lot of fanfare.” Continue reading “Authorities Prepare a Lukewarm Welcome for Obama / Juan Juan Almeida”

Though Obama arrives in Havana on March 20, arbitrary arrests continue and we see only the most minimal progress on the issue of human rights and respect for basic liberties.

Although many of our fellow citizens do not want to acknowledge it, or do not understand it, one thing is clear: The agenda of the President of the United States extends far beyond the borders of one island.

Fifty-years of conflict have produced no significant results, so Washington and Havana have decided to stop being each other’s worst enemies and to become respectful neighbors instead.

I do not know why they could not see it before. It has been a constant throughout history. The Greeks and Romans were always inventing new and ingenious ways to gain influence with their rivals.

Confrontation only works when there is a lot to be gained. Perhaps that is why a few hours before his arrival surveys indicate that Barack Obama is more popular on the  streets of Havana than George Clooney.

In fact, Raul Castro is not pleased by all the enthusiasm surrounding his visitor.

His press kit has always been divided into two parts. One is aimed at Cuba and Cubans. The other is aimed at his principal target audience, international public opinion, which has involved garnering favorable newspaper and magazine headlines for one’s own benefit.

With more than 2,400 arrests in the first months of this year, the rhetoric that Cuba and Cubans hear remains an eternal constant: We will change, we will continue to repress, we have the power, the country is my ranch and its businesses are run by my soldiers, the Yanks won’t even put up a fight.

For those beyond the front door, for the world, the message is clear and needs no further clarification: You can be a dictator, you can repress, you can enjoy the earnings generated by properties you have illegally seized from the United States and your reward will be a visit from the president of the United States.

But beyond its swaggering, troglodyte bravura, the Castro leadership is relying on Pepto Bismol.

These days, the island’s government is trying to behave harmoniously, maintaining a demure posture in response to American attempts at reconciliation.

Forced to abandon its long-held image of David against Goliath, it has ordered various faithful lieutenants to inform businesses and ministries — in no uncertain terms — that workers need not abet or attend public events where President Obama will be present.

I was told by an employee at the Cuban Export-Import Corporation, a man who is a current official and former officer in the Revolutionary Armed Forces, “They are telling us is it not important to go and greet Obama, that we can see the events better on television, that everything will be very formal, without a lot of fanfare.”

Message received. Over and out!