MININT Colonel In The Vortex of The Theft of Papers From MININT / Juan Juan Almeida

Ministry of the Interior Colonel Emilio Alejandro Monsanto

Juan Juan Almeida, 20 June 2016 — Carlos Emilio is a pseudonym. He has the rank of Colonel, and his real name is Emilio Alejandro Monsanto. He’s detained in Havana, in an elegant house converted into a military prison, accused of being the possible intellectual author of the theft and sale of information from the eighth floor of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), and of having organized a series of operations to launder more than 100 million dollars in Panama, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Mexico, Spain, the Dominican Republic and the United States that implicate General Abelardo Colomé Ibarra (“Furry”), Iraida Hidalgo (Furry’s wife), General Carlos Fernández Gondín; also, General Román, Commander Ramiro Valdés, various members of the Commission of Defense and National Security, families of the deceased General, Julio Casas Regueiro, a daughter of the present President of the Council of State and Ministers of the Republic of Cuba, Raúl Castro, and other less important elements of the olive-green Cuban jet set.

But of course, as my grandmother, who was the queen of street smarts, said, “The wolf will always be the bad guy because it’s Little Red Riding Hood who tells the story.” Continue reading “MININT Colonel In The Vortex of The Theft of Papers From MININT / Juan Juan Almeida”

The information that arrives in drips and drabs from Havana about the hermetically sealed case ensures that, hidden under a tangle of joint stock companies, those who are implicated in the almost impenetrable investigative file expatriated Cuban capital through a series of operations of doubtful commercial coherence and ended up raiding the national budget.

Sources with supposed access to the case surmise that:

1. They laundered the money in financial entities, such as:

  • Financiera Ricamar S.A.: Calle 18 super 99, Monte Oscuro, Panama.
  • Financiera Eurolatina S.A.: Paitilla, Plaza Bal Halbour M-38, San Francisco, Panama City.
  • Financiera Bescanvi Occidental S.A.: Ave. Federico Boyd, Cond. Alfaro L-48, Bella Vista, Panama City.

2. With the alleged political influence of President Daniel Ortega, they invested in the construction of Galerías Santo Domingo, located on the Boulevar de Los Mártires. Today, it’s the most exclusive commercial center in Managua; rather, in all of Nicaragua.

3. With an injection of money that was suspicious due to the inability to demonstrate the origin of their funds, they created a corporation located on the Avenida Hispanoamericana de Santiago de los Caballeros, in the Dominican Republic, which now reports accountable losses.

4. With the mediation of straw men (their names are already being leaked, because all materials burn if you apply the adequate spark), they bought properties in Barcelona, Madrid, Marbella, Murcia, Galicia, Miami, Cape Coral, Fort Myers and New York.

I’m not saying more for the protection of my informants, because we live in a society where it’s easy to judge, and because it’s not fair to use or punish a scapegoat as an excuse for the accuser’s ends. It’s that, as usual, the truly guilty, those who lost their sense of time, space and decency, continue to be free and sovereign. It wouldn’t be the first time; we saw it in the judgment of Cases 1 and 2 in 1989*, which some water down, many restate and, in reality, few understand.

Being an accomplice or a collaborator of a group in power grants certain advantages; but it’s inconvenient for life and liberty.

*Translator’s note: A reference to the execution of General Ochoa and others, after being found guilty of drug smuggling and treason.

Translated by Regina Anavy

The Military’s Coup d’Etat Against Eusebio Leal’s Empire / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 1 August 2016 — The principal sources of income of the business, Habaguanex, and the Office of the Historian of Havana, are now officially part of the Group of Business Administration [GAE] of the Revolutionary Armed Forces; and the rest are removed or scrapped.

After a long process that ended in this expected adjudication, the intervention was announced this Saturday, July 30, early in the morning, in the elegant salon Del Monte, located on the first floor of the famous hotel, Ambos Mundos, in Havana.

The military interventionist, neither more nor less, was Division General Leonardo Ramón Andollo Valdés, who, among his distinctions (and he has more than the number of cheap wines), is the Second Head of State Major General of the FAR [Revolutionary Armed Forces], and the Second Head of the Permanent Commission for the Implementation and Development of Perfecting the Economic and Social Model of Cuban society. Continue reading “The Military’s Coup d’Etat Against Eusebio Leal’s Empire / Juan Juan Almeida”

“Can you imagine! According to what General Andollo said, the GAE has the control of accomplishing a more efficient function,” commented an ironic assistant in the mentioned meeting, who, upon kindly requesting he not be identified, added, “The soldiers do more harm to the country’s economy than Reggaeton does to Cuban music.”

At the pernicious conference, which, for almost obvious reasons, Dr. Eusebio Leal didn’t attend, GAE officials and officers of State Security and Military Counter Intelligence ordered that cell phones be removed from all the participants.

On the dispossessed side were the heads of the business section of the Office of the Historian of the City of Havana and its adjunct director, Perla Rosales Aguirreurreta, plus the present directors of the Tourist Company Habaguanex S.A. and all its managers of hotels, bars, cafeterias, shops, restaurants and hostels.

“This seems to be a coup d’état. An abuse of Leal’s efforts. Not to mention the hours of work that many of us have put in on the recovery of this part of the city that remained forgotten. Speaking in economic terms, Habaguanex has grown much more than Gaviota, TRD and all those military businesses together. No one can deny the efficiency of our work and our marketing strategy. Yesterday, this was a marginal, stinking zone on the edge of collapse; the reality is that today, there is no tourist, whether a head of State, diplomat or celebrity in any field who comes to this capital and doesn’t visit Old Havana,” argued one of the principal restorers of the so-called Historic Quarter, with feeling.

“Bit by bit we’re being dismantled – and I repeat: the park of the Maestrana, the museums and the shop of the Muñecos de Leyendas [mythical creatures], continue, for the moment, in the hands of the Office of the Historian, until, it’s also whispered, we pass under the direction of the Minister of Culture.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

Top Official Of The Ministry Of The Interior Implicated In Contraband Case: Crime Or Reckoning? / Juan Juan Almeida

José Martí International Airport

Juan Juan Almeida, August 8, 2016 — This past July 18, in the Cuban capital, Lieutenant Colonel Rafael Mujica, the head of the Capdevila Special Command of Firefighters, Boyeros municipality, and of the prevention unit of the José Martí Havana Airport, was detained.

He’s accused of being the brains behind a hypothetical illegal operation — in addition to being a millionaire — involving trafficking and contraband: exploiting an advantageous privilege, like having free access to restricted areas of the upper terminals of the Havana airport, in order to charge passengers for taking out and/or bringing into the country prohibited articles without passing through the correct customs and migration controls. They also impute to him the supposed use of firefighter unit inspections to put obstacles in the way of projects and foreign investments and then accepting the ubiquitous bribe to release the permits. Continue reading “Top Official Of The Ministry Of The Interior Implicated In Contraband Case: Crime Or Reckoning? / Juan Juan Almeida”

Sources who claim they’re close to the case, and who prefer to remain anonymous for their own protection, reveal that at the moment of the arrest, the authorities were alerted about another individual, nameless for the moment because it hasn’t been leaked, who managed to escape the country recently, with an unknown destination and false documents, and who could be the possible co-author of these continued crimes.

“What’s bad about that?” asks someone who then answered himself. “It’s one of the ways, secretly but with previous government authorization, that Cuban intelligence uses to bring in or take out of the country merchandise and people. They taught the formula; he learned it and used it.”

Part of the airport security is built over the firefighting unit, which Mujica directs, and is located at one side of the 4,000 meter runway of the Havana aerodome, between terminal 3 of the José Martí airport and terminal 5 of Guajay, where Aero Caribbean and other charter airlines operate commercially. It’s a special location, where, supposedly, packages stolen from the wagons that transport luggage could be taken out without touching the airport, and material and people could enter the airport without the least fear, violating all the legal regulations.

“I’m not saying that Rafael is a saint. The greed of Cuban officials is a notable phenomenon. They all feel the need to grab property in order to face a future that appears uncertain, that seems to offer no shelter. So it’s more than a case of corruption. It looks like a settling of accounts,” says someone here in Miami who identifies himself as a friend of the detained soldier.

“The Cuban military class to which he belongs has turned its back on him out of fear. But doesn’t it seem strange that Mujica, today presumed corrupt, hasn’t created bad memories among anyone who knows him or his subordinates? Doesn’t it seem equally strange that, having so much money as they supposedly say, he lives in a modest home wth the roof falling down, in the neighborhood of Lawton?”

Translated by Regina Anavy

Trading With the United States is a Task for the Cuban Military / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 11 July 2106 — On April 22, 2016, the U.S. State Department revised Section 515.582 of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, which now establishes that goods and services produced by independent Cuban entrepreneurs on the island can be exported to the United States. The Government of Cuba has had for a while, as an experiment, a clever strategy that applies today and is baptized with the emphatic name of “Associative and Cooperative Operation of Productive Troops.” It’s not transparency; it’s a matter of publicity.

The American Government’s method is to offer new and better business opportunities to the Cuban private sector. The response of the island government is to distort the scheme and confound U.S. institutions. As already noted in the preceding paragraph, now they have to do the paperwork. The plan is simple: transform the military corps that is part of the productive ground troops of the Cuban Armed Forces into small, false groups of independent producers. Continue reading “Trading With the United States is a Task for the Cuban Military / Juan Juan Almeida”

One thing that stands out among the skilled actions that the Great State of the Armed Forces of Cuba is implementing to make political currency from its exports is the change in cooperation between the Army and “Plan Turquino.” This development program, founded in 1987 and alluding to the highest elevation in Cuba, gave priority to the economic, political and environmental development of Cuba’s mountainous zones. The emphasis was on the production of coffee, cocoa, sugarcane, various crops, cattle development, forestal activities and services. These have already been transferred to fictitious civilian entities, created under the profile of private cooperatives but clearly directed by sergeants and/or lieutenants from the different provinces.

Concrete examples of this shiny disguise are a coffee plantation of the El Salvador municipality, two of Yateras and one of Maisí, which, until yesterday, belonged to the Territorial Military Headquarters of Guantánamo Province, and presently appear registered as farming associations.

The same thing is happening in Santiago de Cuba. Two coffee farms of the III Frente municipality and two of the II Frente are in the phase of documental masking in order to demonstrate and convince the U.S. of their “entrepreneurial independence.”

In Granma province, various coffee farms are in a similar process of subverting the documentation: four in the Buey Arriba municipality, two in Guisa and one in Bartolomé Masó. And in Cienfuegos, the same thing is happening with two coffee fields in the Cumanayagua municipality that pretend to pass from the olive-green cap to the yarey sombrero.

It’s curious to hear, from morning to night, that these new entrepreneurial economic organizations, which supposedly function independently from the State, count among their assets such top technology equipment as coffee pulping machines (recently imported), bulldozers and trucks, in addition to the disinterested collaboration of the army camps that, “voluntarily,” are ready to replace the deficit of the coffee workforce on the island.

What they’re after with this idea is to camouflage squads of soldiers under a very-well-designed facade of worker associations with management autonomy to export the product to the United States, without any “ifs, ands or buts.”

For the time being, Cuban soldiers have placed special interest on the subject of coffee.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Cuba Continues Sending Doctors to Brazil and Venezuela / Juan Juan Almeida

Doctors in Brazil with (now ousted) President Dilma Rousseff

Juan Juan Almeida, 28 July 2016 — In spite of certain comments, important desertions, crises, adjustments and a new renegotiation, the Government of Cuba will continue sending doctors to health programs in Venezuela and Brazil.

Cuban health authorities scour the island, from end to end, affirming in every corner that they are prepared to interrupt or cancel these two medical missions. In this coming and going, they also announce a new strategy to redirect cooperation, increasing the health service on the island for tourism, and they emphasize that they’re not going to close the mission in Venezuela or any of its states. Continue reading “Cuba Continues Sending Doctors to Brazil and Venezuela / Juan Juan Almeida”

So yes, they’re going to reduce the work-force, because the agreements between the Cuban and Venezuelan governments were signed when a barrel of oil had an exuberant price, and today it has another.

According to official information, published in the digital portal of the Cuban News Agency, 98 Cuban doctors, recent graduates of the University of Medical Sciences of Havana, will leave soon for the Bolivarian Republic, but the notice doesn’t mention that they’ve reduced the number of collaborators who aren’t doctors.

The agreements are readjusted, and the number of workers not directly related to healthcare delivery is reduced. The same thing is happening in the Andean state of Táchira, where, owing to the renewed contract, every collaborator (non-medical professonal) has to travel in a minibus to distant and dangerous zones daily, to care for up to four of the 25 Centers of Integral Diagnostics that exist. A Cuban-style agreement: multiply the work and the responsibility, not the salary.

In Brazil something very different is happening. The mission enjoys better health and the impact of the “More Doctors” program is greater. There the coverage for primary health care is growing — this is already a reality — and it certainly grew more in the last two years than in the seven previous ones.

One significant detail is that during the journey of the Olympic torch through the Brazilian states, it was a Cuban doctor, Argelio Hernández Pupo, who carried the flame in the northeastern city of Lagoa Grande.

Brazil will receive athletes, tourists, celebrities and the press. So, because of the Olympic games, and the danger from the outbreak of Zika, the Cuban authorities have made provisions to curtail the vacations of the medical and non-medical missionaries for the months of July and August. They will begin returning to the island beginning September 15.

However, “Cuban health personnel will increase there. It’s programmed that this month some 250 doctors will go to Brazil with the mission of filling in the gaps,” said a terrified source who declined to be identified, although, worried, he added, “The truth is I don’t know what ’the gaps’ means.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

They’re building houses for Cubans deported from the U.S. / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 4 July 2016 — The Cuban authorities are preparing to receive, in a short period of time, a bonanza  of Cubans with deportation orders in the U.S. They’re constructing for them, in an undeveloped area, what many call a “polyfoam” neighborhood.

Judicial and police matters are subjects that both governments discuss with a view to normalizing and perfecting relations. In agreement with official data published in July 2015, they have mandated the deportation of 35,106 Cuban nationals in the U.S., of which, at this moment, 162 are detained and 34,944 are at liberty.

One of the lawyers for the Office of Housing said that this ward, located in the Havana municipality of Boyeros, very close to Avenida Vento, just on the border that separates Capdevila and Altahabana, which has been conceptualized as “Popular Council Capdevila 1,” was conceived to shelter and/or isolate the Cubans expelled from the North.

Continue reading “They’re building houses for Cubans deported from the U.S. / Juan Juan Almeida”

The deportees will come together, in this one-of-a-kind district, with a “thousand beings.” Some have spent years, by the grace of God, without housing, because their houses collapsed; some are ex-prisoners whose conduct is still marginal, and certain families are “special cases” whose homes were expropriated, by force and without claim, for different reasons.

How to bring snow to the desert 

With an acceptable and misleading image that falsifies its real and flimsy character, the area is composed of small, multi-family buildings constructed of polyurethane foam boards. For the time being, and it seems that even later, they won’t have numbers on the front doors. The streets still haven’t been paved and there is no adequate signage. But, as a Mexican move star said, “This doesn’t have the least importance or the greatest transcendence.”

Accommodating a new neighborhood with different concepts can be confusing. I’m speaking of hospitality, housing and prison.

I managed to talk with someone who works there constructing these buildings, a specialist in the material cited, and who identified himself as the architect for the community.

The professional explained that polyurethane foam offers total thermal and water-repellent insulation. It’s easy to handle, doesn’t contaminate the environment, contains no insects or rodents, doesn’t need any special care, doesn’t decay, doesn’t rust or become moldy; it’s light, flexible, elastic, waterproof; the chemicals are inert, and it serves as an excellent insulator from noise. But here’s the thing: It’s not designed for the load to which it’s being subjected. Then he stopped talking and in a subtle transition, mixing honesty, disillusion and imprudence, he concluded: “We’ll see how it holds up when the first hurricane starts blowing. I’ll let you know.”


Translated by Regina Anavy

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.