Juan Juan Almeida, 24 September 2015 — Cuba is trying to silence a national “explosion” of great intensity, which implicates officers of the Interior Ministry (MININT), the Ministry of the Armed Forces (MINFAR), the Cultural Goods Fund (a Cultural center promoting and selling art and handicrafts), the National Bank of Cuba, foreign businessmen and artisanal shoemakers in the Camajuaní municipality of Villa Clara.
According to sources inside the National Prosecutor’s office, one of those implicated was surprised overseas by the news, and in order to evade justice, prefers not to return.
Fraud, falsification, bribery, extortion, contraband, abuse of authority, illicit enrichment, tariff violation, tax evasion of the National Tax Administration and influence peddling are among the presumed crimes for more than 50 people in different training centers.
The estimated amount of bribery charges exceeds five million pesos (US$188,679) and is expected to continue being sniffed out; right now there’s an impasse in the legal process.
By decision at the highest level of Government, the affair acquired a “character of secrecy” in order to not tarnish His Holiness’s visit to the island, to not give a bad impression to possible investors, and, furthermore, because it involves several officials whose names don’t appear on the list of those implicated.
A BIT OF HISTORY
Camajuaní is a small municipality, founded in the 19th century, located in the northeast of Villa Clara, right at a crossroads and railroad lines. This easy public thoroughfare converted it into a settlement for merchants and traders.
Because of this, decades of a planned economy and “revolutionary” experiments (half revolutionary, half communist) didn’t manage to keep the entrepreneurial spirit from passing, like DNA, from generation to generation.
In Camajuaní, the footwear industry is the local engine of growth. So an important number of artisanal shoemakers are members of the Cultural Goods Fund, a State institution that has the peculiarity of permitting artisans to break the State’s monopoly on imports.
The artisans in the Fund can leave Cuba and buy raw material, machines and/or tools to use in production; they can import quantities of material from specified countries by making use of a special document called the “Importation Document;” and they can sell their products to people, businesses and/or ministries.
This may seem simple, but no: This sector of Cuban entrepreneurs also has to face the general corruption in a narrow legal framework and a widespread social prejudice. It’s very easy to offend when almost everything is prohibited.
So, faced with increasing demand, these artisans, in order to expand production, and because State procedures are so cumbersome, falsified the Importation Document.
Others, more astute, began to alter the import permit and their productive capacity by bribing Customs bosses and agents, MININT officials and important executives of the Cultural Goods Fund, who permitted them, in exchange for green bills, to change the classification “artisanal machinery” to “industrial equipment.”
A secure market. The boots bought by the Armed Forces and the Youth Labor Army normally are made by COMBELL, a depressed company that tries to guaranty a supply to the military.
But when this isn’t achieved, a practice that appears premeditated, the Armed Forces impresarios open up a bidding in which the artisans participate.
The Cuban authorities presume that these operators, now in prison, won the bidding after buttering up those in uniform with decision-making power, along with National Bank officers, who, after receiving a commission, gave preference to the Fund.
What’s bad is that the private workshops that gave a living to a good number of people, including former workers from the health industry, who before earned a laughable salary and, today, as private individuals, can earn 100, 150 and even 200 pesos daily, will have to close for lack of raw material; it’s only a question of time.
The Camajuaní municipality has a population of under 60,000 inhabitants. It’s worrisome to know that an important part of them will be left unemployed; and, logically, this will cause major problems.
Translated by Regina Anavy