Lazara Lopez Acea, A Cuban Leader Sure to Be in the New Group in Power / Juan Juan Almeida

Lázara Mercedes López Acea (right) with Esteban Lazo Hernández, president of Cuba’s National Assembly (center)

Juan Juan Almeida, 20 March 2018 — The historical leadership of the island’s regime proceeds, forced and with urgency, towards a transfer of power that does not arrive by conviction but by biological exhaustion. Therefore, for the men and women on whose shoulders the support of the structure of the Government and the State weighs, much more than the successor, the important thing is to know who will be the members of the new Government group that will be installed this coming 19 April. Who will be the vice presidents and ministers, who are already emerging as the new influencers?

Born on 1 September 1964, Lázara Mercedes López Acea has managed her contacts to be among the leaders who have already secured their passage to the new power group. continue reading

A professional engineer, obstinate, compassionate, she carries the additional label of “intelligent student”, according to her university classmates. Lázara Mercedes grew up in a small Cienfuegos town known as Caunao. Having an alcoholic brother forced her to grow up early and transformed him from an elusive and complex child, to a woman of strong character and few words.

The history of an individual, in a certain way, is that of those around her. Her mother Liduvina, housewife, and her late father Tomás, barber of Orrutinel Street between San Carlos and San Fernando, made a humble home, which later became dysfunctional due to the alcoholism of her brother Frank. Perhaps for that reason, the current member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba , maintains a low media profile and is the furthest thing that exists from the concept of feminine elegance and sensuality.

Her co-workers describe her as a hard-working woman and insist that she is not a corrupt official. However, most of Cienfuegueros consider that her political-administrative management, as the first Secretary of the Party in the province, went through many sorrows and glory. It is impossible to hide that under her mandate the street lighting was installed in most of Cienfuegos, which, according to its inhabitants, was non-existent until then.

But if we look at her history, in July of 2005, while the province suffered the onslaught of Hurricane Dennis, she continued to report on Mesa Redonda (The Roundtable) on Cuban television. The whole country saw her lying about the state of the province and, in one of her trips through the affected areas, in the neighborhood of Reina, a fishing village, Lázara announced that the area was recovering, that electrical service had already been restored and the water supply stabilized, as a result of which a group of people stoned her and she even received a slap from a protester in front of the microphones of Cuban television.

After the passage of the hurricane, the province was destroyed and many food warehouses were roofless. Hunger and desperation took over “the pearl of the south,” and by order of Lopez Acea, in clear disrespect for the duties of government and the rights of the people, poor quality rice was distributed to the population. The population protested and to relieve the discomfort, as a lifesaver, she suggested distributing honey because of its nutritional properties. But the plan was clearly absurd because the storm had destroyed all the local beehives. Since then, as a joke, she has been nicknamed “Larzarita Bee Honey.”

During her time in the presidency in Cienfuegos, 2003-2006, several plans were not carried out. So much so, that everyone thought that she would be removed from office; but that same year the Cuban government needed blacks and women in important functions, within the leadership of the country, to show plurality among its cadres.

And so it was, on that occasion, her friendship with Cuban Vice President José Ramón Machado Ventura, along with her gender and race, served the need unquestionably, so that on May 27, 2006, Mercedes was given the unexpected boost to First Secretary of the Party in Havana and the chance to join the Council of State.

She is currently an important national politician and vice president of the Council of State of the Republic of Cuba. It was she who influenced the appointment of Roberto Morales Ojeda as her successor in 2006, in the position of first Secretary of the Party in Cienfuegos. And then, already based in Havana, she influenced General Raúl Castro to appoint her unconditional friend, the same Roberto Morales Ojeda, to the post he holds today, Minister of Public Health of Cuba.

From Cienfuegos they moved her to Havana’s Nautico neighborhood, right next to the house where the first Cuban Vice President Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez lived. But things have changed. Today both live in another more comfortable and better guarded place, which we will speak of in another article.

Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel Powerful and Without Power / Juan Juan Almeida

Miguel Diaz-Canel

Juan Juan Almeida, 23 March 2018 — For some reason that I can not recall, the name of Diaz-Canel impressed itself on me some time ago, when one afternoon, between 1992 and 1994, I arrived at the house of the chief guard of my father (Juan Almeida Bosque) and he told me that, during a meeting attended only by members of the then Council of State of the Republic of Cuba, on the fourth floor of the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (MINFAR), José Ramón Machado Ventura had shown Raul Castro, and all the others present, several files with photos of a group of young leaders proposed to hold positions within the Government.

Among them was that of a certain Miguelito Díaz-Canel, whom Raúl rejected saying that he was too young and that he had to be trained a little. continue reading

Born on April 20, 1960, a professional engineer and former university professor, Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermudez is the most presidential among all. The constant reiteration of this image over the last months suggests he can be the successor to the president of the Council of State of the Republic of Cuba.

It is curious, within the ranks of the Communist Party, former classmates, and even within his own family, his name provokes a rare mixture of opinions and mixed reactions. Former students from the Central University Marta Abreu de Las Villas (UCLV), where he graduated as an engineer, remember him as hard-working student but as one of limited inventiveness and little ingenuity.

Coworkers describe him as a reserved guy who writes verses he does not share with anyone. Some who are more inclined to risktaking, comment that his strategy of ascent to power lies simply in keeping his mouth shut. And a person close to his family expresses “many of us organize our lives around big or small decisions. This is not the case of Díaz-Canel, he is different because he situates himself on the side of the undecided so as not to attract attention or to contradict anyone.”

Regardless of opinions for or against him, Miguel Diaz-Canel is a leader manufactured by political necessity and the expiration date of the historical leaders of the island’s regime.

Skillful, with good eyesight, a better nose, and the charisma of a crocodile, the current first vice president of Cuba remains a good man who appeared in the partisan labor market after keeping his head down and managing to mold himself to please Raul Castro and his main mentor, José Ramón Machado Ventura.

If he were the successor, the degree of openness or closure of his governance would depend to a large extent on how the United States confronts the situation. However, the future of the island will not be exactly who gets the crown but who takes the scepter and can conquer the throne.

Diaz-Canel is an accepted leader, but that does not mean he is a respected man. In August of 2017, a bad video of him showed up in social networks. In it appears a Diaz-Canel expressing cheap bravado against what he described as “an avalanche of proposals and projects of subversive content,” among which he mentions the collection of digital material known as The Weekly Packet, certain private businesses that reach back to the 1950s, and even promises to close the OnCuba digital magazine.

Now, in March of 2018, this means of communication continues on the island and the boys of the ’Packet’ continue distributing audiovisual material. The authority of this gentleman, as first vice-president of a dictatorial country, is more questionable than the title of stylist for Kim Jong-un’s hairdresser.

The work schedule of whoever is the new leader includes a series of important measures. These are the ones that do not solve much but are striking:

  • Announce the final touches in the computerization of Cuban society, so that the population has greater access to the internet when the installation of the connection service is completed by mobile phones, known as 3G, and increase the use of new technologies nationwide.
  • Repeal certain regulations and create others.
  • Reform the country’s financial system.
  • Approve a new law for foreign investment.
  • Complete a labor reform focused on increasing, conclusively, the quality of employment of Cuban workers, generating more self-employment and improving, ostensibly, the treatment of pensioners.

Can Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel execute these important measures? I doubt it. This agenda is designed to confuse public opinion, add a new element to the scenario of Cuba-US relations, play with the uncertainty of the people and destroy, with intangible reforms, the plans for a dissent that offers very little.

Restructuring the Defense and Security Commission Headed by Raul Castro’s Son / Juan Juan Almeida

Raul Castro

Juan Juan Almeida, 6 March 2018 — Less than forty days before a parliamentary session that will mark the end Raúl Castro’s presidency, the Cuban government has ordered the restructuring of the command center of the National Defense and Security Commission (CDSN), a state security agency under the direction of the country’s central command.

Sources close to the group, which is headed by Raúl Castro’s son, Alejandro Castro Espín, have told Martí Noticias that, over the course of several days, files, furniture, weapons and computers have been removed from the agency’s headquarters which, as of a few days ago, were located on Kohly Avenue between 36th and 39th streets in the Havana neighborhood of Nuevo Vedado. continue reading

“It has been an extremely cautious process, carried out at a time of night when there is little or no traffic,” said the source, who asked to remain anonymous.

The real reason for the decision to reorganize the powerful CDSN is not clear. Unofficial speculation is that the decision is an attempt to erase any trace of a possible cover-up related to the sonic attacks on American and Canadian diplomats in Cuba.

The alleged attacks have strained diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana, and has led to a sixty-person reduction in personnel at the American embassy in Cuba out of security concerns.

Others speculate that Raúl Castro, the current president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers, ordered changes to the agency because he prefers a smaller group focused on providing him personal protection after the transfer of power.

The National Defense and Security Commission is a quasi-governmental agency with limited power and without legal status but which operates like a parallel government. Among its functions are the following:

1. Planning, directing and reviewing services of the government ministries and state security agencies.

2. Creating, forming and appointing the advisory and coordination bodies necessary for the fulfillment of the various ministries’ missions.

3. Participating in the regulation, coupling and control of all entities associated and related to the central governmental administrative agencies.

4. Exercising and supervising, under its responsibility, the functions that the President of the Republic entrusts to him.

Some officials allege that Alejandro Castro Espín has often fallen short as the head of the commission.

But according to sources interviewed by Martí Noticias, Colonel Castro Espín has not been disciplined or removed from his post, as has erroneously been reported in social media.

What is curious is that, in conjunction with the measures being taken by the Cuban high command with respect to the commission, certain families living in homes adjoining the so-called Punto Cero* have been evicted.

Last week, the wife and one of the children of the late Commander Juan Almeida Bosque were “dispatched” from their home in police transport vehicles belonging to the Interior Ministry’s personal security directorate.

Everything happening in this country has to do with the transfer of control scheduled for April 19. Any decision related to this event takes on almost dramatic importance and has specific connections to it,” said a former senior officer from the Revolutionary Armed Forces.

The splitting up or disarming of the commission has not escaped national attention. Reports obtained by Martí Noticias point out that some individuals from the select agency have approached the probable presidential successors now that they can no longer count on the longtime, outgoing leadership.

It is no secret that uncertainty has gripped the halls of power.

“The arrival of the successor, whoever he is, will not only cause the removal of many established managers, but will also bring the appearance of a new government team that everyone wants to belong to,” said the former soldier.

Translator’s note: *Point Zero. A highly secured government compound on the outskirts of Havana where members of the Castro family and other high-ranking officials live.

Kcho in the Hands of Raul Castro / Juan Juan Almeida

Fidel Castro’s late son Fidel Castro Diaz-Balart (left, blue shirt) and the artist known as Kcho, next to him.

Juan Juan Almeida, 23 February 2018 — The well-known plastic artist Alexis Leyva Machado, known as Kcho, an emblematic figure of official cultural, was transferred from the house where he was receiving treatment to fight a severe drug addiction to a holding center to legally prosecute him for being involved in various criminal actions.

With the investigation phase recently concluded, the prosecutor appointed in the case is awaiting the decision of president Raul Castro to order the dismissal or the continuation of the process, in order to present the defendant before the courts, according to Martí Noticias. continue reading

“For years they sold us Kcho as an exemplary citizen and deputy to the National Assembly of People’s Power — to which he was elected twice — even when several accusations against him described the opposite. The difference is that now he lost his status as a deputy, and with that his parliamentary prerogative,” a source close to the process explained to Martí News.

Holding of a parliamentary status with prerogative is applied in Criminal Law and complicates the legal submission of certain persons to specific courts. However, the artist has not been included in the list of 605 candidates for the National Assembly, whose upcoming term will begin on April 19.

For not having paid his debt to the Ministry of Communications, protected and using for personal benefit his status as a parliamentarian and his recognized friendship with the late Fidel Castro, Kcho appears implicated in accusations such as delinquency, punishable insolvency, breach of payment, abuse of authority and influence peddling.

According to sources who spoke with Martí Noticias, the Prosecutor’s Office has dropped the charge of the drug trafficking because it does not have evidence of sale, although he does distribute and illegally possess this type of substances that are highly dangerous and harmful to health.

During the investigation process messages were found that came from Leyva Machado’s cell phones, in which young people — some of them minors — are explicitly induced to practice prostitution in exchange for money.

“In that case, he can be charged with the crimes of sexual outrage, procuring and corruption of minors,” said a judicial source consulted.

However, the case could be dismissed.

The dismissal would be a type of judicial resolution that is dictated by a judge or a court — never the President of the Councils of State and of Ministers — suspending a criminal proceeding because the result could be unwanted implications, the investigation shows absence of crimes, or it is considered that a case does not justify the judicial action.

“If they are allowed to apply the law,” concludes the lawyer interviewed, “in the best of cases, due to his drug addiction, the law could consider him to be in the State of Dangerousness, included in the Penal Code to sanction antisocial behavior of those who usually break the rules of social coexistence through acts of violence or other acts of provocation.”

“But in this case, the top leadership of the country has decided to turn the legal authorities into a private law firm,” the source added.

At the end of last year, Kcho, 47, was admitted to the Mental Health Center (CENSAM) after facing serious problems of drug addiction.

The artist’s fate has been the subject of unofficial comments and versions over the past few weeks, linking him to acts of domestic violence, and failing to play millions to the state communications monopoly, ETECSA.

Alarm Over Young People Using Dangerous Drugs in Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 30 January 2018 — The intoxication of seven young Cubans who used a new drug proliferating on Cuban streets, has sounded the alarm at high government levels on the island.

The substance, identified as Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate (GHB), aroused concern because of its dangerousness.  It is taken in search of a euphoric effect accompanied by disinhibition and sexual stimulation. The cases were reported to the Institute of Legal Medicine of Havana, and have put on alert the State Council, the National Security Commission, the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) and the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP), according to the information obtained by Martí News. continue reading

Although so far no deaths have been reported due to the use of this new hallucinogenic in Cuba, it is known that its consumption can lead to coma and respiratory system affects, with a number of acute side effects, and even death.

The drug seems not to have appeared yet in Cuba’s interior provinces; all seven cases were reported in Havana.

In recent weeks, the official press has intensified warnings about the consequences of drug use among youth. On January 18, the official Cubadebate portal published the story of a mother concerned about her son’s addiction, and accompanied the text with the opinion of youth psychiatrist Idelys Clavero Ariz on the most effective way to combat addictions in society. However the cases of those affected by this new drug were not mentioned.

GHB, as the hallucinogenic is known, is a depressant of the central nervous system which, although many associate it with the drug Ecstasy, has nothing to do with MDMA or other substances similar to amphetamines, according to medical sources.

“The effects of this drug appear around 45 minutes after taking the dose,” a source linked to the investigation told Martí News.

“The chemical composition of this substance makes it difficult for it to be detected by security protocols followed by Customs officials; however, as it is used in the investigation of certain diseases, we are inclined to suspect that it was not imported into the country but that it was taken from one of the laboratories of BioCubaFarma or another laboratory of the Public Health system that uses it,” added the researcher, who asked not to be identified.

GHB is also known as Buche, Kiss or Super Viagra, is a colorless and odorless liquid. It is a type of synthetic drug that is metabolized very quickly and causes an intensified sense of well-being, extroversion, emotional warmth, empathy towards others and the willingness to talk about emotionally charged memories. It is consumed mixed with other substances such as alcohol or energy drinks, which complicates its detection by clinical analysis.

Some members of the Cuban Communist Party have suggested silence so as not to create alarm, while investigators and Ministry of the Interior officials are anxious to uncover the trail from import, trafficking and the consumption of this dangerous scourge.

The Ministry of Public Health works to save patients who arrive at any of its facilities and proposes to raise awareness among the population of the danger posed by this drug.

The government, for its part, issued a circular ordering that clinics, hospitals and other institutions of the Health System that receive people with the symptoms similar to those caused by the consumption of GHB, are obliged to report them urgently via a national phone number, disseminated among all MINSAP units in the country.

Cuban Government Plans Severe Penalties to Control Private Businesses / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 21 February 2018 — The Cuban government is in the process of updating an old, punitive legal statute that would allow it to control the growth of the self-employment sector and independent commercial activity as well as to curb private initiative, which has in recent years been expanding in the country.

Martí News reports that authorities are meeting with groups of small business owners to explain what is expected of them. Meanwhile, the Attorney General’s Office is under orders from the highest levels of government to revamp the country’s laws in a way that would allow for stricter control over the private sector.

“The crime used to be prosecuted as ‘actions harmful to economic plans related to state hiring,’ but now is being used to charge certain self-employed individuals with ‘actions harmful to economic activity related to hiring’,” explained a source associated with the Attorney General’s Office. continue reading

It is not simply a matter of imposing fines; it involves jail sentences of eight to twenty years.

In 2016, the Seventh Communist Party Congress identified the need to “advance the improvement of the business system, gradually granting the management of the various entities new powers.” To do this, it was necessary to repeal a decree, the General Regulations of State Enterprise, and an accord, the Union and State Enterprise, which had been adopted by the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers in 1979 and 1988 respectively.

On December 12, 2017, a set of new regulations took effect which are intended to advance the improvement business sector by granting all state-owned companies greater autonomy.

Although certain existing legislative restrictions on state enterprises were eliminated, and the ability of these companies to operate more freely was broadened, low profitability and a lack of incentives prevented the anticipated results from being met. Within a short period of time, private-sector companies were far outperforming state-run companies, which has given them greater importance in the Cuban economy.

According to information obtained by Martí Noticias, since early 2018 a government commission made up of representatives from the labor ministry, the police, immigration, the Communist Party, the public health ministry and the Confederation of Cuban Labor has been meeting with groups of individuals employed in the private sector, essentially those in the tourism industry.

In meetings with private business owners, authorities are explaining the need to report all the employees on their payrolls and are encouraging the use of hiring contracts that define the rights and obligations of all parties. Meanwhile, they have already revamped an old statute, Section 7 of the Cuban Criminal Code, which previously applied only to state-owned companies.

“This is not a trivial matter. Even the smallest infraction can lead to penalties that range from three to eight years in prison. But for more serious infractions, the penalty is eight to twenty years,” says the source.

And that does not include additional sanctions, such as the seizure of all assets which a judge determines to be related to the crime.

The cases being tried under this revised law are being handled by attorneys from a collective law firm located at 41st and 60th streets in Havana’s Playa district. They have been christened by the locals as the “cooperatives’ lawyers.”

Alleged Head of US/Cuba Money Laundering Network Arrested in Havana / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 13 February 2018 — A Cuban businessman residing in Ecuador was arrested in Havana, suspected of being the ringleader of a criminal gang operating between Cuba, Panama and the United States, engaged in swindling, extortion, human trafficking and money laundering, Marti News has confirmed.

Alexis Castro Maspoch, 34, is being held in pretrial detention at Valle Grande Prison, located in the Havana’s Arroyo Arenas municipality, and could be charged with illicit enrichment, smuggling and bribery. continue reading

He was prevented from leaving Cuba last August and days later the authorities proceeded to arrest him. At the time of his arrest he had Ecuadorian legal residence and a US visa, valid until 2022.

Castro Maspoch was born in Havana on 10 August 1983, studied at Vladimir Ilich Lenin Pre-university Vocational Institute of Exact Sciences, and later abandoned his engineering studies at the Technological University of Havana, known as CUJAE.

According to the Ministry of the Interior’s investigative file on Castro Maspoch, he traveled too frequently from Havana to Panama City, Quito and Miami to contact people and buy merchandise. He is accused of bribing officials and functionaries of the General Customs of the Republic of Cuba (AGR), who allowed him to violate customs regulations.

In order to import large quantities of household appliances and containers with household items to Cuba, the detainee handed out gifts to a legal adviser of the AGR. The official, who is also under arrest, has not been able to account for her sudden increase in assets, sources related to the case report.

The group led by Castro Maspoch, known as El Millonario, was also engaged in trafficking people, exporting currency and public securities in violation of the law, and money laundering.

Part of the profits of the lucrative business was used to purchase properties in Cuba to sell to foreigners and to invest in private businesses such as restaurants and rental houses. Among the properties sold by the group are properties located on Avenida 5-B, between 66 and 62, in Miramar, and another on Avenida 33, between 30 and 32, in Havana’s Playa neighborhood.

“They sell Panamanian visas for $4 thousand dollars per person. Then, in addition to the costs for the visa and travel paperwork, they give their victims cash which they must take out of the island, and then later return to them ‘cleaned of dust and straw’,” one of victim of the operations reported, remaining anonymous for fear of reprisals.

The witness related how the money was transferred through a financial framework and then — after the charging of a commission — was delivered in Miami through a Wells Fargo bank account.

Even though he is under arrest, Castro Maspoch has managed to overcome the restrictions on his freedom by bribing the authorities in Valle Grande prison, who are allowing him to continue to operate his business from the visiting room.

The United States and Cuba held a technical meeting in Washington on Monday, to address preventing and fighting against money laundering. Together, they analyzed regional trends, experiences in confronting this crime and “the next steps to be adopted to advance bilateral collaboration on this matter.”

The Death of a Young Man Who Fell Into a Coma Because of Medical Negligence in a Cuban Jail / Juan Juan Almeida

Raidel García Otero

Juan Juan Almeida, 31 January 2018 —  The young Cuban, Raidel García Otero, who was reported on Friday to be comatose, as a result of alleged medical negligence and irresponsibility on the part of the Cuban prison authorities, died on January 23rd at 3:10 pm, in the company of his family and doctors in the Salvador Allende hospital in Havana.

A hospital source told Martí Noticias that he “Died as a result of a multiple organ failure.  His organs were collapsing up until the point when he was pronounced clinically dead. I want to scream, I want to cry.” continue reading

His sister,  Mariela García Otero, submitted a formal complaint to Doctor Sara Infante, Head of Medical Services in the Ministry of the Interior, on the basis of medical negligence in the prison

García Otero, a 29 year old economic technician in a military company, had been under arrest, as the subject of a restraint order, in the Valle Grande jail since October 27th.

Last January 15th, his mother Delia Otero, and his father, who worked in the administration section of the official Juventud Rebelde newspaper, were worried as they hadn’t received their usual Monday call. Therefore, they phoned the prison and were told that the kid had a cold.

A family friend told Marti Noticias “On Tuesday, January 16th, one of Raidel’s companions rang the family and told them the young man was in a bad way and hadn’t received proper medical attention. His parents went to the prison but got no information, and they wouldn’t let them see him either.”

The friend said that it wasn’t until the Friday of that week that the prison phoned to say that the young man had been admitted to the Salvador Allende Hospital, in Old Quinta Covadonga, in Cerro.

The evidence said that at 2:00 p.m. on Friday, January 19th, García Otero was moved, in critical condition, from Valle Grande prison to Covadonga.

The last medical report on 23rd January, at 2:00 a.m.,  to Martí Noticias, said that the young man had necrosis of the legs, brain damage, and was entering organ failure.

The deceased prisoner’s twin brother, Reinaldo García Otero, explained that he “suffered multiple failures and was receiving blood transfusions.”

He added that “His legs were black, none of his organs were responding, he was in a bad way, and was in a coma from when he entered the hospital.”

A military spokesman, identified as Lt. Henry Mendoza, spoke to Radio Martí  about the medical attention he had received: “This comrade, this ill person, received  substantial medical attention, from when he fell ill until he passed away, and the appropriate drugs were  administered.”

On being asked what medicines were administered, he replied “I can’t say what the drugs were, I am not a doctor, I am just  duty officer Lt. Henry Mendoza.”

Translated by GH

Haiti is the New Route for Cuban "Mules" in Search of Drugs and Illegal Surgical Equipment / Juan Juan Almeida

Toussant Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Juan Juan Almeida, 5 February 2018 — Haiti is becoming the shortest, cheapest and most popular route among mules and Cuban merchants, who travel there for “shopping tours” to supply the informal street businesses and the dangerous market of illegal surgical drugs and equipment.

“A lot of hidden goods are entering the country from these opportunistic excursions,” a source linked to the General Customs of the Republic of Cuba informed Martí Noticias.

According to the customs official, those seeking business in this market incur the crime of smuggling because they try to evade regulations and import duties. continue reading

However, in the case of Haiti, the worst thing, says the official, is not the trafficking in clothes, costume jewelry, household appliances or spare parts and cell phone accessories, but the clandestine importation of drugs such as Diclofenan, vaginal suppositories, vitamins, anesthetics, bottles of liquid silicone, botox, or prostheses for breast surgeries, without proof of origin, which can represent a real danger to human health.

Several travel agencies promote tourist packages to Haiti from Cuba. Some of them, for 945 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC), offer a tourist visa good for 3 months, the flight, a hotel with breakfast and dinner, plus a day of walking around the city to make purchases, with all airport transfers coming and going.

But other agencies, as an additional incentive and for 1100 CUC, add to these services the process — from within Haiti — to obtain legal residence and a work permit in the impoverished country.

Cuban entrepreneurs have gone to Guyana, Panama, Mexico, the United States, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and other nearby countries to procure the necessary products for their work, but access to those countries is complicated by their visa requirements..

On the other hand, Russia , and especially the Lyublino Shopping Complex in Moscow, has become an ideal destination for island merchants from the non-state sector. There they buy clothes, shoes, food, car parts and a number of items for the informal business of imported merchandise.

However, the cost of travel to and staying in Moscow is high, which is ultimately reflected in the prices that must be charged by the island’s businesses supplies by Russian merchandise.

Despite being the poorest country in America, Haiti is positioning itself as t the most in-demand destination for these ‘working’ trips, because in addition to the short distance, the low prices, the six weekly flights, the natural charm of the country and the new hotel infrastructure catering to Cubans, airline passengers are allowed almost 80 pounds of luggage, of which 13 pounds can be carry-on.

In February 2017, the Haitian airline Sunrise Airways began its trips to the largest of the Antilles bound for Santiago de Cuba, and later added flights to Camagüey and Havana.

Diplomatic relations between Port-au-Prince and Havana were established in February 1904, and since then the bonds of friendship have been strengthened. Brigades of Cuban doctors have been serving in that nation since December 4, 1998, when a group of 100 doctors arrived in Haiti after the disaster caused by Hurricane George.

Young Man in Coma Due to Medical Negligence in Cuban Prison / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 22 January 2018 — A young employee of a Cuban company run by the military company, on remand in Havana, is in a coma due alleged medical malpractice and the irresponsibility of the prison authorities, his family reported.

Raidel Garcia Otero, 29, an economic technician, has been under arrest at Valle Grande Prison since 27 October. The young man suffers from a disease that causes inflammation in the vital organs . continue reading

On 15 January, his mother Delia Otero, and his father, an administrative employee of the pro-government newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth), were worried because they had not received his usual Monday  phone call. They called the prison and and were told that the boy was suffering from a cold.

On Saturday, Cuban photographer Pablo Pildain Rocha, a family friend, published the young man’s photo on his Facebook page, accompanied by a message in which he says he will report the case if the outcome is fatal.

Raidel Garcia Otero

Valle Grande prison is a part of the Ministry of the Interior’s Department of Penitentiary Establishments and is located in Arroyo Arenas, on the outskirts of Havana.

“On Tuesday, 16 January, one of Raidel’s classmates called the family and alerted them that the young man was sick and that he was not receiving adequate medical attention. His parents went to the prison but received no information and were not allowed to see him,” a source close to the family told Marti Noticias.

The source said that it was not until Friday of that week that the prison called the parents to tell them the young man had been admitted to Salvador Allende Hospital, formerly Quinta Covadonga, in Havana’s Cerro municipality.

According to the source, at 2:00 PM on Friday, 19  January, García Otero was transferred in critical condition from Valle Grande prison to Covadonga.

According to information obtained from the hospital, the patient must have been in critical condition for at least 4 or 5 days before his transfer, considering his condition when he arrived there.

This case from Valle Grande prison is not an isolated incident.

In March 2010, in the same prison, the death of prisoner Pedro Márquez Bell due to lack of adequate medical attention was reported. The testimony of then inmate Raúl García Ramos was also made public; Garcia Ramos, despite demanding specialized attention for acute liver cirrhosis and esophageal cancer, was always denied assistance.

Far from being solved, the demands and protests of the convicts only seem to aggravate their reality. It is unknown if García Otero’s parents will file a complaint, although there are enough factors to file complaints of a civil and criminal nature against the authorities and doctors of the penitentiary.

A Curious Fact about Bachelet’s Visit to Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 19 January 2018 — As part of President Michelle Bachelet’s recently concluded visit to Havana, a Chile-Cuba Business Seminar was held.

During the activity, celebrated Monday, January 8, in a room at the Hotel Nacional, the Chilean president met with several businesspeople of her country who reside on the island. Among those present were Ángel Domper, Manuel Tomás Gahona, Guillermo Leiva and others.

Note that Ángel Domper was married to the Cuban veterinarian, Celia Guevara, one of deceased guerrillero Che Guevara’s daughters.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Cuban Government Plans Blow Against Management of Non-Agricultural Cooperatives / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 12 January 2018 — The Cuban Government is preparing a new blow to restrict the rights conceded to non-agricultural cooperatives of production (CNAs), specifically those devoted to the construction sector.

According to information obtained by Martí News, the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers is developing a set of new judicial regulations with a view to controling the boom in this type of non-agricultural production association. One of the steps would be intended to complicate the process for the forming of these consortiums.

“The CNAs didn’t appear on the Cuban scene as a natural phenomenon regulated by the laws of the market, but rather as a result of an emergency strategy to attenuate the effects of the constant national crisis,” said a source from Havana who is linked to criminal proceedings against the owner of one of these private associations. “But some members of these associations drive around in rented autos, and the Government is trying to put the brakes on them by means of legal instruments that asphyxiate this enterprise.” continue reading

The source noted that the Council of State implemented, as an experiment, Decree Laws No. 305 and 306, No. 309 of the Council of Ministers, and another series of regulations for the forming, registration, functioning and termination of the non-agricultural production cooperatives and the services of 222 private activities.

The poor profitability and lack of autonomy of State businesses, among other factors, allowed the private entitites to achieve a real importance in the business system in a short time. They work efficiently, but they constitute an impediment to State businesses, because they show they do well, and they fearlessly exhibit the wealth they acquire.

On December 12, 2017, there appeared in the Gaceta Oficial Extraordinaria No. 58, a group of laws that intended to improve the business system by conceding a larger autonomy to State businesses. Even so, State production has not responded in the manner expected, because even with their increase in strength, they are incapable of guaranteeing service, quality and delivery times, according to the State authorities themselves.

However, the non-State sector continues to visibly increase productivity and labor discipline, which is why they have publicly received important contracts for the design and remodeling of tourism hotels, winning out over the now-stagnant State businesses.

“These corporations have better builders, do better work and, in certain cases, get permission to import machinery from China and other countries. However, the form in which they were originally designed and the experimental character of the whole legal basis mean they are badly limited,” argues an attorney who requested anonymity.

The lawyer explained that no legal way exists for two private cooperatives to join together to organize complementary activities to add value to their products or services. They have to acquire everything through the State businesses, and this doesn’t work.

“They have to violate the rules if the Government doesn’t expand the legal framework. How can you buy the necessary raw material like cement, sand, gravel, marble for the floors or wood for the formwork?” asked the lawyer.

“In this fradulent way,” he added, “they control the people in the cooperatives by submitting them to constant fiscal audits, which are practically impossible to pass. They now have closed some, and their members are in court.”

“We hope this will change, or we shall soon see the end of the private initiative,” the witness concluded.

This past August, the Ministry of Finance and Prices revoked the formation conceded to the Scenius Cooperative, an accounting service, and approved its termination for “repeated violations committed by the cooperative in its fulfillment of the approved social reach.”

The CAN experiment began in 2013, and presently there are only 429 of them in existence in the whole country, according to official figures.

Translated by Regina Anavy

New Locomotives in Cuba: Investment, Waste or Corruption? / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 28 November 2017 — The first seven Russian TGM 8 locomotives arrived in Cuba last week as part of a questionable railway development project that includes another 28 by 2018.

Cuba’s primary official media from the Granma newspaper to the Cubadebate site and the Russian Sputnik reported the arrival of the first seven of 15 locomotives in a lot that will be completed this year. Each locomotive has a price of $ 1.7 million dollars.

But the acquisition of this equipment has been a real question for railway transport specialists from the government’s own ranks. continue reading

Cuba is a country with over 5,000 miles of railroad right-of-way and the government purchase has materialized in a relatively short period, despite the high cost of the investment.

“Someone is making money but in the highest spheres waste is not a crime, and transportation, in everyone’s view, seems a problem that deserves to continue to have money spent on it,” said a Havana-based source from the Ministry of Economy and Planning (MEP).

In 2006, the Cuban authorities authorized the start of a national program, supervised by the Ministry of Transportation (MITRANS) and MEP, to restore and develop the national rail system.

The process was structured in phases:

1.  Restoration and maintenance of the trackways.

2.  Restoration and modernization of locomotives and freight cars.

3.  Modernization of railway maintenance facilities.

All of these being investments necessary to recover passenger transport.

In an obvious breach of the established order, on January 14 of that year, the government imported the first locomotives of the Chinese brand DF7G-C.

Some $15 million dollars was invested in 12 modern engines with 2,500 horsepower and automated systems. The problem was that, even with easy payment, the contract of sale between the Cuban railways Union (UFC) and the Chinese company never came to fruition.

Another similar number of Chinese locomotives were expected to arrive but never did so. It was reported that funding sources had failed, although the money was approved. But it never reached its destination nor did it return to the state coffers.

It apparently remained in some dark pocket. Now, in what seems like a cycle, the history of 2006 repeats itself, but this time between the Russian company, SINARA Transport Machines, and the Cuban import company, TRADEX.

In Cuba there are trains categorized as short and medium distance; the rest are nationals: Havana-Santiago de Cuba; Havana direct to Bayamo-Manzanillo; Havana-Guantanamo; Santiago de Cuba to Santa Clara; as well as the service from Havana to Sancti Spíritus.

“We do not need as many locomotives. The urgency is to improve the state of the central trackways, the restoration of the railroad, the terrible health and safety conditions of the cars, and the repair of the railway stations, many of which have leaky roofs and lack drinking water,” the source added.

The only thing that exists is the investment, which was made in its entirety, for the construction of high-quality double track that connects the Port of Mariel and the facilities of that Special Development Zone with the national rail system.

Raul Castro Will Do Everything Possible To Preserve His Immunity / Juan Juan Almeida

Raul Castro with his grandson/bodyguard who is always at his side.

Juan Juan Almeida — The world has taken many turns since February 24, 2013, General Raul Castro himself officially announced that he would retire at the end of his second term in 2018. But a few days ago I read an article in the press where an experienced analyst suggest, as his own opinion, the possibility that the “Excelentísimo” General in Chief will not keep his word and May delay the handing over of the throne.

So much clarity dazzles. Very intelligent people often make the mistake of elaborating theories so lofty that they end up levitating, and when they lose contact with the ground they can mistake a Dalmatian dog for a Holstein cow, simply from looking at the spots.

It is a dissolute sovereign who associatea the concept of realpolitik with that strange ability that Cuban rulers have to keep themselves in power. continue reading

It is unquestionable that from 2013 to today the world political map has undergone some changes. The current price of oil has destroyed Venezuela’s political ability to act, the Port of Mariel megaproject in Cuba is constantly trembling on the verge of collapse due to lack of investors, and the rhetoric of President Donald Trump against Castro has placed the panorama of relations between Cuba and the United States at risk. But nothing can stop or slow the thousand miles per hour at which our planet revolves on its axis, nor the 18 miles per second at which it moves around the sun.

Speculation is the main sauce of political analysts, but time is unstoppable. I understand that our island is one of the countries that has one of the most elderly populations in the world, and that this reality not only exhausted the already slight financial sustainability of the Cuban pension system, it also affected the vision of many scholars who are determined to make the concept of “the third age” disappear, which may be why they cannot see that Raul Castro is an old man, at 86, and one who, unfortunately for him, does not have the health of the legendary Superman.

Of course he’s leaving. It is only necessary to reread the press to remember that among the agreements of the VII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, (April 2016), it was agreed to set a limit of two consecutive 5-year terms as the maximum for one person in the performance of the “fundamental political and state positions” (according to the Central Committee, Secretariat and Political Bureau), and an establishment of 60 years as the age limit for members of the Central Committee, although people up to age 70 years may hold leadership positions in the party.

On that same date, Raul Castro, with skill and a bit of a joke, said from his rostrum “anyone out there who is 70-years-old, knows that he will not join the Central Committee in the next Congress.”

So, in 2018, not only will Raúl leave, but so will the vice-president of the Councils of State and Ministers, José Ramón Machado Ventura (who is 87 years old), and the Commander of the Revolution Ramiro Valdés Menéndez, will also ’cash in his ticket’ because of old age given that he is 85.

Added to this, we will lose Army Corps General Leopoldo “Polo” Cintra Frias (76), and alsoArmy Corps General Álvaro López Miera (74) and almost all the geriatric members of the current Nomenklatura.

Paradoxically, this final little epic in which we will see the Castro era come to a close could not be more hoped for. And if General Raul Castro stays at the head of the Communist Party as some prophesy he will, it will not be “to defend the island from the return of the ghost of the Cold War” but for the simple reason of ensuring he maintains immunity for all his past and present actions.

Upon leaving the presidency, he will lose his influence over the leadership little by little because the old leaders, those who fused their allegiance in the struggles of the Sierra Maestra, will be dead. The intermediate group, those who were forged in the wars that Cuba sustained in Nicaragua, Ethiopia and/or Angola, are retiring; and the rest, those of the wheeler-dealer group, who grew up and were educated competing in the market of influences, will find that it does not occur to any of them, not even jokingly, to hinder the useful present in order to cling to a past that has no future.

Corruption Scandal Shakes Up Popular Havana Brewery / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 19 December 2017 — A police operation at the popular Factoría Plaza Vieja Brewery, in the historic center of Havana, caused the temporary closure of the establishment and the arrest of several people who are being prosecuted on charges of corruption.

According to reports obtained by Martí Noticias, the process began when one of the staff members, after having a money dispute with the management, decided to complain to those in charge and, not getting an answer to their disagreement, reported part of what happened at the police station at Cuba and Chacón Streets, in Old Havana.

“There, one of the investigators, thinking of the future and eager for a promotion, looked into the issue and used the informant as a kind of unpaid mercenary to prepare their own case of corruption,” said a source who requested anonymity. continue reading

But the copy of the police report, which asks for authorization to investigate, was received at the head office of the business group led by Brigadier General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, president of the state-run Business Administration Group SA (GAESA) .

The investigation into the brewery is ongoing.

“During the investigation, data on a chain of illegalities came to light where the same modus operandi is repeated. A group of employees have been reporting losses and taking out cash, governed by their own rules and those of other executives of the company who, due to their position, are beyond the scope of our responsibility,” says the report, according to a source from the sector who asked not to be identified.

The brewery has now reopened its doors to domestic and foreign tourists.

Some of the workers are among those detained for allegedly swindling millions of dollars from the national economy, and it is expected that the process will involve several GAESA executives, who have controlled the management of Corporación Habaguanex SA since July 2016.

Located on one of the corners of the old Plaza Vieja, specifically where Muralla and San Ignacio converge, the Factoría Plaza Vieja brewery was founded by Eusebio Leal, the Historian of Havana, and the firm Habaguanex SA, on June 6, 2003

And although today in Havana there is another brewery, located in the old wood and tobacco warehouse, the Factoría Plaza Vieja was the first of its kind and rapidly became famous, which led to the opening a new space with similar operations.

Since its creation, Factoría Plaza Vieja has been visited daily by hundreds of habaneros and tourists who love the taste of beer and enjoy Cuban cuisine in a pleasant environment in Havana’s old quarter.

However, the establishment has already been overshadowed by scandals on two other occasions. The first, shortly after its opening, when some of its workers were accused of adding marijuana to the fermentation process of dark beer along with hops, barley and water; and in May 2012, for another case of corruption that ended up sending several of its employees to prison.