Juan Juan Almeida, 5 July 2017 — The case is notable for its strict secrecy and a degree of coercion. The highly irregular trial and mystifying plight of those already found guilty and sentenced make “the top secret theft from the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) of the Republic of Cuba” perhaps the most surprising example of Cuban justice in the last twenty years.
Though a verdict has been handed down, the legal process is not yet over. The most recent defendant is Colonel Rafael, who coincidentally was the principal interrogator during the initial investigation but is now himself being investigated for leaking information about the indictment and the locations of those involved.
These post-trial developments are at odds with normal legal procedures. Though accused on May 9 of high treason, theft and sale of classified material to foreign governments, encouraging desertion and disobedience among senior officials, spreading malicious rumors intended to cause discontent among senior military commanders, personal enrichment, bribery and abuse of office, none of the defendants have been sent to prison. They are being detained in three houses in Havana’s Siboney neighborhood, where family members have been allowed to visit some of them.
“Look, Colonel Carlos Emilio Monsanto was sentenced to thirty-seven years in prison. Major Ernesto Villamontes was sentenced to thirty, Jorge Emilio Pérez to thirty, Román to twenty-two and the rest got similar sentences. Do you think they are going to serve those sentences in houses that are now serving as prisons? People like that are dangerous whether they are free or locked up. I don’t think they are going to serve those sentences under house arrest and I don’t think they are going to go to prison. Based on available information, it is logical to believe they will suffer some accident or come down with a sudden illness as happened to General Abrantes,” says a relative of one of the convicted men with resignation. This person requested anonymity, citing a non-disclosure agreement that family members were forced to sign in order to be able to visit their relatives.
“The one thing that is clear is that Ernesto (Villamontes) and the other defendants were sending money out of country and that they had been authorized to do so by the former directors of MININT and the country’s top leadership with the goal of investing in businesses and buying property. The documents were not taken from the ministry’s Building A in order to sell them; they were to be used as protection. And that is unforgivable.”
What keeps them safe?
“Corporations like Financiera Ricamar, Financiera Eurolatina and Financiera Bescanvi Occidental laundered money. Some of these corporations belong to Panamanian businessmen, including former president Martinelli. The Panamanian government is currently investigating the matter. That’s why they haven’t been sent to prison yet. On the contrary, the plan is to use them as scapegoats in a possible prosecution against the former Panamanian president. For better or worse, this could be significant in a political, media or international context and would go a long way in covering the tracks of the Cuban government, just as happened with Cause I and Cause II in 1989.”*
*Translator’s note: Cause I and Cause II refer to two famous trials of multiple Cuban military officials. In the first, General of the Western Army Arnaldo Ochoa was tried and executed by firing squad on charges including drug trafficking and treason. In a second related trial, former Minister of the Interior General José Abrantes, was sentenced to twenty years in prison but died in custody, allegedly of a heart attack, in 1991.