14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 2 March 2017 — Otto Rivero directed the most powerful entity in Cuba at the beginning of this century, the Battle of Ideas, but was ousted by Raúl Castro a few months after the latter assumed the presidency. Now, the former youth leader has emerged from his “pajama plan” – as such forced retirements are referred to in Cuba – to be a producer for the Covarrubias National Theater, a few yards from the Plaza of the Revolution.
Reserved and with psychological scars from his purging, Rivero navigates behind the scenes of the well-known theater. Those who do not remember his glory days cannot even imagine that the silent employee who coordinates the events was once one of the most powerful men on the island.
Behind his discreet appearance hides the man who controlled the immense resources of a “supra-ministry” with omnipotent powers, arising from the campaign for the return of the child rafter Elian Gonzalez to Cuba. A supra-ministry with the capacity to oversee gas stations, distribute air conditioners or call forth the shock troops in repudiation rallies against dissidents.
On March 2nd, but eight years ago, a brief note published in the official press gave accounts of its end
On the second day of March, but eight years ago, a brief note published in the official press gave notice of his end. The Council of State had decided to “free compañero Otto Rivero Torres of his responsibilities as vice president of the Council of Ministers.” A phrase which, for connoisseurs of the official grammar, confirmed his fall into disgrace.
Rivero’s exclusion from the “family photo” had been foreshadowed since Fidel Castro was sidelined by health problems in mid-2006. The former secretary general of the Young Communists Union (UJC) had been part of the entourage of the “Comandante’s men” and his dismissal was only a matter of time.
In the purges carried out by Raul Castro against the team loyal to his brother, others who fell included vice president Carlos Lage and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque. But unlike in their cases, Rivero’s ousting was not the subject of an acidic public diatribe; no column by the former president in the Party newspaper accusing him of addiction to “the honey of power.”
Close witnesses report that after his dismissal, Rivero went through a real ordeal. He was detained in the cells of the dreaded Villa Marista, State Security’s headquarters in Havana. He was accused of having allowed and participated in an enormous embezzlement that sucked funds out of the Battle of Ideas. The losses totaled millions in an era when Venezuelan oil allowed every kind of excess.
Police investigators blamed his lack of control over the entity and his having allowed its resources to be squandered on luxuries, foreign travel and gifts. Embezzled products circulated in the informal market: white, red and blue shirts; refrigerators made in China; and air conditioners.
“He was interrogated endlessly and his head could not resist,” a close family source says. “When he returned home he was a zombie, he could not even speak”
“He was interrogated endlessly and his head couldn’t resist,” a close family source told 14ymedio. “When he returned home he was a zombie, he couldn’t even speak.” His mental state deteriorated to the point that he attempted suicide, but “that didn’t go well,” the relative commented.
The former vice president’s family fell into a precarious economic state. The car and chauffeur were taken away as was the supply of luxury foods. As a punishment, the authorities sent Rivero to work at the Frederick Engels printers among the ink and printing presses. But he spent weeks before showing up for work the first time, where he became a mute automaton keeping his head down.
Rivero does not give statements or respond to questions about his past. All attempts to make him talk about the subject crash into the wall of his silence. But a nervous tic in his hands appears in response to the sound of certain names. His co-workers describe him as someone “affected” who has been “under psychiatric treatment.”
Of the confidence with which he wove slogans from the dais, nothing remains. “He is very careful and avoids being seen,” a singer-songwriter who has organized several events at Covarrubias Theater tells this newspaper. “He has changed a lot physically and most of the people who pass by him do not recognize him,” says the artist, who prefers anonymity.
Before the crash, his trajectory had been meteoric. At the age of 38, he was appointed Vice-President of the Council of Ministers after leading the UJC for seven years. With a degree in Economics and a seat in the National Assembly of People’s Power, the young man ascended the power structure at full speed to stand at the right hand of the Commander-in-Chief.
At the 7th UJC Congress of the, Fidel Castro defined Rivero and his team as “an avant-garde army, an elite troop of the Revolution.” Four years later, he had become a pariah
At the 7th UJC Congress, Fidel Castro defined Rivero and his team as “an avant-garde army, an elite troop of the Revolution” for being at the forefront of the Battle of Ideas. Four years after those words, the brand-new official had become a pariah.
To accommodate the Battle of Ideas, he began to refurbish a luxurious mansion on the central corner of 23 and B in Havana’s Vedado district. Here the promising leader would spend his glory days. The arrival of Raúl Castro stopped that dream and now the property hosts the Comptroller General of the Republic. A cruel irony.
Otto Rivero’s biography has also been removed from EcuRed, a Wikipedia substitute made to measure by the ruling party. For many Cubans, that youth leader no longer exists or has been forgotten. But very close to the Council of State he was once a part of, a gray employee ruminates his fate of banishment in the dim light of a theatrical hall.