Private Initiative and Settling Scores / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 24 August 2017 — In Cuba there is an imprecise, almost palpable point at which good intention disappears. This time it is the owners of the Starbien restaurant who are facing the horror of the gallows.

José Raúl Colomé, son of former Interior Minister Abelardo (Furry) Colomé Ibarra, and Osmani Cisneros, son of the late Cuban leader Ángel (Angelito) Cisneros, have created a cozy atmosphere in a location with superb food and excellent service. But in spite of having extensive experience in the restaurant business, the pair fell under the predatory gaze of Alejandro Castro Espín and his broad ranging powers.

The opening of the Cuban economy to private business has allowed those who are well-placed to fluourish.

Over the last few years, the self-employed have shown themselves to be that part of Cuban civil society that can accomplish more than any political party. They have very positive social impact, help the community and generate employment while their purposeful entrepreneurial ingenuity fascinates the population. It is precisely because of these achievements that they are always under the watchful eyes of suspicious members of the status quo. The reasons for their recent actions against the restaurant, however, are not very clear.

The investigation, which is being led by the attorney general’s office, has not come to any conclusion. Technically speaking, there are no problems nor have any financial irregularities been uncovered. Nevertheless, even though there were no violations that would warrant legal action, the passports of José Raúl Colomé, Osmani Cisneros and some of their relatives were confiscated following a cursory conversation.

Located at 205 29th Street between avenues B and C in Havana’s Vedado district, Starbien became a favorite of local customers and foreign tourists alike. As a result of an unusual fusion of attentive service, a distinctive, innovative cuisine and a setting in the middle of Havana, many consider it to be one of the best restaurants in Cuba.

The real motive behind Starbien’s closure is obscured by rumors among government loyalists and sources who prefer not to express an opinion for fear of putting themselves in jeopardy. But there is a clue in this unique case, a missing link that suggests this is something between a punishment, a scolding and a settling of old scores.

“Everyone wants the truth but few are being honest. Criminal sanctions in this country always have two sides: the spoken and the unspoken,” says a source close to the investigation who uses the pseudonym “El Misteriso.”

“It’s not hard to figure out that this sort of prosecution without trial will end in some sort of agreement,” explains the anonymous source, “because it follows no legal logic. Given that there are no criminal charges in the case, it’s very clear that confiscating the passports and reviewing the restaurant’s finances are not actions aimed at either the owners or the employees of Starbien. Nor is it a case of corruption or violation of the regulations governing private sector restaurants. Financial audits by ONAT indicate there are no irregularities. Therefore, I would call it a settling of scores. The order came from above and was aimed at retired general Abelardo Colomé Ibarra who, as we all know, fell afoul of the younger brother of the Agha and was forced to resign his positions as government minister and member of the Council of State in October 2015, citing health reasons.”

“There is no better way to ruin a father than to trample on his son,” concludes the informer. “It’s a question of semantics. How to milk a plant to get soy milk.”