Raul Castro in Chile, 1959

Browsing the New York Times online archive, I found this curious item:

“Chile gives snub to Major Castro”

It is dated August 19, 1959 and describes how Raul Castro, commander-in-chief of the Cuban armed forces, landed a plane in Santiago after a conference of foreign ministers had ended, ostensibly to take Cuban Foreign Minister Raul Roa Garcia home.

“After a delay in debarking because no suitable ramp could be found, Major Castro was taken to the customs office like any tourist.

The only leading Chilean greeting Major Castro was Senator Salvador Allende, unsuccessful 1958 Presidential candidate of a coalition of extreme Left-wing parties.

At a news conference tonight Major Castro declared “We confess we made an error” in sending a military  aircraft here with soldiers.”









A Cuba civil liberties round up

The New York-based Human Rights Foundation has issued a report on its inquiry into the death of Cuban dissident Osvaldo Paya in a car accident three years ago, stating that the “evidence, which was deliberately ignored, strongly suggests that the events of July 22, 2012 were not an accident, but instead the result of a car crash directly caused by agents of the state.” The complete report can be downloaded from the Foundation’s web site: http://humanrightsfoundation.org/news/cuba-hrf-report-on-oswaldo-payas-death-evidence-suggests-government-may-have-killed-him-00446

The Associated Press reports on how visiting US congressional delegations are ignoring Cuban dissidents during their recent visits to Havana, in order to meet Cuban officials:

Legislative staffers say Cuban officials have made clear that if Congress members meet with dissidents, they will not get access to high-ranking officials such as First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, the man expected to be the next president of Cuba who has met with U.S. politicians like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont.


For a look at the Cuban legal system, here’s an interesting article published two months ago by the Daily Business Review, about Havana lawyer Osvaldo Miranda Diaz’s presentation to a delegation from the Florida Bar Association. An excerpt:

Miranda Diaz explained the criminal justice system in Cuba to the shocked Americans. When a Cuban is arrested, he can be jailed without the right to see a lawyer or make a phone call for 72 hours. After a week, the prosecutor decides whether to grant the person bail or not.

At that point, he or she has just five days to hire a lawyer and does not get access to his or her criminal file until the case is through. This is despite the fact the island country claims an “innocent until proven guilty” philosophy.

“They can keep you in jail for one week and do what they want—interrogate you, do anything,” he said. “It’s like the Soviet system.” http://www.dailybusinessreview.com/id=1202727711630/Havana-Lawyer-Assesses-Cuban-Legal-System#ixzz3gjvCb4wh

There’s a sidebar to this article. Julie Kay, a reporter who accompanied the delegation, wrote the article on the Cuban lawyer’s presentation, and “basically regurgitated everything the lawyer had said. I did no independent research, put no “spin” on the story.” She filed the story from her hotel and a short time later her group’s guide confronted her with the article, and told the lawyers in the group that she should be kicked off the tour. She was allowed to remain, but decided not to file any more stories until she returned home. http://www.dailybusinessreview.com/id=1202728015496/She-Learned-Firsthand-Just-How-Lacking-in-Basic-Freedoms-Cuba-is

Someday Cuba will have an official inquiry into human rights abuses, but until that time the Cuba Archive Truth and Memory Project has been doing what it can with limited resources to document as much as possible. Its reports can be viewed on its website: http://cubaarchive.org/home/

And still more on Cuba and Ebola

The New Yorker has this admiring article by Jon Lee Anderson on Cuban doctors working in West Africa: http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/cubas-ebola-diplomacy

The Huffington Post has a more deadpan view by dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez, with a photo of Cuban doctors at a U.S. Agency for International Development clinic in Liberia: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/yoani-sanchez/cuban-government-and-usai_b_6097620.html?utm_hp_ref=cuba

Aftermath of a summit

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera with Cuba's Raul Castro in Santiago.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera with Cuba’s Raul Castro in Santiago.

Here’s a video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rMYpdHIpvMU of Raul Castro’s speech at the summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the European Union, held this past weekend in Santiago. The Cuban leader has just received the pro tempore presidency of CELAC and had a warm exchange with Chilean President Sebastian Piñera, a conservative and business tycoon.  Castro’s tone makes it clear he’s no softer, gentler version of his brother Fidel. There are brief shots of Venezuela’s acting president Nicolas Maduro talking to someone while Castro is speaking, and of Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega stifling either a yawn or a cough.

Toward the end of his prepared speech Castro looked up and began some improvised comments about drug trafficking in Latin America, insisting there was no such activity in Cuba—aside from marijuana plants some Cubans grow in pots on their balconies.

“When tourism began to increase—and last year we had almost 3 million foreign visitors—Cuba became a target for drug traffickers,” he said. Castro said he met with various government agencies to unleash a “blood and fire” battle against the drug trade, and that more than 250 foreigners were imprisoned in Cuba on drugs charges. He made a reference to Mexico’s narcotraficantes, then began reminiscing about the voyage of the Granma yacht carrying 82 Cuban revolutionaries from Mexico to Cuba in 1956.

Piñera had a private meeting with Castro to discuss the 1991 killing of a Chilean senator, Jaime Guzman, who had worked closely with the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet and helped draft the regime’s 1980 constitution. Chilean investigators have linked five members of the now-disbanded Frente Patriótico Manuel Rodriguez, an armed leftwing group with close ties to Cuba, to Guzman’s murder and at least four of the five men are believed to reside in Cuba. According to Piñera, Castro promised to “study the background details and deliver his best cooperation.”  The story in El Nuevo Herald: http://www.elnuevoherald.com/2012/01/28/139769/raul-castro-se-compromete-ayudar.html.

But Cuba’s foreign minister offered a different version of the meeting, telling reporters in Santiago that “no document or specific information was delivered or received” and that Piñera had only offered to approach Cuban authorities.

“The Cuban government is awaiting this information which will be considered by judicial authorities in our country,” said Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla. He said the Castro-Piñera meeting was “fascinating, because a lot of time was spent talking about the insurrectional stage of the Cuban revolution” and that the Chileans showed “a surprising knowledge” of this history. http://cafefuerte.com/cuba/noticias-de-cuba/politica/2527-raul-castro-y-sebastian-pinera-hablan-del-moncada-y-la-sierra-maestra

And here is some background on the Guzman killing, courtesy of the U.S. State Department Electronic Reading Room.

  1. A declassified cable from the U. S. Embassy in Santiago describes the scene at Guzman’s funeral—which was attended by both the American and Soviet ambassadors: http://foia.state.gov/documents/StateChile3/000089A7.pdf
  2. A declassified Central Intelligence report describes how the Guzman assassination is fueling political tension just as Chile’s new civilian government completed an inquiry into human rights abuses under Pinochet: http://foia.state.gov/documents/Pcia3/00009232.pdf
  3. Another, almost completely redacted CIA  report on the case is three pages long and begins with the words, “In mid-April 1991” and then is blacked out until the last page, with a text which reads, [          ] has information indicating that a cell of the dissident faction of the FPMR (FPR/DI, which is infiltrated by former national intelligence director General Manuel Contreras Sepulveda) carried out the April assassination of rightist Senator Jaime Guzman.  [           ]  angrily told [           ] this was disinformation.”: http://foia.state.gov/documents/Pcia3/0000925B.pdf

The Financial Times ran an editorial entitled “Silly in Chile”on the CELAC-EU summit: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/9acf0624-663a-11e2-bb67-00144feab49a.html#axzz2JNIWEzY9

And Chilean political scientist Patricio Navia has this column , “An unnoticed absence,” on the summit and U.S. Latin American policy in the Buenos Aires Herald: http://www.buenosairesherald.com/article/122858/an-unnoticed-absence

The Strange Career of Max Marambio

Once a revolutionary, then a businessman, now wanted by Cuban authorities

“The revolutionaries of my generation had taken on death as something without great transcendence. This certainty gave us the strength to overcome our fears.”

So begins Las Armas de Ayer, or in English, Yesterday’s Weapons, the autobiography of Max Marambio, a Chilean guerrilla-turned-businessman whom a Cuban court this week sentenced in absentia to 20 years imprisonment for fraud, bribery and “falsification of banking or commercial documents, all of a continuing nature.”  Marambio had been a close friend of Fidel Castro, a bodyguard to socialist president Salvador Allende and co-owner of Rio Zaza, a food company he ran with the Cuban government since the early 1990s.  The court also sentenced a former Cuban food industry minister to 15 years for “bribery and acts detrimental to economic activity.”

In 1966 a 17-year old Marambio accompanied his father, Allende and other Chilean socialists on a trip to Cuba, where he was dazzled by Fidel Castro. The Cuban leader, he wrote, “was far from the Cuban stereotype” and appeared to be “a solemn man, with good manners, evoking the image of a Spanish gentleman who has had the best education.”  He underwent guerrilla training in Cuba, returned to Chile and joined a rather bumbling attempt at armed insurrection, became one of Allende’s paramilitary bodyguards and fled into exile after the 1973 military coup.

Marambio did not let his political background stand in the way of business opportunities, and over the years he built up sizeable holdings in real estate and construction. Rio Zaza was one of the first joint ventures the Cuban government set up with foreign companies, producing packaged juice and milk. He kept a large house in Havana where Fidel Castro was a frequent guest and in Santiago directed the 2009 presidential campaign of Marco Enriquez-Ominami, a filmmaker and son of a dead Chilean guerrilla.

About that time Cuban authorities began imposing stricter controls on the amount of money foreign businesses could withdraw from local banks. According to some accounts, Marambio had an angry confrontation with Cuban Central Bank officials, who responded by launching an investigation. With Raul Castro now in his brother’s place, Marambio had no strings to pull. In February of last year Cuban authorities closed two plants operated by Rio Zaza and froze $23 million in assets. Two months later a Chilean who had been the company’s manager and was interrogated three times during the investigation was found dead in his apartment; his body was flown to Chile and cremated without a complete autopsy. Cuban officials ordered Marambio, who had fled the island, to return to Havana by August 23 and when he refused, issued an international arrest warrant.

Marambio has filed an appeal with an international business tribunal in Paris and called the ruling “political persecution,” and said there was no legal basis for the Cuban authorities’ case against him. “I was never a saint of Raul Castro’s devotion, nor of his followers and the people around him,” he told Chile’s Radio Bio Bio. He suggested the younger Castro resented his youthful activities with the Cuban military, and was now carrying out a longstanding grudge against him.

The Cuban media have offered few details of the case, with Granma publishing the official court ruling and the English-language Havana Times commenting that Rio Zaza had enjoyed a virtual monopoly in the packaged fruit juice market and that the country has been hit by several high level corruption scandals in recent years. Blogger Yoani Sanchez wrote an interesting piece several months ago on the effect Rio Zaza’s closing has had on Cuban consumers.