Category Archives: Military Dictatorship

Amid rising U.S.-Russia tension, Putin weighs reopening air base in Cuba

russianbase

Fox News Latino

Amid rising tensions between Moscow and Washington, the administration of Russian president Vladimir Putin is considering setting up an air base in Cuba, according to the Washington Post.

Russian officials have been hinting at an interest in bringing back a military base presence in Cuba, but aren’t saying outright of any concrete plans or what discussions, if any, they are having with officials of the island nation that sits a mere 90 miles from U.S. shores.

Citing Russian news reports, the Post said that Russian Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov indicated that the military is “reviewing” the closing of an intelligence base in Cuba – as well as that of a naval base in Vietnam – in the early 2000s.

Cuba closed the base, according to published reports, because of financial problems associated with it, as well as U.S. pressure.

Russia is looking to expand its global presence, the Post reported, to compete, in a way, with the United States.

“As for our presence on faraway outposts, we are working on this,” Pankov said.

The Post said that Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Putin, would not elaborate about restoring a presence in Cuba and Vietnam. All he would acknowledge, the Post said, was that Russia finds itself having to look for ways to address global developments.

Russia just ratified a treaty with Syria last week that enables it to have its first permanent air base in the Middle East.

Putin has repeatedly expressed support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The Soviets established the base in Cuba following the 1962 missile crisis, which involved Moscow’s desire to put nuclear weapons in Cuba.

That base, which was located about 150 miles from U.S. shores, offered the ability to the Soviets to intercept U.S. communications.

Some international affairs experts remain skeptical about a return of a Russian base to Cuba.

“I will believe this is a real possibility when I hear it from Cuba and Vietnam. A country needs to want this,” Olga Oliker, director of the Russian and Eurasia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., told the Miami Herald.

“Russia is looking to increase its global posture from a prestige point of view, to show that it is a world power, and, like the United States, it also has global bases,” said Oliker. “The question is what would Russia offer [Cuba and Vietnam] in exchange for the countries allowing these bases. I’m not sure how interested the Cubans are given the recent restoration of relations with the United States.”

Russian Military Considers Return to Cuba, Vietnam

russianilitarycuba

ABC News

The Russian military is considering the possibility of regaining its Soviet-era bases on Cuba and in Vietnam, the Defense Ministry said Friday, a statement that comes amid growing U.S.-Russia tensions over Syria.

Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov told lawmakers Friday that the ministry is considering the possibility of establishing footholds far away from Russia’s borders.

Responding to a lawmaker’s question if the military could return to Cuba and Vietnam, Pankov said the military is “reviewing” a decision to withdraw from them, but didn’t offer any specifics. “As for our presence on faraway outposts, we are doing this work,” he said.

In 2001, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the military to pull back from Cuba and Vietnam as he sought to bolster ties with the United States. The U.S.-Russian relations now have plunged to the lowest point since the Cold War times amid strain over Syria and Ukraine.

Moscow has lamented that Washington never appreciated Putin’s goodwill gesture.

Asked Friday about the possibility of the Russian military’s return to Cuba and Vietnam, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov refrained from specific comment, but added that the global situation requires various players to mull possible responses.

“Naturally, all countries assess those changes from the point of view of their national interests and take steps they consider necessary,” he told reporters.

When Putin ordered the military withdrawal from Cuba and Vietnam, Russia was still reeling from its post-Soviet economic meltdown. Putin cited the need to cut costs when he explained reasons behind his move to the military.

Windfall oil revenues in recent years have filled the government’s coffers with petrodollars, allowing the Kremlin to fund an ambitions weapons modernization program and turn the military into a more mobile modern force.

Amid the deterioration of ties with the West, the military began pondering plans to re-establish its global presence. A small naval supply facility in the Syrian port of Tartus is now the navy’s only outpost outside the former Soviet Union.

Oleg Nilov of A Just Russia, one of the factions in the Kremlin-controlled lower house, pointed at the U.S. and its NATO allies’ deployment near Russian borders as he argued that Russia needs to regain its Soviet-era bases

“It’s time to reach agreements to return to faraway outposts if they don’t understand the language of diplomacy,” he said during debates.

Cuba’s Tourism Thaw With the U.S. Has Been Great News for Its Military

CUBA CASTRO

Skift

One could easily argue that nothing is hindering progress more in Cuba than its government and its military’s lack of skill and experience to do even the simplest things well. It is not competent enough to run a simple tour bus or tiny restaurant, let alone a UNESCO site. — Jason Clampet

At the height of Cuba’s post-Soviet economic crisis, a man with the obscure title of city historian began transforming Havana’s crumbling historic center block by block, polishing stone facades, replacing broken stained glass and repairing potholed streets.

Over a quarter century, Eusebio Leal turned Old Havana into a painstakingly restored colonial jewel, a tourist draw that brings in more than $170 million a year, according to the most recent available figures. His office became a center of power with unprecedented budgetary freedom from the island’s communist central government.

That independence is gone. Last month, the Cuban military took over the business operations of Leal’s City Historian’s Office, absorbing them into a business empire that has grown dramatically since the declaration of detente between the U.S. and Cuba on Dec. 17, 2014.

The military’s long-standing business wing, GAESA, assumed a higher profile after Gen. Raul Castro became president in 2008, positioning the armed forces as perhaps the prime beneficiary of a post-detente boom in tourism. Gaviota, the military’s tourism arm, is in the midst of a hotel building spree that outpaces projects under control of nominally civilian agencies like the Ministry of Tourism. The military-run Mariel port west of Havana has seen double-digit growth fueled largely by demand in the tourism sector. The armed forces this year took over the bank that does business with foreign companies, assuming control of most of Cuba’s day-to-day international financial transactions, according to a bank official.

“GAESA is wisely investing in the more international — and more lucrative — segments of the Cuban economy. This gives the military technocrats a strong stake in a more outwardly oriented and internationally competitive Cuba deeply integrated into global markets,” said Richard Feinberg, author of “Open for Business: The New Cuban Economy.”

Castro has never publicly explained his reasoning for giving so much economic power to the military, but the armed forces are widely seen in Cuba as efficient, fast-moving and relatively unscathed by the low-level payoffs and pilferage that plague so much of the government. Economic disruption also is viewed as a crucial national security issue while the government slowly loosens its once-total hold on economic activity and renews ties with its former Cold War enemy 90 miles to the north.

While U.S. President Barack Obama has said detente was meant partly to help ordinary Cubans develop economic independence from a centrally planned government that employs most of the island’s workers, the Cuban government says the U.S. should expect no change in Cuba because of normalization with the U.S.

The takeover of Old Havana shows how the Cuban government is, so far, successfully steering much of the peace dividend into military coffers.

The announcement nearly two years ago that the U.S. and Cuba were restoring diplomatic relations set off a tourism boom with Old Havana at its epicenter. The cobblestone streets are packed with tourists browsing souvenir stands, visiting museums and dining in trendy private restaurants. World figures and celebrities from Madonna to Mick Jagger to Pope Francis and Obama have all visited. Hotels are booked well through next year.

The largest business arm of the historian’s office, Habaguanex, named for a pre-Columbian indigenous chief, directly runs some 20 hotels and 30 stores and more than 25 restaurants in Old Havana.

Under a special exemption by the ruling Council of State, the office has been allowed to use its revenues as it sees fit rather than returning them to the national treasury and receiving a yearly budget allocation from the central government. That 1993 measure is widely credited for giving Leal the power and flexibility to restore Old Havana to international standards while much of the rest of Havana suffers from neglect that has left buildings collapsing and streets rutted with big potholes.

A towering figure in Cuba’s intellectual and political life, Leal, who turns 74 on Sept. 11, is often chosen to deliver meditations on Cuban history and culture at major public events. He has never groomed an obvious successor. He has appeared frail and thin in some recent public appearances and close associates say he has been receiving treatment for a serious illness.

“I’m giving up everything that I think should be, under current conditions, better directed,” Leal told The Associated Press when asked about the military takeover of his financial operations. “There’s a reality. I was trained and educated to work in cultural heritage, and that’s my calling.”

Continue reading Cuba’s Tourism Thaw With the U.S. Has Been Great News for Its Military

More bad news for new ideas in Cuba

eusebioleal

The Miami Herald, by Paul W. Hare

Very few without Castro in their name have survived in the leadership of the Cuban Revolution as long as Eusebio Leal. And he didn’t do it by the conventional means of silence and obedience. He brought loyalty but also ideas to the Castros. Now the military-run business empire has asserted itself in Old Havana as elsewhere and Leal appears to have been outmaneuvered.

Uniquely among Cuban leaders Leal has cared about other things beyond preserving the Castro Revolution. He has been as fascinated by Cuba’s past as its future. He has received numerous overseas cultural awards but his stature in Cuba has been that he thought differently.

In 2002 the British embassy in Havana staged a two-month-long series of events to commemorate 100 years of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United Kingdom. We were told it was the largest such festival by an overseas country ever held in Cuba. Leal was our indispensable ally for venues, organization, contacts and vision. At times the Revolution’s agenda surfaced and he negotiated hard. But his heart was in the history of both our countries. Leal even created a garden in Old Havana in memory of Princess Diana. And as a historian he loved the story of the British invasion of Havana in 1762.

The military conglomerate GAESA will now assume business control over Leal’s beloved Old Havana project. This has been a labor of love and ingenuity. But it has also depended on his versatile role at the heart of revolutionary politics. He proved a man of taste, of determination but also shone as a contemporary entrepreneur in a Cuba which despises individualism.

His versatility served him well. A teenager at the time of the Revolution, he chose to prove that innovation and a love of past cultures and elegance could coexist with the new era. He admired Fidel, a fellow intellectual, and — not accidentally — he was chosen by the official Cuban media to eulogize his old friend again on his 90th birthday. Typically, the Revolution was extracting a declaration of loyalty from a man who was feeling pretty disgruntled .

Times are changing in Cuba and the undermining of Leal’s control has wider implications. He may not be a household name outside Cuba and he may be in failing health. But his project showed he knew the Castros would never allow private sector growth to restore the largest area of Spanish colonial architecture in the Western Hemisphere.

His only chance was to harness funds from tourist visitors and foreign investors. There is still much to do but the current rush of tourists to Cuba owes much to achievement.

Leal’s fate is nothing new. Set in the 57-year context of the Cuban Revolution, many able and loyal leaders have been discarded. Felipe Pérez Roque, Carlos Lage and Roberto Robaina are recent examples. But Leal had survived and appeared to be growing in stature with Raúl. His walking tour of Old Havana with Obama received worldwide publicity.

Leal’s bonding with the U.S. president may have irked the Castros. The disintegration of Venezuela and loss of subsidies under Nicolás Maduro gave the military companies the opening they needed to swoop for Old Havana. Now, effectively Raúl Castro’s son-in-law will rule the roost and U.S.-operated cruise ships will soon be occupying many berths in the Old Havana harbor.

But perhaps the saddest lesson from Leal’s marginalization is the signal it sends to Cuban innovators and foreign investors. The restoration of the Revolution is still more important than the architectural jewels of past eras. Almost at the same time as Leal’s demise, a far less visionary but unquestioning loyalist, Ricardo Cabrisas, was promoted. These are indeed depressing times for Cubans hoping for some new ideas and less of the same.

PAUL W. HARE IS A FORMER BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO CUBA AND CURRENTLY SENIOR LECTURER AT THE FREDERICK S. PARDEE SCHOOL OF GLOBAL STUDIES AT BOSTON UNIVERSITY.

Cuba’s Military Dictatorship in Complete Control: Historian confirms military taking over operations

Hotel Ambos Mundos

The Miami Herald

In the early 1990s, with Havana in ruins and Cuba mired in a devastating economic crisis, the island’s government granted historian Eusebio Leal Spengler and his office broad and rare powers to return Old Havana to its former glory.

Under his guidance, and largely reinvesting its own funds, the Office of the Historian of the City of Havana (OHCH) rescued at least one third of the buildings in the historic heart of the Cuban capital and won lavish international praise.

But Leal’s autonomy appears to have come to an end, with all OHCH operations now under the control of the Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A. (GAESA), a holding company controlled by the Cuban armed forces.

“You see that building? Ten years ago it was full of putrid water, rats and garbage. The balconies could fall on people walking under them any time. Today they are apartments, thanks to Eusebio’s work,” said Mirna, 68, a retiree who added that she’s worried about the future of the OHCH.

Leal confirmed the change in an email response to questions from a reporter but chose his words carefully. The OHCH, he wrote, “was not transferred to the armed forces but to (GAESA), a development enterprise that has the prestige and capacity to invest, while the Historian’s Office retains the power to advise on preservation and new construction projects.”

Cuba’s government-controlled news media has not reported on the change. Some independent journalists have described the shift as a direct takeover by the armed forces.

Leal, however, said that OHCH employees are not worried because “the preservation work is being extended to (other) cities important to Cuba’s heritage.” But he went on to take a sharp jab at unidentified critics of his efforts to protect the national patrimony.

“We have been hurt, it’s true, because at a moment that requires the utmost respect for life, mediocre people who never achieved anything and are spiritually poor are taking advantage to injure and damage the many others who have worked so many years to preserve the patrimony of a nation, either in Cuba or any other part of the world,” he wrote.

Leal took over the OHCH in 1967 after the death of Emilio Roig de Leuchshering, who had led the agency since its founding in the 1930s. It began to grow, in size, revenue and autonomy as it renovated and sold or rented buildings in Old Havana.

Its almost total autonomy — rarely seen in Cuba’s communist system — was assured in the 1990s with a government decree that empowered Leal to create an enterprise that could earn revenues and reinvest them in Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The decree ordered the OHCH to report directly to the national Council of State rather than to the municipal government. The office also has its own special legal code and judicial standing, as well as permission to import and export goods directly instead of going through the cumbersome national system for foreign trade.

One of its most important benefits is the power to require payments from companies that are based in Old Havana but are not under direct OHCH control. They pay the office 1 percent of revenue if they work in Cuban pesos and 5 percent if they work in convertible pesos known as CUCs.

Among the entities are the Habaguanex hotel chain, the San Cristobal travel agency, the Opus Havana cultural magazine, the Habana Radio station, the Bologna publishing house and several businesses with web pages that advertise and sell OHCH products.

OHCH also controlled the Aurea and Fénix real estate companies, more than 50 cafeterias and two dozen restaurants, museums, concert halls and shops, an import company, a trade school and three construction companies.

In the past two decades, it created 13,000 jobs directly and thousands more indirectly, according to studies carried out by the organization. Sixty percent of the $500 million in revenues it brought went to “social” projects such as a home for the aged. The OHCH also received more than $30 million in foreign assistance.

About 55 percent of the tourists who go to the island visit Havana, and 90 percent of them walk around the historic city center. Per capita tourist income in Old Havana is estimated at 2,185 convertible pesos, compared to 245 in the rest of the capital, studies show.

“The biggest slice of the cake is in Old Havana. Everyone knows that, and that’s why they are taking away of all of Leal’s enterprises,” said one employee of a senior citizen’s home financed by the OHCH.

Leal’s email said OHCH will retain the power to impose a 5 percent charge on any public or private activity in Old Havana, and will still run “heritage” shops such as those in museums. Other state institutions also will continue to contribute to the historian’s office.

Leal’s office grew even bigger in 2003, when it took control of the redevelopment of the old part of the seaside Malecón boulevard, and then in 2005 when it began running the Chinatown section of the capital.

But it began losing branches to other government entities after a string of corruption scandals involving some of its administrators covered by the islands’ independent journalists and never by the government’s mass media monopoly.

“The process of pruning its branches has been slow. They have been removing one after another to protect Leal,” said one Cuban economist who spoken on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. “The auditors found a huge embezzlement, and the only way of not judging the Historian, who in fact had nothing to do with the theft, is to terminate his responsibility for those enterprises.”

Leal flatly denied that version of OHCH’s break up in his email, but added that “wherever there is someone willing to sell his soul to the devil, there will be administrative and corruption scandals.”

The shift to GAESA control, he added, is designed “simply to consolidate development efforts that we cannot face with our own resources.”

Eugenio Yanez, a Cuban academic with the online think tank Cubanálisis, has a somewhat different view of the problems at OHCH.

“First of all, (Cuban ruler) Raúl Castro is more pragmatic, and so he may want an enterprise that specializes in management to focus on running the businesses in Havana,” said Yanez.

But Yanez added that the corruption scandals and Leal’s suspected poor health — he was said to have nearly died recently from an unspecified ailment — had unquestionably added to OHCH’s troubles.

“The auditors found shady dealings,” he said. “The solution was the transfer to the armed forces, which Castro trusts.”

Some of the small private businesses in Old Havana said they felt protected by the OHCH and expressed concerns about its transfer to GAESA.

“The government always promotes its own restaurants, hotels and businesses ahead of the private sector,” said Reinaldo, who runs a clothing shop in Old Havana.

Hairdresser Camilo Condis said the small private businesses in Old Havana have thrived under the OHCH umbrella.

“Without the Historian’s office, the work we do would not have been possible,” said Condis, who works with Gilberto Valladares, the beauty shop owner who met with President Barack Obama during his visit to Cuba.

But since GAESA’s takeover on Aug. 1, the institution that preserved at least one third of Havana’s historic center has been limited to “managing museums, promoting cultural activities and the care of our patrimony,” said a source at the Vitrina de Valonia museum in Old Havana.

It’s not clear how the military will manage the restoration projects in Old Havana, but many expressed fear that they will not know how to maintain Leal’s legacy, and will seek more immediate profits without taking residents into account.