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    Castro Inc. – Cuba as Family Business

    Castro Inc.: Cuba as Family Business
    04/04/2016 10:28 am ET | Updated 22 hours ago
    Daniel Williams
    Author of “Forsaken: The Persecution of Christians in Today’s Middle
    East,” available from O/R Books.

    Everyone is all aflutter about the coming changes for Cuba now that US
    President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro have attended a baseball
    game together in Havana and generally made nice to each other.

    It doesn’t look like anything resembling electoral, multi-party
    democracy is on the way. Before, during and after Obama’s visit, Raul’s
    secret police busily rounded up dissidents and demonstrators, and his
    brother Fidel—now the skeletal voice of a faded revolution—was quick to
    let Obama know that the island would take no lessons about democracy.

    Okay, so what about the economy, the long-crippled example of failed
    Communist planning, arbitrary control of pricing and confiscatory
    depression of workers’ wages?

    There, changes are afoot. During Obama’s visit, foreign reporters
    marveled at the blossoming of little private hotels and restaurants, by
    the ubiquitous hustling of contraband cigars, the endless moonlighting
    of workers looking to increase their meager income, the farmers selling
    pork, and the rampant prostitution. But the bigger change was ignored:
    Raul Castro’s creation of a state-sponsored oligarchy of which the
    Castro family and its cronies are in charge.

    It’s a process of dynastic consolidation familiar to any post-Communist
    to state-capitalist experience, be it China, Vietnam or contemporary
    Russia as rejiggered by Vladimir Putin to reestablish Kremlin dominance
    of the economy.

    In Cuba, the Castros have been especially brazen in transferring
    important pieces of the economy to themselves and associates.

    The clearest exhibit is a government organization called Grupo de
    Administración Empresarial SA, the “Business Administration Group,”
    which operates state-owned companies that account for at least half the
    business revenue produced in Cuba, including 40 per cent of foreign
    currency earnings from tourism and imports. GAESA owns the best hotels
    on the island, most retail store chains, rent-a-car companies and import
    agencies. It is set to build a new tourist complex along Havana’s old
    port and run a new port and free-trade zone being constructed west of
    the city. These are big-ticket items of Cuba’s economy.

    GAESA is a family firm. It is headed by Luis Alberto Rodriguez, Raul’s
    son-in-law. He’s also an army general and Raul, of course, is the
    comandante en jefe. If you want to make money in Cuba, Rodriguez holds
    the keys to the vault.

    This all represents Cuba’s emerging profile as a family-military
    dictatorship. Raul was Defense Minister when his brother Fidel ruled
    Cuba. Over the years, he has sprinkled military officers throughout key
    positions in the economy.

    In the 1990s, when the Soviet Union broke up and Moscow left Cuba to its
    own devices, Cuba collapsed into a decade of deprivation known
    euphemistically as the “Special Period.” Raul, looking for ways to
    replace the old Soviet barter arrangements that had buttressed the
    country’s economy, dispatched military officers to negotiate investment
    deals with foreigners. Among them were mobile phone ventures and rents
    of free-trade zones plunked into former Soviet-built military bases. He
    sent elite Soviet trained officers to hotel and accounting schools
    abroad and encouraged them to read motivational business management books.

    The 90s was also a Special Period for GAESA, which originated as an arm
    of the military industries department. It began to absorb more and more
    economic resources: Raul added CIMEX, then Cuba’s largest commercial
    consortium, to GAESA’s portfolio, along with Habanaguanex, which owned
    real estate, hotels and restaurants in the decrepit, but potentially
    lucrative, gem of Old Havana.

    GAESA grew to run a domestic air service (using old Soviet transport
    planes!), tourist attractions (swim with dolphins!) and of course the
    important sugar, cigars and tourist industries.
    In short, Raul created an olive green state-within-a-state. And at
    GAESA, he put his favorite son-in-law in charge of much of it.

    Does this mean that the Castro family is enriching itself and friends
    through nepotism and cronyism? A hint of the new oligrachy’s personal
    advantages was published last year in El Heraldo de la Habana, the
    “Havana Herald.” El Heraldo, an official Communist Party newspaper,
    printed a story about Fidel’s youngest son frolicking aboard a yacht in
    the Mediterranean.

    “Thanks to his father, Gulliver, Jr. travels quite frequently,” the
    paper wrote in a satirical mode. “He appears as a giant enjoying
    himself.” By the way, Antonio is a physician but also holds the post of
    “Global Ambassador of the World Baseball Softball Confederation.” I
    wonder how he has time to treat patients.

    It’s not as if Cubans don’t know what’s going on. Dissident blogger
    Yoani Sanchez commented, “Calling for austerity while living in opulence
    has been common practice for Cuban leaders for more than half a century.”

    A few years ago, a Cuban author in the official National Artists and
    Writers Union of Cuba wrote: “It has become evident that there are
    people in government and state positions who are preparing a financial
    assault for when the revolution falls. Others likely have everything
    ready to produce the transfer of state property into private hands, like
    what happened in the former Soviet Union.” (The critic was quickly
    kicked out of the Communist Party.)

    This economic-political stranglehold appears headed toward creation of a
    North Korea-style dynasty. On that score, Raul’s son, Alejandro Castro
    Espin, is in the spotlight.

    Castro Espin is a colonel in the Interior Ministry, which runs Cuba’s
    General Intelligence Directorate, as well as the General Directorate of
    Counter-Intelligence and the General Directorate of Internal Order, both
    internal spy agencies. Last year, when Raul Castro met with Obama at
    regional summit in Panama, Castro Espin was part of the small group that
    sat in the room. He also accompanied Raul on his visit to the Vatican
    last year. Raul’s chief bodyguard is Castro Espin’s nephew.

    In the tradition of Kremlinology, it was always important to see who is
    standing next to whom atop Lenin’s tomb in order to decipher who really
    holds power. Atop Cuba’s economic and political tomb stand the up and
    coming associates of Castro, Inc.

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