CubaBrief: General’s death shows Castro family still rules in Cuba. Official statistics show COVID-19 killed over 60K Cubans. U.S. denounces harsh sentences in Cuba

The most powerful and connected man in the inner circle of the Cuban dictatorship, possibly more powerful in day to day operations than Raul Castro, died on Friday, July 1, 2022, reported Cuba’s official media.

General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja January 19, 1960 – July 1, 2022

Granma, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, reported on July 1, 2022 that Cuban General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, chief administrator of GAESA, and former son-in-law to Raul Castro died of a heart attack. He was 62 years old.

“With deep regret we inform our people that in the early hours of the morning of this Friday, July 1, as a result of a cardio-respiratory arrest, Division General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, executive president of the Armed Forces Business Administration Group, passed away. Revolutionary Armies. General Luis Alberto, member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Party and deputy to the National Assembly of People’s Power, treasures a brilliant record of services to the Homeland and the Cuban Revolution.”

General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez Calleja was a former son-in-law to Raul Castro and father to two of his grandchildren, and oversaw the Grupo de Administración Empresarial, S.A., better known by its acronym GAESA that funnels billions of dollars into the coffers of the Castro clan.  

General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López Calleja, joined the Politburo of the Cuban Communist Party in April 2021.

According to Pedro Roig of Cuba Strategic Studies, General Rodriguez Lopez Calleja led “GAESA, a gigantic conglomerate of state and mixed enterprises that manages over 65% of the legal and illegal financial deals of the Cuban Government (highly secret operation), including the Port of Mariel’s developing enterprises, and a distribution partnership with the Colombian and Venezuelan drug cartels.

General Rodríguez López Calleja was the czar of the economy and a powerful heir to the military dynasty, and Member of the Communist Party Central Committee. Within the Central Committee  López Calleja was a member of the highest decision making body between the plenary sessions of the Central Committee, the Politburo. Cuban economist Elías Amor Bravo writing in 14ymedio underscored his role in the Cuban dictatorship.

“There is no doubt that Lopez-Calleja was efficient in managing the Castro family’s wealth and income. He maintained the most absolute lack of transparency, moving huge amounts and increasing the results from year to year, which is what is expected of managers. In fact, thanks to this, he was promoted to the highest levels of the army and was given a legislative seat, which was interpreted as a direct political statement to Cuban President Diaz-Canel in the face of his possible replacement. The position of “advisor to the president” was a direct and clear message.”

In addition to the Castro family which he was connected to by marriage, other members of the López Calleja family were (and are) embedded in the dictatorship’s political and economic networks overseas.

Kevin G. Hall and Nora Gámez Torres in their February 12, 2021 article, “Brother of powerful Cuban general moves like a phantom in embargo-evading offshore world.” exposed the links between Guillermo Faustino Rodríguez López-Calleja who controls the Luxembourg registered Mid Atlantic company and his brother Gen. Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja.

The death of Lopez-Calleja has exposed the reality that the Castro family remains in charge in Cuba, and through ties of blood and marriage continue to run the dictatorship.
Over 60,000 Cubans died of COVID-19, not the 8,529 official figure, based on official statistics.

Tîcö Äwö Ôrümîlä, buried grandmother in a mass grave in the Juan González cemetery in Santiago, Cuba. (Facebook)

Another myth was exposed on June 29, 2022 with regards to deaths in Cuba, and the COVID-19 response. Official channels reported “8,529 deaths due to Covid-19 between 2020 and today in Cuba. The falsification of the reality on the island was exposed after the first reports of the Statistical Yearbook, were released containing figures from between January and December 2021, reported José Luis Reyes in Diario de Cuba.

“In the section of the document dedicated to Population, drafted by the State Office of Statistics and Information [ Oficina Nacional de Estadísticas e Información] (ONEI), it is striking that in the previous year 167,645 deaths were recorded, while the total population fell by 68,380. Although the decrease in the number of inhabitants has been steady since 2015, mainly attributed to the low birth rate, the downward curve in 2021 was about 7% per 1,000 people. In numbers, this means that while the country closed out 2020 with 11,181,595 people, at the end of 2021 there were 11,113,215.”

Based on the average number of annual deaths prior to COVID-19 hovering on average at 106,813 deaths with maximum variation above of 106,941 in 2017 places the increase of Cubans who died due to a health emergency such as COVID-19 at 60,704 (and this is a conservative estimate). Regime downplayed the impact of this plague on Cubans by over a factor of seven.

U.S. State Department: Over 550 Cubans from 11J protests were sentenced to more than a total of 4,000 years. Over 700 remain arbitrarily detained.

Some of the Cubans arbitrarily detained for taking part in 11J protests

Over 550 Cuban protesters sentenced to more than a total of 4,000 years in prison reported the U.S. State Department on June 30, 2022. These numbers include over 20 protesters who were underage when arrested. The State Department also noted that more than 700 protesters who took part in the protests last year, remain arbitrarily detained. ” Hundreds of protesters languish in jails on arbitrary charges because they criticized the regime and its leaders.  Despite video and photographic evidence to the contrary, the Cuban government attempts to justify their detentions, prosecutions, and draconian sentences by falsely claiming the protests were largely violent.  Today’s class of political prisoners are made up of Cubans from across Cuba and from all walks of life.”

“Cuban artist Luis Alberto Mariño, exiled in Argentina, and Gisella Morf, of the Cubalex Information Center, denounced the sentences of five and nine years in prison, imposed June 24 on Cuban political prisoners, Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara and Maykel Castillo Perez, calling the sentences a display of a ‘totalitarian dictatorship,'” reported  Alejandra Padilla in the (Confidencial).

Havana Times, July 3, 2022

The Consequences for Cuba of the Death of Lopez-Calleja

Lopez-Callejas was reported to maintain a low profile despite his many powerful positions.

Por Elías Amor Bravo (14ymedio)

HAVANA TIMES – The bankruptcy of the Cuban economy and the administration of the enormous wealth of the Castro family are two factors in a first assessment of what Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Calleja’s death means from the economic perspective, and his legacy can be evaluated in terms of these two realities.

The economic crisis is caused by the limitations to growth in the private sector, the SMEs [small and medium enterprises] and the Agricultural Cooperatives. In addition, the State’s absolute control of economic activity (the internal blockade) is one of the worst legacies of the hidden, unlimited power exercised by Lopez-Calleja from the monopoly of GAESA, the Business Administration Group of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, which contributes 80% of the economy’s GDP.

In fact, Lopez-Calleja was, from the shadows of his political position, one of the main opponents of the development of private actors in sectors such as tourism, gastronomy, transport, small craft trade to tourists, etc., as soon as he saw that they became a counterpower that could curb the spectacular profits of the Regime’s mixed businesses with foreign companies. His man in government, Prime Minister Manuel Marrero, was in charge of making things more and more difficult for emerging private actors.

There is no doubt that Lopez-Calleja was efficient in managing the Castro family’s wealth and income. He maintained the most absolute lack of transparency, moving huge amounts and increasing the results from year to year, which is what is expected of managers.

In fact, thanks to this, he was promoted to the highest levels of the army and was given a legislative seat, which was interpreted as a direct political statement to Cuban President Diaz-Canel in the face of his possible replacement. The position of “advisor to the president” was a direct and clear message.

Therefore, the two unknowns of who will be the substitute for these very relevant functions raise, at least for the time being, presents a scenario of crisis and uncertainty about the political model of the Regime. It’s even possible that Raul Castro, who is responsible for this decision and who, at an advanced age, may be thinking that life disappears around him at great speed, will ignore these issues. The positions that until now were concentrated in a single person could even be divided, and this would also be a challenge for the Regime, accustomed to dealing with a single person for many tasks.

Apparently, at the time these lines are written, it seems that one of the unknowns may be already resolved, with the alleged appointment of Raul’s son as the head of GAESA, which would imply that the family has blatantly showed Cubans, even more than with Lopez-Calleja, who rules the economy and the country. A false move? Or could it be that there is no one else in the Regime to occupy these decisive positions of great economic and political influence?

As the State newspaper Granma says in the eulogy that has been dedicated to the deceased, “he was a man of high commitment and loyalty to the Cuban revolution” with “great ability to make decisions and take on challenges.” Finding someone with these characteristics is a priority because if they don’t get it right, the bases that support the Regime can falter.

Lopez-Calleja had all the economic power, and if he didn’t want more, it was for his own reasons. In recent years, from the Economic Political Commission in 2006, and later from 2011 in the Government Commission for Attention to the Mariel Special Development Zone, he made a good part of the decisions that have been a brake and an obstacle to the development of the private sector, which in this blog is called the “internal embargo” of the Cuban economy, much more harmful and detrimental than the external one.

Granma concludes his eulogy by saying that “his contributions to the defense of the Homeland and the development of the national economy, together with his attitude in the fulfillment of each of the missions assigned throughout his exemplary life, made him worthy of various decorations and recognitions granted by the Council of State.” This confirms that his closeness to the core of power acted as an element of pressure and fear in the face of his potential rivals. No one dared to oppose him.

But the official communist newspaper is wrong. It’s not true that Lopez-Calleja’s legacy highlights that “model of business system that serves as an example to the country, for having demonstrated its efficiency.” In reality, the management of political monopolies says very little about who is in charge. It’s an easy task, which, on the other hand, usually has the impact of who has been at the forefront for so long. His substitute, whether Raul’s son or someone else, will find it difficult. The sale of GAESA to the private sector will always be a possibility if things don’t go as expected, but then, will the sale of the means of production pass to the Cuban people as the constitution says? I doubt it.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times

https://havanatimes.org/opinion/the-consequences-for-cuba-of-the-death-of-lopez-calleja/

Chief of Cuba’s military businesses, ex-Castro in-law dies

By Andrea RodrÍguez | AP

July 1, 2022 at 3:26 p.m. EDT

In this photo released by Cubadebate, Gen. Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Calleja, right, greets former Cuban President Raul Castro at the National Assembly in Havana, Cuba, Dec. 21, 2021. Lopez-Calleja, one of the most trusted advisers to Castro and head of the country’s military business division, died on July 1, 2022 at age 62. The Communist Party and official news media said he died of a cardiopulmonary arrest. (Irene Perez/Cubadebate via AP)

HAVANA — Gen. Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, one of the most trusted advisers to former Cuban President Raul Castro and head of the country’s military business division, died on Friday at age 62.

The Communist Party and official news media said he died of a cardiopulmonary arrest.

López-Calleja, who was also a former son-in-law of Raul Castro, was serving as executive president of the armed forces Business Administration Group, which includes an extensive array of hotels, shops, tourist agencies and construction firms.

He also was a member of the Communist Party’s powerful Political Bureau and a member of the island’s parliament.

López-Calleja was a circumspect person who had become gradually more visible in official events as the armed forces businesses came to play a growing role in Cuba’s economy.

He was born in the central province of Villa Clara on Jan. 19, 1960, just a year after the revolution led by Fidel Castro and his brother Raul had toppled the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista and taken power.

He became a leader in party youth organizations, studied in the Soviet Union, participated in Cuba’s African military mission to Angola and later served in military counterintelligence. His official biography says he began to lead the military business operation in 1996 and became part of the Communist Party Central Committee in 2011.

He had married — and later was divorced from — Raul Casro’s oldest daughter, Débora, and they had a son, Raúl Guillermo Rodríguez Castro, who is currently the most visible of his grandfather’s bodyguards.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/chief-of-cubas-military-businesses-ex-castro-in-law-dies/2022/07/01/c0ff8d9c-f973-11ec-81db-ac07a394a86b_story.html

Diario de Cuba, July 5, 2022

Dictatorships Fear Those Who Think Differently

Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara and Maykel Castillo Perez

Luis Alberto Mariño and Gisella Morfi analyze the recent convictions of artists in Cuba, Daniel Ortega’s political ally 

By Alejandra Padilla (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – Cuban artist Luis Alberto Mariño, exiled in Argentina, and Gisella Morf, of the Cubalex Information Center, denounced the sentences of five and nine years in prison, imposed June 24 on Cuban political prisoners, Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara and Maykel Castillo Perez, calling the sentences a display of a “totalitarian dictatorship.”

The trial was carried out behind closed doors in the People’s Municipal Court of Centro Habana. In an interview with the television program Esta Noche both Mariño and Morfi condemned the political basis of the judicial decision.

Otero, 34, is the leader of the San Isidro Movement and one of Castro’s most brazen critics. Castillo is co-author of the song “Patria y Vida,” (Homeland and Life) a hymn of resistance during the peaceful anti-government protests on July 11.

Luis Alberto, why has the Cuban dictatorship been so harsh with these artists?

First, because a totalitarian dictatorship is afraid of anyone who thinks differently, and more so if they make it public. Luis Manuel and Maykel have embodied all the disenchantment of a generation that has seen the disaster, seen the lies reflected again and again in the official media news, in the statistics, in everything. A generation that has seen that the official discourse has nothing to do with reality.

Maykel became a great influencer, just by going live from his phone, exposing reality, interviewing people even though he’s not a journalist, but simply out of pure empathy, pure sensitivity, showing how Cubans live. And Luis Manuel, on the other hand, making art, giving performances, testing the margins and limits established by the Cuban totalitarian State to contain all forms of art in an arena controlled by them. The regime fears them not only because of their testimonies, but because of what it produces in society.

Giselle, what crimes did the People’s Supreme Court of Cuba charge Otero and Castillo with?

They are being punished for the crime of insulting the symbols of the homeland, for contempt and defamation of the institutions and organizations of heroes and martyrs, of attack, resistance, and public disorder. The Prosecutor’s Office requested that Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara be sentenced to seven years, and the Court imposed a five-year sentence. In Maykel’s case, the Prosecutor’s Office asked for 10 years, but in the end, they imposed nine.

Giselle, several national and international human rights organizations have denounced that this was a political trial. What arbitrariness were you able to document during the process?

They are being punished for common crimes, but if we look at the text of the sentence, where it addresses the identification of the case, the file shows that all the related actions were handled by the specialized body of criminal investigation of crimes against State Security. This is completely out of place, totally inappropriate, and if it were ordinary crimes that body would have no jurisdiction.

At first, we see the violations of due process. Secondly, they were arbitrarily detained since these crimes are entirely incompatible with international human rights treaties. They are accused of offences that criminalize fundamental rights such as freedom of expression, and citizen participation in public life. Therefore, their treatment has been like that of political prisoners.

Even though the convictions are recent, Luis Manuel and Maikel have been in prison for over a year since their arrests in 2021. Giselle, is it known what their state of health is?

There have been reports of sensitive health conditions. In Maykel’s case, there have been systematic complaints about his health regarding a skin condition, but no studies have been done to identify the problem. All medical institutions are part of the state apparatus, and Maykel cannot select his medical care. Added to this is that there is a health crisis in Cuba, with a shortage of everything including medicines. Medical care within the prison is not timely, not efficient, and additionally, medical attention depends on a prisoner’s behavior.

Luis Alberto, how did the citizens react to the punishments against Otero and Castillo, and what impact does their convictions have on the independent artistic movement on the island?

People reacted with condemnation, with sadness and with a will to continue fighting for them to not serve the sentences, to continue demanding their freedom and to continue demanding that international organizations ensure human rights rather than continue with the pragmatic pacts they make with dictatorships. Cuban society, Cuban activists, are sad, upset, and horrified at the arbitrariness of the regime towards two well-known people. Imagine what happens to those who are unknown.

Giselle, almost a year after the peaceful anti-government protests, what is the situation like for the Cuban people? Can they go out and protest? 

Maykel’s and Luis Manuel’s sentences, along with all the sentences stemming from July 11, have a similar deterring effect: They serve as examples for the whole society with the aim of intimidating all people so that they do not go out to protest, so that they don’t demonstrate, so that they do not express themselves. Freedom of thought, freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, the right to peaceful protest, are rights that are being persecuted in Cuba.

https://havanatimes.org/interviews/dictatorships-fear-those-who-think-differently/

Diario de Cuba, July 2, 2022

Society

In 2021 Cuba registered nearly 200,000 deaths, the highest figure in more than half a century

The country’s population fell by some 70,000, and the deaths of children under one year of age skyrocketed.

By José Luis Reyes

La Habana 02 Jul 2022

Regime spokesman Humberto López called the reports of mass graves in Cuba in 2021 false. Canal Caribe

After reporting only 8,529 deaths due to Covid-19 between 2020 and today, and systematically seeking to cover up the major exodus from Cuba, the authorities’ falsification of the reality on the island was exposed after the first reports of the Statistical Yearbook, containing figures from between January and December 2021, were released.

In the section of the document dedicated to Population, drafted by the State Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI), it is striking that in the previous year 167,645 deaths were recorded, while the total population fell by 68,380.

Although the decrease in the number of inhabitants has been steady since 2015, mainly attributed to the low birth rate, the downward curve in 2021 was about 7% per 1,000 people.

In numbers, this means that while the country closed out 2020 with 11,181,595 people, at the end of 2021 there were 11,113,215.

These figures could be even more acute if we take into account that in November 2021 an exodus began that, through last May, had seen over 140,000 Cubans emigrate to the USA in what it qualifies as the largest migratory wave from the island in the last half century.

The average number of annual deaths in Cuba over the past five years was 106,813 people, remaining quite stable, with maximum variations of 7,540 cases between 2016 (99,401) and 2017 (106,941), while thereafter it grew by no more than 4,000 cases, such that a major increase in the annual figure could only be due to a health emergency such as the Covid-19 pandemic, which killed millions around the world in the last two years.

In 2021 there were just 99,096 births and, significantly, the numbers of deaths of children under one year of age also shot up, to 753, more than those reported in 2020, when there were 516.

In addition, the decline in births, which according to the Government is a cause for concern and constant attention, was almost 10% compared to 2020, when 109,716 people were born. This fall was the sharpest since 1970, something that is also true for the mortality rate, according to the study.

According to the Yearbook, children under the age of 15 now account for just 15.7% of the population, while 62.7% are aged between 15 and 59, and 21.6% over 59.

Coincidentally, without mentioning the recently published figures, Prime Minister Manuel Marrero posted on his Twitter profile a comment stating: “Demographic Dynamics are a matter of special interest to the Government of Cuba. At a meeting of the Government Commission created to address this issue, we analyzed several points that have a significant impact on it.”

In the summer of 2021, when hospitals were overwhelmed and social media brimmed with complaints of overcrowded hospitals and morgues, as well as the sudden, rushed expansion of cemeteries, and burials in mass graves, the media and official spokespeople strove to deny these allegations, offering absurd explanations.

After a year, the truth has come to light, as well as the authorities’ systematic distortion of the national reality. all to try, unsuccessfully, to hide its botched handling of the crisis.

https://diariodecuba.com/cuba/1656779392_40649.html

U.S. State Department, June 30, 2022

The Harsh Sentencing of Human Rights Defenders in Cuba

Press Statement

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

June 30, 2022

The United States is deeply concerned by the ongoing harsh sentencing of political protesters in Cuba, and we will continue to work with our partners around the world to demonstrate our collective support for the rights of Cubans who are unjustly detained.  Cuban judges have sentenced over 550 Cuban protesters to more than 4,000 combined years.  Protesters are sentenced to prison, forced labor, or other punitive measures.  These numbers include more than 20 protesters arrested as minors.

Meanwhile, the Cuban government continues to hold in detention more than 700 protesters who took to the streets nearly one year ago, on July 11, 2021, to criticize the government’s failure to respect their human rights and fundamental freedoms.  Hundreds of protesters languish in jails on arbitrary charges because they criticized the regime and its leaders.  Despite video and photographic evidence to the contrary, the Cuban government attempts to justify their detentions, prosecutions, and draconian sentences by falsely claiming the protests were largely violent.  Today’s class of political prisoners are made up of Cubans from across Cuba and from all walks of life.

State prosecutors chose to make examples of protesters from Havana’s impoverished neighborhoods of La Guinera and 10 de Octubre, with significant Afro-Cuban populations, charging them with sedition and issuing the harshest sentences up to 26 years in prison.  Six defendants from these neighborhoods, ages 16 or 17 at the time of their arrest, received up to five years forced labor.  Cuban government officials continue to detain, harass, and threaten mothers of detained protesters who dare speak publicly about their children.

These injustices have clear aims:  to prevent Cuban citizens from asserting their rights and create fear of reprisals. Cubans have a right to freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly under Cuba’s constitution and as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The Cuban government must allow its people to freely express their hopes and aspirations, rather than rule through fear and intimidation.

https://www.state.gov/the-harsh-sentencing-of-human-rights-defenders-in-cuba/