The announcement of the ousting of Cuba's Foreign Minister, Roberto Robaina, was not a surprise in Washington. In early May, a Cuban source from Havana, reported the news to us in precise detail. However, it is not clear what caused Robaina's departure. Some inside sources say that several factors contributed to Fidel Castro's decision to fire his Foreign Minister.

The most likely factor was the public allegation that Robaina's wife, Maria Elena Garcia, was making a fortune in the illegal drug business of a fugitive Mexican politician, believed to be hiding in Cuba. Mario Villanueva, the former Governor of Quintana Roo Province, was reported to be a close associate of Robaina and his wife. Sources in Havana allege that the Robainas have comfortable residences in Yucatan and Canada and foreign bank accounts.

Other sins attributed to Robaina include an indiscrete relation with an Argentine lady and his work as Foreign Minister that did not measure up to Castro's expectations. Two weeks before Robaina was fired, Maria Elena was dismissed from her position at the Ministry of Tourism, Director of International Relations of the enterprise Rumbos.

It is difficult to understand the recent disclosure of "corruption" charges against prominent officials in the Ministry of Tourism, headed by Osmany Cienfuegos. Analysts wonder if these charges could be the beginning of a purge confined to the Ministry or perhaps an effort to cover up illicit business deals by officials in other areas of the government. Interested observers will be well-advised to monitor the outcome of the charges leveled against the Ministry of Tourism and the effect these charges may have on officials close to Minister Cienfuegos. See this article for details


A Castro bodyguard, Captain Lazaro Betancourt, defected in the Dominican Republic in April 17, 99. On June 16 he was on center stage at a press conference sponsored by the Cuban American National Foundation. I think it unlikely that Betancourt could be considered a "senior" official in any way, but he probably has enough anecdotes on life close to the Cuban pinnacle to enable him to dine out among Cuban exiles for an extended period. In affairs of this sort, there are winners and losers. Castro suffered an embarrassment and an adverse political blow. The Cuban American National Foundation is a winner able to give the impression that Betancourt may have been linked to this emigre organization. Betancourt has some way to go on his personal score card, and faces a daunting task to convince the public of his sincerity.


The Cuban Interests Section in Washington celebrated the recent promotion of Dagoberto Rodriguez Barrera from First Secretary to Head of the America Department in Havana. It was a promotion with a "stretch". The America Department is the intelligence center of the Cuban Communist Party. It was founded and directed for many years by the legendary figure in the world of intrigue and intelligence, the late Manuel Pinero Losada (Red Beard).


There are signs that Cuba has embarked on a new and unprecedented path to invigorate its declining economy. A new type of enterprise has emerged that is hard to classify. The organizational structure of these new enterprises seems to be an admixture of capitalism, socialism and national socialism, the latter on the 1930's model of Italy or Germany. Leaders of these enterprises are old and powerful members of the Cuban nomenklatura, among them Ramiro (Ramirito) Valdes, ex-tzar of Cuban intelligence. Some observers see in this reorganization a way to make official what was already true in practice. Another view is that these new structures codify Cuban acceptance of capitalism among the privileged and selected.


June 1999

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