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Thursday, June 22, 2017

The true face of GAESA in Havana's Historic Quarter

The true face of GAESA in Havana's Historic Quarter
ROLANDO MARTÍNEZ | La Habana | 22 de Junio de 2017 - 11:27 CEST.

"What has the change from Habaguanex to GAESA been like?"

"Disastrous."

"Why?"

"Because the military management is inept. They demand too much and want
to intimidate us. Imagine: if you refuse to work with them, or ask for
leave, they threaten to seize your passport for a year."

So says Roberto, 41, a founded clerk at Habaguanex S.A. He says that
they worked very hard in the Historic Center. "We built something that
we can touch with our hands. We don't need repressors, but better salaries."

Almost a year after a commercial conglomerate of the Havana Historian's
Office was absorbed by the military consortium GAESA, many workers at
the 20 hotels, 56 bars and cafes, 39 restaurants and more than 200 shops
- among them boutiques, perfumeries, florists, pharmacies, opticians,
jewelers, liquor stores and food establishments - feel uncomfortable
with their new bosses, and some are even considering leaving the entity.

"They are so bungling," says Osmani, a 38-year-old worker, "that the new
management of the Santa Isabel hostel in the Plaza de Armas closed the
service entrance, so maintenance and other employees now have to pass
through the lobby on their way to their jobs."

"Eusebio [Leal] made arrangements with families so that they could
manage some hostels and businesses, an experiment that yielded excellent
results," says Mikhail, a 43-year-old custodian. "But at the Hostal
Valencia, for example, Gaviota already fired them."

"Now there are more shortages than before," says Yoslaine, 32, a cashier
at a grocery store. "There is also apathy, a lack of staff, and fewer
searches. There are long lines to pay, and the bosses couldn't care less
if the customers complain."

Even at the Puerto Carenas building, an entity that was not transferred
to GAESA, but is headed up by a brigade general, those in charge of the
restoration complain about a lack of materials and their bosses'
ignorance: "Instead of importing the required materials, we are ordered
to use common sand and cement, or any old pigment to restore frescos
that are more than 300 years old," says worker Carlos, age 48.

The vast majority of those consulted believe that "the lesser evil"
would be for civilians to run the commercial conglomerate again, and for
the General Controller of the Republic to do its work, tackling
corruption. "The disaster of the paramilitary economy was demonstrated
in the change from Habaguanex to GAESA," said one of them.

Cement, brick and corruption: the background of the military "occupation"

At the beginning of the 'rescue' of the Historic Quarter —Carlos
recalled— three construction companies were created: Puerto Carenas,
Restauradora del Malecón and Restauradora de Monumentos. The latter was
overseen by the architect Perla Rosales Aguirreurreta, Eusebio Leal's
second-in-command today.

Years later the three companies were merged under the name Puerto
Carenas, headed by Rogelio Milián Lária, a former member of the Unión de
Empresas Constructoras Caribe (UNECA), which in mid-2012 was embroiled
in a major corruption scandal. Among other shady dealings, Milián
charged commissions for the purchase of construction materials from a
Spanish supplier (his son-in-law).

Milián was replaced by Brigadier General Conrado Echeverría, former head
of the General Staff of the Matanzas military region, who later headed
up a housing program for FAR (Armed Forces) officers attached to GAESA's
Unión de Construcciones Militares (UCM).

The militarization of Puerto Carenas did not prevent corruption.
Instead, it prompted the exodus of a number of skilled workers to
non-agricultural cooperatives, where they reportedly receive "better
incentives."

Jorge, a 58-year-old freelance civil engineer, says that in the Historic
Center tenders are awarded to "construction cooperatives." The
professionals who run them operate as figureheads for some bigwigs who
benefit from the profits from these contracts. "Perla Rosales —daughter
of General Ulises Rosales del Toro— is part of that 'gallery'," he says.

Once upon a time in Habaguanex

The festival of corruption at the Office of the Historian reached its
peak "when Meici Weiss rose from the administrator of the Hotel Ambos
Mundos to the general manager of Habaguanex S.A.," says a 62-year-old
former worker at the conglomerate, who requested anonymity and said she
had been a "victim of said administration."

Weiss set up a bureaucratic model that functioned as a criminal
organization and "crushed" employees who refused to get involved in the
"shenanigans." The manager surrounded himself with subordinates that
many called "the untouchables." The bosses enjoyed impunity as they sold
their influence for personal gain, and obtained Schengen visas.

According to previous investigations, in mid-2012 Yoagniel Pérez Ramos,
then manager of the Cervecería Factoría, located in the Plaza Vieja of
the Historic Centre, was arrested right out on the street on suspicion
of "illicit enrichment", among other crimes, unleashing a wave of
arrests that rolled through other divisions of Habaguanex.

Weiss and his entourage were dismissed and subjected to investigations
by the General Controller of the Republic and the Criminal
Investigations Division (DIC). "But shit was found at levels so high
that the process had to be swept under the rug," according to an auditor
who asked not to be identified.

An old case was immediately dusted off against Yoagniel Pérez, for
embezzlement, after the carrying out of an audit - four years earlier -
at the facilities of Habaguanex S.A. (the former military headquarters
of San Ambrosio), where he was second in command.

According to Ruling number 47 of 2014, issued by the People's Provincial
Court of Havana, in case 214/2013, Yoagniel was prosecuted for the crime
of bribery, for paying to obtain a dismissal of the case based on a
"lack of evidence" in case 635/2008.

The lawyers bribed with payments of between 2.000 and 200 CUC, other
favors, and gifts at Factoría, were Osvaldo Fernández Guerra, deputy
director of the Dirección de Bufetes Colectivos (Directorate of
Collective Law Firms) in the capital; Lucía Pérez Fernández, provincial
coordinator of the Centro de Desarrollo de Bufetes Colectivos (Center
for the Development of Collective Law Firms); Mildreda Planas Durruthy,
chief prosecutor of Old Havana; and Marisol García Castillo, prosecutor
of the Old Havana municipal prosecutor's office.

Along with Yoagniel, those involved were sentenced to between 5 and 15
years in prison, property seizures, suspension of their professional
activity, and the retention of their passports until their sanctions
expire. Today Yoagniel is the only one who remains behind bars.

"If Yoagniel, a simple culinary manager, was able to bribe a group of
justice system officials, then what could have been achieved by others
with better positions? People like Meici Weiss, also the mother of Meici
Bolaños Weiss, Deputy Minister of Finance and Prices?" asks Ricardo, 54,
a former clerk at Habaguanex.

The official press refrained from informing the public about the
fissures in the justice system and the corruption at Habaguanex. Ten
months later, Eusebio Leal Spengler, incredibly untouched by the
scandal, ceded control of the commercial conglomerate to the Council of
Ministers, via Decree/Law 325/2014.

Two years after the handover, the real estate company Fenix ​​S.A. -
under the command of the military - took charge of the administration of
the San José Cultural Center, where, according to complaints by the
self-employed artisans there, there were irregularities in the sale of
stands, with prices ranging from 8,000 to 120.000 CUC.

Lázaro, age 42, a former worker at the store at Neptuno and Águila,
cites another example of the corruption at the commercial conglomerate,
where Communist Party higher-ups looked the other way and let the
mischief continue, at the same time taking on roles as "sales agents,"
demanding from management the purchase of a bust of José Martí for 240
CUC, to erect a corner honoring the historic figure in each unit (more
than 315), for a total investment of 76.000 CUC. The purchase was to be
made at the store of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of
Cuba, located at Belascoaín and Desagüe, in the center of Havana.

"There are no surprises," Lázaro says. "When GAESA applies coercive
measures against those who serve drinks at bars, make up the rooms at
hostels, charge customers at markets, and shovel concrete at building
sites, it is because that is the nature of the system: taking advantage
of the weakest and then turning a blind eye to the worst offenders, who
are daddy's boys, crooks dressed up fancy, and card-carrying members of
the Party."

Source: The true face of GAESA in Havana's Historic Quarter | Diario de
Cuba - http://www.diariodecuba.com/cuba/1498122564_32035.html
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