Posted on Sunday, 03.04.12
Cuban farm produced milk, with the help of corrupt government workers
The case of the Vista Hermosa farm offers a glimpse of some of the
widespread corruption that is pervasive in Cuba.
By Juan O. Tamayo
A former Hialeah man is jailed in Cuba for what the Granma newspaper
portrayed as a poster case of corruption: a private farm that had plenty
of goods usually in short supply, like fertilizers, feed and road fill —
all thanks to crooked government workers.
"Although the extent of the improvements [on the farm] clearly reflected
the shadiness of its business, until the middle of 2011 this man worked
outside the law, without anyone seeing any illegalities," Granma noted.
Cuban ruler Raúl Castro has tried to crack down on the widespread
corruption since he replaced brother Fidel in 2006. A dozen major
scandals were uncovered and scores of officials were arrested, including
a boyfriend of his daughter Nilsa.
But the case of the Vista Hermosa (Beautiful View) farm showed the
depths of the crookedness. In a country where there are shortages of
almost everything — especially construction and farming materials — this
farm lacked for nothing.
"Corruption is routine in Cuba. But this report is not about [stealing]
three pounds of lard or a chicken. This is corruption at an
extraordinary level," said Pedro Roig, a member of the Institute for
Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami.
Granma described the man arrested only as a Cuban who lived in Mexico,
but he was identified as Juan Carlos Rodríguez, now about 50, by a man
who met him in Cuba in the 1990s and now lives in Miami.
Rodríguez was jailed for "anti-social conduct" in 2001 and for
falsifying documents in 2005, according to the newspaper's report on
"He was always on fire," said the source, who asked for anonymity
because he remains in contact with friends of Rodríguez. A niece who
lives in South Florida did not return several El Nuevo Herald calls
seeking comments for this story.
Rodríguez left Cuba after his run-ins with the law, served about five
years in a German prison for what relatives described as drug
trafficking, then came to Miami around 2002, the source added. He moved
to Mexico in 2008.
Granma reported that although the farm was technically owned by a
sister, Rodríguez ran it and in 2008 decided to improve the 32-acre
spread in Matanzas province. "For that, he did not skimp on resources,
mostly stolen from the Cuban state," it said.
Five corrupt workers in the state's power company installed several
cement electricity posts, about 1,300 feet of cable and several
high-voltage transformers, Granma reported. They even trimmed the trees
around the lines.
The 1,640-foot dirt road into the farm required about 400 truckloads of
fill, the report added, and a similar number of truckloads of organic
fertilizer improved the soil. Cuba's government owns the vast majority
of commercial trucks on the island.
Also seized on the farm were 35 heads of cattle whose source was
unknown, a number of horses, 94 sacks of feed and fertilizer and an
"irrigation system" — all treasured possessions for private farmers in
the communist-run country.
Rodríguez told authorities he also bought 2,000 wooden fence posts from
a private person in Cuba and imported a milking machine and 20 rolls of
barbed wire from Mexico, Granma reported — "actions not registered by
Sixteen sections of railroad track torn up from a nearby line were used
to build the cattle barn and a warehouse, the newspaper added. The
government official who provided the sections "did not consider the
damage to the economy."
Perhaps without meaning to, Granma also highlighted the profits that can
be earned by a private farm — even though Vista Hermosa produced a mere
70 to 80 liters of milk every other day — when it reported the salaries
of its seven employees.
Although Cuba's average monthly wage officially stands at $17, four of
the workers earned $48 a month, plus clothes, cell phones and in some
cases motorcycles or bicycles for transportation, Granma said. The other
three were guards who earned $24 a month.
The newspaper report did not detail where the milk was sold. Legally,
all milk production must be sold at government-set prices to the
government, which then rations it out to children and the elderly at
deeply subsidized prices. But milk sold on the black market can bring
farmers many times the price they would get from the government.
Indicating that some government officials had received bribes in
exchange for supplying goods to the farm, it noted that "the suspects
obtained exaggerated amounts for their 'services'?" but did not identify
them or report any arrests other than Rodríguez.
Instead, Granma blasted "the lack of control, the negligence and the
ineffectiveness of some of our managers" and called on Cuba's
bureaucrats to pay more attention to cases of corruption.
"It is doubtful that no functionary … inquired about the goings on at a
farm, owned in the name of a woman and without any employees, which
turned into a prosperous cattle farm," the report noted.
"No one can lead from behind a desk, trusting blindly on the information
that others provide," it added. "To remain disengaged or passive, when
others are profiting, wounds as much as the crimes themselves."