Posted on Wednesday, 05.09.12
STASI records show Cuba deal included IKEA furniture, antiques, rum and guns
Documents of East Germany's STASI security agency provide more details
of the deal between Cuba and IKEA.
By Juan O. Tamayo
The controversial contract to use Cuban prison labor to build IKEA
furniture was part of a broader deal between firms run by the Cuban and
East German security services that also involved Cuban antiques, cigars
and guns, according to a researcher in Berlin.
Documents on the deal, found in the archives of East Germany's notorious
STASI security agency, also refer to Cuban prison labor and indicate
that former Cuban leader Fidel Castro personally approved the overall
deal, said researcher Jorge Luis García.
Garcia told El Nuevo Herald on Wednesday he published an article about
the deal in 2006 that mentioned the Cuban manufacture of furniture "for
export to Sweden," and posted a note about it in his blog, STASI-MININT
Connection, early last year.
But the deal blossomed into scandal last week after a German newspaper
reported that an IKEA subsidiary in Berlin and an East German company
had contracted for Cuban prison labor to build 45,000 tables and 4,000
sofa groupings in 1987.
The Berlin Wall fell two years later and East Germany — officially the
German Democratic Republic — disappeared in 1990 into the Federal
Republic of Germany, also sometimes called West Germany.
It remains unclear how much of the 1987 deal was carried out, said the
Cuban-born García, who was interrogated in the STASI's underground cells
in East Berlin in 1987. He now guides tours of the cells and researches
the agency's archives.
It was also unclear if prison labor was used to make Cuban products that
were not part of the IKEA contract.
One document Garcia found in the archives show the East German firms
involved in the deal were Delta GmbH and Art and Antiquities, known as
KuA, both controlled by the Interior Ministry, in charge of domestic
security. The STASI, which monitored and repressed domestic dissent, was
a much feared part of the ministry.
But the companies were officially branches of the government's foreign
trading agency, Kommerzielle Koordinierung. The agency was led by the
notorious wheeler-dealer Alexander Schalck-Golodkowski, a STASI officer
who defected in 1989.
The document shows that the Havana side of the deal was EMIAT, and
described the company as owned by Cuba's Interior Ministry, or MININT.
Like its East German counterpart, MININT is in charge of domestic
security and runs Cuba's prisons as well as the General Directory of
State Security, which monitors and cracks down on dissidents.
García said the German-language document shows that three officials of
KuA and Delta visited Cuba and met with MININT and EMIAT officials Sept.
17-26 of 1987 to discuss a broad array of deals.
"There were visits to production centers. In part, those centers are in
penitentiary establishments of the MININT," Garcia quoted the document
as saying. "EMIAT wants to increase the use of those installations for
the manufacture of products for export."
The same document reported that Cuban Foreign Commerce Minister Ricardo
Cabrisas had met with the East German visitors and told them "This
cooperation has been authorized by Compañero Fidel Castro."
García added that the document also reported that EMIAT "supplies the
guest houses of the government and the Central Committee" of the Cuban
Communist Party. "It is also a commercial branch of the MININT."
A separate document, in Spanish and dated Sept. 26, 1987, is a
memorandum of understanding that lists all the agreements reached by the
East German visitors and their Cuban hosts, but does not give all the
details of all the deals.
The memo notes that the agreements included a deal on "the production of
furniture for export to Sweden" — the world headquarters of IKEA — with
a total value of 12 million German Marks. But it does not specifically
mention IKEA or prison labor.
It appears from the memo that Delta acted on behalf of the Swedish
furniture and housewares chain.
Also mentioned in the memo are deals on textiles as well as 10,000 tons
of grapefruit juice valued at 4.5 million marks, 200,000 bottles of rum
and 200,000 cigars — all three products highly coveted in East Germany
because of their "tropical" image.
KuA also ordered three containers of "antique furniture," the memo
added. Castro's government seized tens of thousands of valuable
antiques, paintings and sculptures as wealthy families fled abroad in
the early years of the revolution and had to leave their property there.
The Cuban partners also asked for KuA help in exporting to the
non-communist world what the document called "Oldtimers" — the antique
U.S.-made cars and trucks still seen in Cuban streets to this day. "400
Oldtimers are ready for export," the document said.
Also mentioned in the memo were sales to East Germany of Cuban
shellfish, coffee, precious metals and even coffins, García said by
telephone from Berlin. He also provided digital copies of some of the
But there was no indication of which agreements were turned into legal
contracts, or which contracts were actually carried out.
Cuba's economy went into a tailspin in the late 1980s as Soviet
President Mikhail Gorbachev began cutting subsidies to the island.
Other documents published in Germany last week showed that the initial
batch of IKEA sofas produced in Cuba had quality problems, and that a
group of Delta officials had to travel to the island to fix the issue.
There was no indication of what happened.
The memorandum of understanding was signed by three representatives of
Delta and KuA as well as EMIAT chief Lt. Col. Enrique Sanchez, the first
secretary at the Cuban embassy to East Germany and Gen. Santiago Borges.
García said other STASI documents show Borges ran MININT logistics.
García said another document in the STASI archives, reporting on the
East Germans' trip to Cuba, showed Havana authorities were so happy that
they made KuA president Axel Hilpert an honorary MININT colonel and
upgraded his flight home to first class.
After he returned to East Berlin, Hilpert brokered the sale of 2,200
U.S.-made Colt pistols in Cuban stockpiles — apparently left over from
pre-Castro days — to a Los Angeles weapons dealer, according to the
document quoted by García.
Hilpert, a long-time STASI agent code-named "Monika," became wealthy
after the collapse of East Germany, telling reporters that he had made
profitable contacts with Western business people during his years at
He was investigated in the 1990s in a case involving forged Cuban mail
stamps, and the mishandling of some funds during the final days of East
Germany, and is now jailed while under investigation on other complaints.
But he is still the co-owner of record of the four-star Resort
Schwielowsee in the former East Germany, which hosted a 2007 gathering
of G-8 finance ministers. A single room at the lakeside resort near
Berlin goes for about $160 a night.