Monday, June 25, 2012

Odds and ends

  • In El Pais, Leonardo Padura assesses the economic reform process and predicts the next steps: changes in migration law, opening to more foreign investment, and allowing cooperatives formed by workers and professionals.

  • EFE: Dissident Darsi Ferrer will leave Cuba, coming to the United States as a refugee.

  • Tres virtuoso Pancho Amat and his band performed at the Country Music Association Festival in Nashville; here’s a preview and a review.

  • Articles on doctors trained in Cuba returning home: to Timor Leste (Guardian) and to Bolivia (Opinion).

  • New blog on the block: Cuban New Yorker, by Professor Lisandro Perez of John Jay College, formerly of FIU.  It’s “about Cuba, about New York, but mostly about the intersection of the two.”

  • AP: After complaints from his attorney, Cuba provides medical records of jailed USAID contractor Alan Gross.

  • Diario de Cuba: Al Jazeera can’t stand the hassles and closes its Havana bureau, at the correspondent’s request.

  • Here’s the announcement of the replacement of the ministers of Communications and Basic Industries, both by their deputies.

On the labor front

Granma looks at the ongoing state sector layoffs in this article, where it is argued that the key to the process is for each enterprise to establish fair, transparent criteria for evaluating employee performance.  The article reviews the case of a taxi company where a driver was laid off then reinstated with back pay after the company’s selection process was reviewed.  (After the review, an administrator was fired.)  Among criteria that cannot be included, the article says, are social and union-related factors that have “nothing to do with work performance.”  The article explains how workers can pursue grievances.

And speaking of grievances, this column in Trabajadores discusses the “frequent” complaints the paper receives from workers about failure of state enterprises to pay salaries on time.  Common excuses given by management have to do with “economic difficulties, insolvency, debts, lack of credits, or unpaid receivables.” 

Friday, June 22, 2012

New rig going to Cuba

A second oil exploration rig, the Songa Mercur, is on its way to Cuba under contract to the Russian company Zarubezhneft, Upstream Online reports.  The contract begins July 1.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Miami, Cuba, and Medicare fraud

Miami, likely home of the 2012 NBA champions, is also the Medicare fraud capital of the United States. 

In this article about two recent fraud convicts, the brother and nephew of columnist Carlos Alberto Montaner, it is noted that a few years ago, one fourth of Medicare’s physical and occupational therapy claims from the entire United States were coming from south Florida.

Some of the perpetrators are Cuban Americans who fled to Cuba once the feds started after them.  (Montaner père fled to Costa Rica, with bad results.)  That fact has given rise to allegations, with no evidence offered, that Medicare fraud is in fact a Castro Regime Scheme to steal U.S. government money and to discredit the Cuban American community. 

The situation gets more interesting with the case of Oscar Sanchez, who has been arrested and indicted on one count of money laundering by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. 

Sanchez, it is alleged, didn’t himself defraud Medicare but rather helped those who did by laundering their profits and sending millions to bank accounts in Cuba.

The U.S. Attorney told the Herald, “There is no allegation and we have no evidence that the Cuban government is involved in this case.”  A Cuban official, not addressing this case directly, told the AP: “Foreign commercial banks that maintain accounts in Cuban banks are obliged to operate in strict compliance with international and Cuban rules and must guarantee the reliability of their transactions and the correct use of their accounts.”

Sanchez, it turns out, was quite an operator.  The only detailed information about this case is contained in a motion that prosecutors made to convince the judge to hold Sanchez in jail because he would likely flee if released on bail.  The narrative presented in the motion is incomplete and not entirely clear, but prosecutors allege that Sanchez:

·         worked for and was paid commissions by a number of persons who committed Medicare fraud, laundering their money;

·         a) by providing them cash in return for checks drawn on the companies involved in the fraud; or

·         b) in other cases involving “individuals who wanted their cash in Cuba,” by moving their money to Cuba by sending it first to a bank in Montreal, then to accounts at Republic Bank in Trinidad, which accounts were opened at the bank’s Havana branch and “at least two of those accounts had standing instructions to the bank to wire all money immediately from the accounts to the Cuban banking system.”

At that point, prosecutors say that “the final whereabouts of the money is unknown.”  I assume that they use the term “the Cuban banking system” because they have no information on accounts to which the funds were transferred.

We can also assume that this case may lead to conversations and perhaps collaboration between U.S. prosecutors and Cuban officials.  Such collaboration has occurred in cases involving alien smuggling and drug trafficking, and has helped obtain convictions in U.S. courts.  U.S. allies also collaborate with Cuban law enforcement regardless of their view of Cuba’s human rights record.  In the interest of fighting rampant Medicare fraud, it would certainly serve the U.S. national interests to seek Cuban cooperation in this case.

Of course, it’s possible that the Cuban Americans involved in Medicare fraud are really working for the Castro Regime. 

It’s equally possible that they flee to Cuba because they figure they will be safe from extradition there.  That’s not entirely true because Cuba has handed over several fugitives from U.S. justice in recent years.  But it’s in our interest to fight that perception, and we can’t do it from a distance.

Monday, June 18, 2012

On brief reflection

Fidel Castro started the month of June with a reflection that he called an “honest clarification” of the military events of May 28, 1957 in the Sierra.

June 9 brought a commentary on President Obama’s use of drones.

Both were the usual essay length. 

Then on the 10th, a short,cryptic note defining an “FC” as his method of passing advice to those responsible for food production.  Sort of like Rumsfeld’s “snowflakes,” we can suppose.  On the 11th, a fond remembrance of Erich Honecker.  On the 12th, a short tribute to boxing great Teofilo Stevenson.  June 13, a compliment on the leadership qualities of former Cuban Olympic great Alberto Juantorena.  June 14, a comment on a “gratuitous insult” committed by Deng Xiaoping.  June 16, a quote from a poem about Che.  Yesterday, an apparent “FC,” somewhat inscrutable.  All of these quite short by anyone’s standards, above all his.

I think he’s getting in shape for Twitter and will open his account in time to cover the summer Olympics.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

378,000 entrepreneurs

There are 378,000 licensed entrepreneurs in Cuba, Granma reports, citing figures for the beginning of June.  At the beginning of March the figure was 371, 200, and less than two years ago there were about 143,000.  If the growth of small entrepreneurs is slowing, then the next spurt in private sector employment may have to come from non-farm cooperatives, which are in the pilot project stage.

The Granma article is about tax administration and the burden of processing returns from so many new taxpayers.  In Cuba as here, irregularities in your return sometimes result in an audit. In general, the article says tax compliance is good; 90.5 percent of returns were in on time.