HAVANA, Cuba. – For each new bed sheet, towel, tablecloth or curtain used for the first time at the new hotel located on First and D Streets in El Vedado, which is due to open any day now, the Havana rep for the Mexican company Almacenes El Trébol, S.A. de C.V. will pocket in her personal fortune a few more US Dollars since her business services, authorized more than 20 years ago by Cuba’s Chamber of Commerce, are paid through generous commissions from her sales to the tourism sector.
It is said that her honoraria fetch between 3% and 5% of total sales, and that she receives preferential treatment in detriment of the rest of sector providers. The more contracts she manages to close on, the more money this shrewd rep of Almacenes El Trébol receives. This means that the opening of new hotels in the island will always be good news to celebrate, especially because she enjoys the certainty that the Mexican company which sells Cuba its textile production will win the most important contracts, or at the very least, those contracts where the Armed Forces corporate system –GAESA– is involved.
According to sources linked to the Mexican company and to Gaviota S.A. (a GAESA entity), in spite of the fact that the agreement between Almacenes El Trébol and Cuba’s military is only a verbal agreement, it’s an old one from Fidel Castro’s time which no one dares to ignore or to sever due to the serious political implications that such a decision could entail.
It’s not just about ceasing to honor an old trade agreement, but about opening a Pandora’s box that would unleash evils that lurk beyond the mere import of textiles, and into the labyrinth of what really occurs with the so-called “Groups of Solidarity with Cuba” and their true support infrastructures, which generally include economic interests.
Almacenes El Trébol rep in Cuba is no ordinary foreign businesswoman. She is none other than the Argentinian Graciela Ramírez Cruz, an extreme leftist political activist who established herself officially in Havana in 1994. Among the many “assignments” the regime has entrusted her with are: to serve as “advisor to the news media to show [positively] the reality of Cuba”, as well as to serve as “general coordinator” of the international campaign for the release of five Cuban spies jailed in the U.S. in 1998.
The Many Faces of Graciela
A political activist and businesswoman –two occupations that in any other context would be mutually exclusive- Argentinian Graciela Ramírez Cruz has managed to do both to perfection, due to her bonds with the Cuban dictatorship, which she has served –at its request- numerous times.
Although many people feel that this relationship started in the early 90s, when she joined the solidarity-with-Cuba movements and became the main coordinator of the welcoming campaign in honor of Fidel Castro to the Ibero-American Summit in Madrid in 1992, in reality the roots of this link are older.
It was during the 1960s that Cuban intelligence, through its embassies abroad and through institutions that passed for “cultural”, like Casa de las Américas and later the Instituto Cubano de Amistad con los Pueblos (ICAP), started to work toward articulating and influencing guerrilla groups and other “pro-Castro” leftist movements in countries of the southern cone, and especially Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, where working with student movements at universities, institutes and human rights groups was easier and, as a result, more thorough than in other countries in Latin America.
“Graciela [Ramírez Cruz] is one of the many Argentinian youth recruited by Fidel Castro at the universities long before the days of the military dictatorship,” according to a former high official of Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
“She is part of a new batch of Argentinians whom Fidel [Castro] set out to groom almost immediately after the military dictatorship ended in 1983. Prior to that, Fidel had refrained from such involvement. There was empathy between dictators and Fidel kept a certain distance. Graciela emerges as actor in 1984, the dictatorship having ended, and by 1991 she is already in Spain with a group of university friends organizing the support group that cheered Fidel during the Ibero-American Summit. Fidel organized this group personally. Graciela was not over there out of her own accord, she always follows someone’s orders and then reaps the benefits,” states our source who, in addition to holding diplomatic duties was also responsible for coordinating various “solidarity-with-Cuba” groups in Europe and Latin America.
Another former diplomat and Cuban trade rep who lives in Europe, explains: “The guerrilla groups that came from Argentina to Havana to be trained date back to the 1960s. They travelled from different parts to study in Cordoba, in Rosario; they established links with Argentina’s communist youth (FEDE), which is where the main nucleus of activity was established by Cuban intelligence, and then travelled to Tarará (Cuba) for training with Soviet and Cuban advisors (…). First, the recruitment was done through Casa de las Americas, and also the International Film School conducted similar missions in the 1980s, always from Cuba’s consulates.”
The former Cuban official continues: “Graciela is not from that era, she was a little girl, but her father was. After the 1980s, she begins to associate with the FEDE, but stays dormant until the fall of the dictatorship. The death of her boyfriend when she was 15 was the excuse for joining human rights groups. However, following Fidel Castro’s design, those groups would become groups of solidarity with Cuba, and Graciela was among the first to join that movement (…). In a short time, she became one of the leading international organizers. (…) Fidel Castro was witnessing how Soviet support was dwindling, and he moved fast to activate these former guerrilla groups and transforming them into solidarity groups. They helped him to mobilize support as agitators and demonstrators, but also to move large quantities of money from one country to another without need of banks and to create off-shore companies in tax havens, always using the [U.S.] “blockade” as an excuse. Graciela stands as one of Fidel’s international errand runners.”
From activist to businesswoman, and from businesswoman to journalist
With the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, Fidel Castro was forced to develop new strategies to stay in power without Soviet subsidies. The debacle gave its early signs in the mid 1980s, but the shrewd Cuban dictator would not remain idle.
On the one hand, he would give the green light to opening channels of communication that had been blocked before, through the Ministry of Foreign Relations, in order to attract capital that was in supporters’ hands and transfer said capital to pro-Castro groups abroad, as well as to groups among Cuban emigres through a conference series titled “Nation and Exile.” This was an initiative of then prime minister Roberto Robaina, where Fidel Castro saw the opportunity to “kill two birds with one stone,” as described to CubaNet on condition of anonymity by another former high-ranking Cuban official.
Our source, who in the 1990s was part of the Instituto Cubano de Amistad con los Pueblos task force, in charge of coordinating the work with the Solidarity-with-Cuba Groups in Spain, France and Italy, further states: “[Robaina] had an idea, but Fidel had a different one. Fidel, knowing that to be forewarned means to be forearmed, wanted to simulate he was making changes, when in reality all he wanted was to remain in power. That way, he could kill two birds with one stone. He needed money, but mostly he needed foreign support. The gusanos –the counterrevolutionary worms, as Fidel called them- were turned into butterflies, and at the same time he turned the young guerrilla dreamers of the 1960s into the activists of solidarity-with Cuba groups of the 1980s. The new guerrilla-fighters lent their names and also became full-fledged businessmen, in Cuba and abroad. (…) Graciela is from that era. Fidel requested several favors from her. She lived as an émigré in Europe, but ever since her days in Rosario (Argentina) and from exile, she had performed tasks very well, so in the harsh 1990s it fell to her to organize the solidarity-with-Cuba groups in Europe first, when things got really ugly and it looked like the Revolution was collapsing. Then it was her turn to become a businesswoman. (…) Fidel started to build hotels, that swarm of Spaniards arrived very anxious about making money, but it was difficult to import supplies from Europe. And so, in the middle of the Special Period (1994), Graciela arrives in Havana and she is housed in a luxurious apartment in Paseo Boulevard (El Vedado). She sets up her business headquarters there, and begins to import everything: textiles, liquor, foods, precious woods, paintings, everything that you could need for hotels.”
This same official stated that “Graciela was like Fidel Castro’s ‘land-rover’. She was discovered by Guillermo Herrera Montiel (a former member of the military and official at the Cuban Consulate in Buenos Aires during the 1980s) through Fernando Birri and two other Argentinian artists who visited Cuba quite often under the guise of activities at Casa de las Américas. Fidel was charmed by the young woman. It was one of those ‘love-at-first-sight’ instances, and I think they had an affair. His enthusiasm was such that she ended up coordinating the program of meetings Fidel held during the Ibero-American Summit in Spain (1992). He then brought her to Cuba and through Gabriel García Márquez, got her involved at Amacenes El Trébol in Mexico. But prior to that, she was in charge of all supplies imports for the hotels, working with Osmany Cienfuegos at the Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR). She personally travelled to Panama, to Mexico; we are taking about dozens of containers with every item that in the 1990s, in the middle of Cuba’s Special Period, no one could find anywhere. Graciela was the gal who could find everything. Even the mini flags and the pullovers that were given away at the parades, Graciela was the one to find them.”
A graduate in Law and Business Management in Europe, and today officially registered in Havana as “journalist”, Graciela Ramírez Cruz introduces herself in social media only as Director or Chief Editor of the leftist paper Resumen Latinoamericano, which she owns. She carefully refrains from making any reference to her main occupation, which is publicly registered with Cuba’s Chamber of Commerce.
Between 1998 and 2002, Fidel Castro himself named her as principal advisor to news media “to show the reality of Cuba” and later assigned her to a new mission: to incorporate herself to the international campaign to obtain the release of the five Cuban spies who were jailed in the United States. She was named general coordinator of the campaign committee.
According to sources linked to Gaviota S.A. whom CubaNet consulted on an exclusive basis for this report, the start-up cost for distribution of imported supplies from Almacenes El Trébol S.A. for the new hotel on First and D Streets in El Vedado is estimated to be around US$ 11 million. Possibly by November of this year, when the hotel will be officially inaugurated, that sum will reach US$ 18 million. At least half a million (3% of the total) will end up in Graciela Ramírez Cruz’s pocket on account of commissions, as corresponds to the official rep of the Mexican business group in the island.
In this manner, for each uniform purchased for the service staff, for each textile item, even for each napkin that will be thrown away at the inaugural dinner, where probably Miguel Díaz-Canel will be the main guest, the veteran Argentinian “activist” and “journalist” who resides in Cuba will have been remunerated with gratitude for the “tasks met.”
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