News and Facts about Cuba

Cuban Military Takes Over Businesses of Havana Historian’s Office

Cuban Military Takes Over Businesses of Havana Historian’s Office /
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Mario Penton

14ymedio, Luz Escobar (Havana), Mario Penton (Miami), 16 August 2016 —
“Do you see that building? Ten years ago it was full of stinking water,
rats and trash. When people passed through the doorway a balcony could
fall on their head. Today it is housing, thanks to the work of Eusebio,”
Mirna says excitedly.

After expressing her gratitude to the Office of the Historian of the
City of Havana (OHCH) for having provided her a home, this 68-year-old
woman confesses her concern for the future of this institution, which
has passed gradually into the hands of the military.

It is an open secret that the majority of the Historian’s companies have
been transferred to an entity of the Armed Forces. It has not yet been
published in any official decree nor has the national press spread the
news, but the Historian of Havana, Eusebio Leal Spengler, has confirmed
to 14ymedio that assets have been transferred to the Business
Administration Group (GAE), a consortium managed by the . “It has
not been transferred to the Armed Forces, but rather to GAE, a
development company with capacity and prestige, which the
Historian’s Office maintains the power to advise on the conservation of
the work and also on new projects,” he explained via email.

Leal assures that the institution is calm because “the work of
conservation now extends to the heritage cities of Cuba.” However, the
historian expresses his sorrow at what this means for his efforts to
protect the national patrimony. “It hurts us, that at the time when
perhaps the greatest respect for the circumstances of life is required,
the mediocre who lack any work are taking advantage, the poor in spirit,
to hurt and damage many who have worked over the years to save the
patrimony of a nation, whether in Cuba or anywhere else on earth.”

The Office of the Historian of Havana emerged in the ‘30s, in Republican
Cuba. In 1967, after the death of the first title holder, Emilio Roig de
Leuchsenring, Eusebio Leal took the helm of an entity that gradually
grew not only in size and income, but also autonomy.

Its uniqueness comes from the ‘90s, when the OHCH received by Decree-Law
Number 143, the of economic initiative. The Government, in an
unusual gesture of decentralization, entrusted Leal with creating a
corporate structure that would allow social reinvestment and restoration
of buildings. The institution responsible for the conservation and
rehabilitation of the historic center of Havana, declared a World
Heritage Site by UNESCO, would be answer directly to the Council of
State, and would have a special legal jurisdiction, personality and
permissions to import and export, among other prerogatives.

In addition, it gave the Office the ability to have entities not
subordinate to it and encompassed within in the prioritized are
contribute to the conservation of buildings with payment of 1% of their
income from operations in national currency (Cuban pesos, of CUPs) and
5% from operations in hard currency (Cuban convertible pesos, or CUCs).

Within the broad and complex business fabric that OHCH has woven for
more than two decades are the Habaguanex chain; the San Cristobal
agency; the Opus Habana cultural magazine; the Habana Radio
station; the Bologna publishing house; and several websites for
marketing its products. The company also controlled two real estate
agencies, Aurea and Phoenix; more than fifty cafes and twenty
restaurants; museums, concert halls and shops; an import company, a
workshop and three construction companies (later merged into
one), among other assets.

In its 23 years of work, the Office has created more than 13,000 jobs
directly and thousands indirectly. According to research published by
the University of Havana, of the 500 million dollars generated during
this time, 60% has been earmarked for social works. In addition, the
company has received more than 30 million dollars in funding from
international cooperation.

About 55% of tourists coming to Cuba visit Havana, and 90% of them tour
the Historic Center. revenues are soaring, therefore, in this
area, reaching 2,185 CUC per resident compared with 245 CUC for the
whole city.

“The best part of the cake is Old Havana, everyone knows that, so they
are taking all of Leal’s businesses,” said a worker in an old-age home
funded by the Historian.

Leal confirmed that the Office retains some financial instruments,
including the 5% tax on any public or private activity in the historical
district and the shops considered heritage, linked to the system of
museums. In addition, other State institutions continue to contribute to
the operation of the entity.

The Historian’s Office was getting fat in the first decade of the
century when it added to his portfolio the Traditional Malecon, in 2003,
and Chinatown in 2005. Following the publication in the independent
press of several corruption scandals related to its administration, some
of the OHCH companies were taken over by other state agencies.

“The process of disengagement has been slow. They have been removing one
company after another to save Leal. The comptroller has uncovered a very
large embezzlement and the only way not to charge the Historian, who
actually had nothing to do with these thefts, is to exempt him of
responsibility for these companies,” said a Cuban economist who prefers
to remain anonymous.

Leal flatly denies these allegations and explains that “wherever someone
is willing to sell his soul to the devil there will be administrative or
corruption scandals.” The historian also says that “it is simply about
consolidating efforts for development that we can not handle within our
own means.”

But there are other theories. Eugenio Yanez, a Cuban academic who
belongs to the study center Cubanálisis, believes there are three
problems the transfer is designed to solve: “First, has a
more pragmatic view, so he may want there to be a specialized management
company that is responsible for business in Havana. Then there is the
issue of the Leal’s deteriorating , and thirdly there is the
problem of serious corruption in the Office of the Historian companies.
The Comptroller has discovered shady businesses. The solution has been
to the transfer them to the Army, which is trusted by Castro.”

Self-employed individuals in Old Havana say they feel protected by the
OHCH. Some expressed to 14ymedio their misgivings about the transfer of
the Office of the Historian’s business to GAE. “The state always
promotes its own restaurants, hotels and businesses instead of private
businesses, so we don’t know what will happen now,” said Reinaldo, who
operates a fashion business.

Camilo Condis, self-employed, who works with Gilberto Valladares
(Papito), the hairdresser who spoke with Barack Obama during
his visit to Cuba, says that small and medium sized businesses have
worked in Havana as managers of local development. “Without the
Historian’s Office the work we do would not have been possible,” he said
at a meeting of the Association for the Study of the Cuban (ASCE).

As of August 1, the institution that has saved at least one third of the
historic center of Havana has seen its activities reduced to “museum
management, promoting cultural activities and conservation of the
heritage,” says a source at the Vitrina de Valonia cultural center.

No one knows how the restoration processes in the capital will proceed
from now on, but many fear that the military will not know how to manage
the legacy of the Historian and will seek a more immediate
profitability, without taking residents into account.

Source: Cuban Military Takes Over Businesses of Havana Historian’s
Office / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Mario Penton – Translating Cuba –

2 Responses to Cuban Military Takes Over Businesses of Havana Historian’s Office

  • Eusebio Leal and the Historian’s Office, according to this report, is an example of what can be achieved in Cuba by a dynamic individual working with a degree or autonomy and able to use his initiative over decades with a long-term perspective. There must be many other aspects of Cuba’s life and economy where such individuals can come forward; this should be encouraged, and also the deadbeats and jobsworths prevalent in many areas at the moment should be retired and shown the door.

    • Eusebio Leal was a corrupt apparatchik that seized control of Habana Vieja and used his power to get rich. He won’t be missed.
      The new corrupt military isn’t a solution either for the Cuban people. This is an internal reckoning. The military elite around Raul Castro is seizing total political and economic power. They have eliminated the “parliamentarian faction” under Ricardo Alarcon seizing control of their prized company Cimex and others. Now they go for absolute power in Habana Vieja.
      I won’t shed a tear for Eusebio Leal. He is as corrupt and repulsive as many of his cronies. I will shed a tear for Habana Vieja as they will still not have good economic and cultural management.
      Alimport is another good example: their top leader Pedro Alvarez saw the reckoning coming and fled to the US (Tampa) where vice president Murano Murillo’s daughter also fled to.

      “La corrupción salpica el imperio de Eusebio Leal
      Jueves, Noviembre 1, 2012 | Por Osmar Laffita Rojas”


      On Cimex:

      On Alimport:

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