Villa Marista is the main operations center of the Cuban Ministry of the Interior. Its huge structure was built to house a school run by a religious order, but since 1963 it has been home to the most feared jail cells in the country. At the beginning of the Revolution there was talk about "converting barracks into schools," but at this complex just the opposite happened. The worst nightmare of many Cubans is to be put in one of the cells at this Island Lubyanka, and end up under the bright light in one of the interrogation rooms.
A few, very few, have been able to resist the psychological pressure exerted by its officials, trained in the harsh methods of the KGB and East German Stasi. The whole design of long corridors, cold metal bunks, and cells where you can hardly tell if it's day or night, is intended to break even the bravest and make them talk. One might think there is only room behind its bars for those opposed to or disaffected with the system, but every day it is home to more people being investigated for corruption or diversion of resources.
When several minivans accompanied by Department of Technical Investigation (DTI) cars come to a neighborhood, the neighbors already know what will happen. Most likely the dreaded entourage will park outside some freshly painted house with a wall around it and glass windows. The uniforms will enter and execute a thorough search, in order to then take -- handcuffed and in full view of the curious -- the frightened administrator of some corporation or a scared company manager.
These raids have become so frequent that it's enough to say, "Yesterday they collared a guy..." for everyone to know what that means. Later the detainee is taken to Villa Marista, to spend some weeks incommunicado and without the right to an attorney. His family cannot see him, and can barely bring him a toothbrush and the medications he relies on.
Even foreigners can't save themselves from such shocks, as demonstrated in the case of several British executives from the Coral Capital Group Ltd., arrested for alleged bribery while working on a golf course project. Another alarming example was the case of the Chilean brothers Max and Marcel Marambio, who escaped to their country after being accused of bribery, fraud and falsifying bank documents in the management of the food business Rio Zaza.
The crusade against corruption displayed by Raul Castro keeps in suspense those who think they are protected by the lack of control and political will to end the illegalities. The raid touches the doors of wealthy construction bosses, powerful directors who manage, according to their own whims, imports of merchandise, and others who fill their pockets from the hospitality industry.
The only ones saved from a court date are those who belong to the inner core of the government. Having participated in the struggles of the Sierra Maestra, or in the first moments of the Revolutionary process, is now the best protection for not ending up in prison. An olive-green uniform, the ranks of general or comandante, ward off any investigation of mismanagement.
Even the Comptroller General of the Republic, Gladys Bejarano herself, stops dead and turns back when a thread from the skein of corruption reaches too high. This was demonstrated in the scandal at the Civil Aeronautics Institute, where the principal responsible -- General Rogelio Acevedo -- was simply removed but did not face the courts, though several of his employees did.
These dishonest businessmen accumulate status symbols, ranging from the gift of a house or car for their lovers, to paying for their children to study at universities abroad. They no longer resemble their former selves, now they drink whiskey instead of rum and eat salmon instead of pork.
When they started their new jobs they arrived repeating the iron discourse of austerity and discipline, but now their bellies hang over their belts as they smoke their cigars. Some came from the military sphere or Party structures, and moved to the business sector after finishing a tour of duty... in the land of the enemy. Over time they were enriched and believed that their contacts with foreign firms, or their commercial travel around the world, were sufficient guarantees of impunity. A good share of them were born after 1959 and knew the rules of the market only through books on socialist economy and scientific communism that demonized them.
They were molded to be what Che Guevara called the "New Man," but in the end did not manage to be the "Honest Man" free of the scourge of theft and the temptation of embezzlement. Now they are falling, shivering with cold and fear in some cell at Villa Marista, confessing their misdeeds under the incandescent bulb in the interrogation room.
Outside, away from the feared headquarters of the Ministry of the Interior, the web of corruption remakes and reweaves itself. Lurking in wait for the most difficult moments to pass, before falling, once again and with greater force, on the tasty Cuban cake.