Cuban government accuses former minister of corruption, arrests business owner in case

The Cuban government announced it is investigating the recently fired economy minister Alejandro Gil for suspicion of corruption and has arrested one of the most successful private entrepreneurs on the island in a connected case, the Miami Herald has learned.

Cuban state media published late Thursday evening a rare statement signed by the country’s handpicked president, Miguel Díaz Canel, accusing Gil of having committed “grave errors” during his tenure as economy minister and vice prime minister

After being the public face of several unpopular and ultimately failed policies, including currency reform and measures to control the price of the dollar that resulted in skyrocketing inflation, Gil was suddenly dismissed in early February.

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Gil “has acknowledged serious accusations and consequently resigned his status as a member of the Central Committee of the Party and as a Deputy to the National Assembly of People’s Power,” the statement says.

The statement did not say if Gil has been placed under house arrest or has been detained.

According to the announcement, the Communist Party asked the Interior Ministry to launch an inquiry following a recommendation by the Office of the General Attorney. The awkwardly worded statement does not explicitly say what Gil has been accused of but mentions that the Cuban government and the Party “have never allowed, nor will they ever allow, the proliferation of corruption, simulation and insensitivity.”

While corruption charges are straightforward, the last two accusations are vague and carry political undertones.

In a country where government officials live lavishly and are handed houses, cars and several other benefits out of reach of the population, there is a long tradition at the top of using accusations of corruption against those perceived to favor reforms or when looking for a scapegoat to blame for the government’s failed policies.

Gil might be both, as he was the one publicly announcing several of the government policies that have deeply debilitated the country’s economy while also defending the existence of private enterprises, a controversial measure that hardliners have resisted.

After he was fired on Feb. 2, his sister, a former Cuban television host who now lives in Spain, suggested Gil is being blamed for the government’s political failures.

“It is public knowledge that throughout its sad history, the Cuban government has used its officials at will and, when they are no longer useful, when they start questioning and stop acting as puppets, it despises them and makes them disappear,” María Victoria Gil said on Facebook. “All my brother has done is work tirelessly, try to save the unsalvageable, adopt measures that in practice are insufficient because the problem is political.”

The exact charges against Gil are not publicly known, but according to two sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity, his connection to private enterprises, known as mipymes in Spanish, is part of the corruption inquiry.

According to the sources, Cuban authorities have detained Fernando Javier Albán, owner of AgroIndustrial Media Luna, a successful business in Ciego de Ávila producing fruit juices and other products under its own brand, Tuaba. The sources said Cuban authorities are investigating whether Gil personally benefited from his relationship with Albán.

One of the sources said Albán had previously come to the attention of Cuban authorities, who started investigating how exactly he had turned Media Luna into a private enterprise. Private enterprises were first authorized in August 2021. Before that, Albán had started Media Luna as a “local development project,” a sort of private-state partnership that had to be approved by the municipal authorities and pay a large chunk of its revenue to the government. It was also required to export its productions through state enterprises. When the opportunity arose, Albán, previously a farming cooperative member, turned Media Luna into the first private enterprise authorized in Ciego de Ávila.

The source said Gil, at the time the economy minister, allegedly intervened to stop the early investigation. But around the time Gil was dismissed, Albán was arrested. One of the sources said Albán had been transferred to Havana for further interrogations and that Media Luna had closed its businesses.

A person close to Albán confirmed the detention but declined to comment further.

Albán’s arrest will likely add to the controversy surrounding the private sector in Cuba and the fears that the government can shut down enterprises at will, as it has done in the past. Through Media Luna, Albán reportedly delivered millions of dollars to the local government, helped repair a local hospital and a school and received an award from the National Association of Economists and Accountants of Cuba. Banners with images of Fidel Castro were displayed in Media Luna’s production facility and store on a central boulevard in the city of Ciego de Ávila.

Cuban state media frequently praised Media Luna and Albán was quoted in several stories.

None of that prevented his arrest, exposing the perils of operating a private business on the island.

Under Gil, some officials at the economy ministry, which has authorized more than 10,000 private enterprises, had been fighting a silent battle to support the expansion of the private sector, Cuban entrepreneurs have told the Miami Herald. The ministry even published a “Frequently Asked Questions’ document that included answers refuting that the creation of private enterprises “was a concession to the United States” and “did not mean capitalism was returning to the island,” a sign of the internal tug-of-war around the issue.

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Last December, Manuel Marrero, a former military official turned prime minister, was the one announcing a package of new austerity measures he said would help “correct economic distortions.” And in January, retired general Raúl Castro urged government officials who did not feel “up to the task” to make room for others.

But there was little to suggest Gil was going to be suddenly fired. A few days before his dismissal, he shared pictures of working at a small organic farm to pay homage to Cuba’s independence hero, Jose Marti, on the anniversary of his birth. And it seems his fate had not been sealed when, on February 6, four days after its dismissal, Díaz-Canel congratulated Gil on his birthday and sent him “a hug” in a publication on X.

But in his Thursday statement, Díaz-Canel, who is also the first secretary of the Communist Party, had harsh words for Gil.

The government, he said, will have “zero tolerance” for the conduct Gil is accused of.

“The higher the level of trust placed in an official, the greater the rigor... with which actions of this nature will be treated,” Díaz-Canel said.