Death of Castro Family Financial Mastermind Leaves Cuba’s Communists in Limbo

Cuban president Raul Castro (L) and Cuban First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel (R) talk during the celebration of the 64th anniversary of the guerrilla assault to the Moncada Barracks, widely regarded as the beginning of the Cuban Revolution, in Pinar del Rio Province, on July 26, 2017. / AFP PHOTO …
ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP via Getty Images

The Communist Party of Cuba announced that Col. Ania Guillermina Lastres Morera will take over the military’s lucrative tourism corporation after the death of Raúl Castro’s former son-in-law Gen. Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, independent outlet Cubanet reported on Monday.

López-Calleja, often identified as the single most important economic mind in the Castro regime and a “consigliere” to the family, reportedly died last week. Granma, the Communist Party’s official newspaper, announced his death by an alleged cardiopulmonary failure on Friday. The general was reportedly 62 years old. Cubanet observed that the government had confirmed that López-Calleja tested positive for Chinese coronavirus in late 2020 and rumors had circulated for two years that he had never fully recovered from significant respiratory injury.

Cuba has seen a dramatic rise in deaths of high-ranking military officers since nationwide protests erupted on the island on July 11, 2021. The military has announced the deaths of 17 officers, including several prominent generals, between July and October 2021. López-Calleja, a Politburo member and father to some of the most powerful members of the ruling Castro dynasty, is by far the most prominent to die in the past year.

López-Calleja was the longtime head of the holding group GAESA (Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A.), the armed forces corporation that controls Cuba’s tourism industry. While proponents of tourism in Cuba claim that visiting the island helps generate profits for civilians outside of the government, in reality, the military controls every major hotel in the country’s largest cities. GAESA, through the hotel corporation Gaviota, boasts ownership of over 100 hotels and “villas” throughout the island, generating millions in revenue for the regime. The profit stays within the Cuban military even when GAESA subsidiaries allow foreign hotel companies to administer the hotels in question.

GAESA reportedly controls 70 percent of the Cuban economy.

López-Calleja’s absence greatly jeopardizes one of the biggest revenue streams of the Castro regime at a vulnerable time: the approaching one-year anniversary of the July 11 protests, which attracted an estimated 187,000 protesters and resulted in a wave of state terror featuring mass arrests of children, nationwide disappearances, and door-to-door raids during which police opened fire on suspected protesters in their own homes.

“The one who has died is the goalkeeper of the new mafia, the goalkeeper of the money, of power; the responsible one for the dirty or clean money that gets to the regime,” economist Emilio Morales explained to the Spain-based publication Diario de Cuba, “the owner of the capital with which the regime builds hotels and starves the people; the man responsible for the agony of the Cuban people.”

Despite López-Calleja’s stature, the Castro regime held only a small, private event to honor him on Saturday. Government news reports showed 91-year-old Raúl Castro and puppet “president” Miguel Díaz-Canel laying white roses at a shrine for the dead general.

“Luis Alberto always distinguished himself through his strategic vision and sense of duty before every single task he assumed,” Granma eulogized. “He leaves us as his legacy a corporate system model that serves as an example to the nation by having demonstrated its efficiency; he also leaves us his consecration, responsibility, and proven loyalty to the Party, the Commander-in-Chief and general of the military [Raúl Castro], who he considered, in addition to a boss, a father.”

Lastres Morera, who the government confirmed would run GAESA in Rodríguez’s absence, served as his deputy prior to taking on the new role this weekend. While she has kept a low profile and the regime has offered throughout her career little public information on her background, reports indicate that, in addition to working within GAESA, her family is well-connected to the tourism industry.

Cubanet identified her sister, Adys Lastres Morera, as the proprietor of several luxury properties on the island available for rent on AirBnB, an American corporation that the U.S. government has accused of operating on the margins of what is legal under America’s limits on business with the Castro regime. AirBnB settled with the U.S. government in January over charges of violating what little is left of the “embargo” policy on Cuba.

Unlike López-Calleja, reports do not indicate that Morera has any personal ties to the Castro family outside of her position in the military, giving rise to suspicions that she will serve in a merely interim capacity until the regime can find a long-term substitute.

López-Calleja had managed to successfully manage GAESA–and feed funds into the Castro regime which were later used to repress political dissidents and enhance ties to rogue states like China–while attracting little international attention. The general came under personal sanctions in 2020, under the administration of President Donald Trump, for the key operations that he ran to keep the Communist Party afloat.

“The revenue generated from the economic activities of GAESA is used to oppress the Cuban people and to fund Cuba’s parasitic, colonial domination of Venezuela,” the State Department accused at the time. “Today’s action demonstrates the United States’ long-standing commitment to ending economic practices that disproportionately benefit the Cuban government or its military, intelligence, and security agencies or personnel at the expense of the Cuban and Venezuelan people.”

The Trump administration had previously banned Americans from staying in hotels owned by Gaviota, the GAESA hotel subsidiary. The “embargo” theoretically bans tourism to the island, but it offers Americans so many legal avenues to visit the island that it does little to prevent tourism in practice.

Canada is also one of the largest Castro regime funders. In a report exploring Canadian tourism to the island, the nation’s CBC broadcaster found, “[it] is virtually impossible to operate on the island today without enriching what is already the country’s richest institution: the Revolutionary Armed Forces.”

GAESA, in addition to running hotels, “operates the banks through which tourists make credit card payments to individuals. It operates the stores that sell imported food and goods,” the CBC observed.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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