Daniel Benitez (Café Fuerte)
HAVANA TIMES — Cuban thieves are demonstrating their boldness and exploring new areas of illicit commerce on the island, from cedar and carob wood trafficking to illegal gold excavations.
Three new cases of wood trafficking from Cuba’s eastern provinces to Havana came to light in less than one week, when authorities in the province of Matanzas seized the contraband on the island’s National Highway.
The gold mines of Guaracabulla, located near Villa Clara’s town of Placetas, are not far from the highway. There, several individuals were detained on charges of illegally excavating the precious metal, after a follow-up operation meant to crack down on “social misdemeanors” in the region.
The wood contraband was being carried out with State vehicles. According to the official report, the culprits were hiding the furniture and sawed wood behind other goods.
Authorities report that 16 living room sets made of cedar were found in the first truck detained (a vehicle belonging to the Ministry of Culture), behind glove boxes and pallets.
Fines and Detentions
A disassembled carob wood sofa, 72 tables, 56 armchairs and 320 chairs were confiscated from a second vehicle belonging to Havana’s Servi Express company, headed to the capital from Santiago de Cuba.
Both vehicles were detained because the invoices carried by the driver were missing the official company seal, though the trailer doors had the official seal affixed to them.
The third case involved a transport truck belonging to Havana’s Transportation Company which set out from the province of Granma with an initial cargo of rice powder. Inside, 272 cedar and 22 teak planks had been concealed. The entire cargo was confiscated.
According to the reports published, the culprits were fined 750 Cuban pesos (37.50 USD). The detained drivers, whose identity has not been revealed, are currently being tried for involvement in illegal commercial activities.
The authorities have not confirmed that the three cases are linked. Apparently, they are separate operations and no ties exist between the perpetrators.
The wood and furniture was apparently aimed at Havana’s market, where furniture and precious Woods are in high demand among private restaurants and businesses and foreigners living on the island.
The Gold Rush
Those involved in illegal gold operations in Placetas were detained and are currently under investigation, the media have reported.
The detection and capture of the gold seekers was possible thanks to the joint efforts of locals and the heads of grassroots entities and organizations, which reported that, for several months, “people in search of profits had been excavating parcels of lands in areas bordering the town of Guaracbulla, where there are small gold deposits,” Cuba’s National Information Agency (AIN) reported.
According to AIN, the gold-diggers were detained and are currently under investigation. The identity of those arrested has not been revealed.
The gathering of locals and officials was held as part of a nationwide campaign aimed at clamping down on crime which now enters its second year and relies on the participation of Cuba’s Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR).
According to the Villa Clara District Attorney’s Office, these activities are classified by the Penal Code as “illicit commercial activities and theft,” which are aggravated if they are damaging to the country’s wellbeing and economy.
The State’s Subsoil
Maddiel Reyes, an expert from the Mineral Resources Regional Office, explained that “the subsoil is owned by the State,” and that the State is the only one authorized to extract minerals, for investigative and economic ends, as stipulated by the Mines Law approved in 1994.
Guaracabulla is located on the island’s geographic center. Intensive prospecting began in 1824, chiefly in the copper deposits of Melonera and El Descanso.
The village of San Atanacio de Guaracabulla officially became a town on March 24, 1847. Currently, with a population of 1,660 (according to official statistics), it is considered a rural town.
Cubans living in or near Guaracabulla are aware of the price of gold in the international market and continue to look for reliable “reserves” and businesses of every kind in anticipation of the re-establishment of a single currency system, which could happen as early as mid-year.