Shades of Kafka in Castro’s new Cuba

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Franz Kafka, who wrote about European bureaucratic labyrinths, would have found much inspiration in Cuba officialdom’s Soviet-inspired maze.

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Euromoney had hoped to see some of the state-owned Cuban banks during our visit to Havana in August, but multiple requests failed to gain any response.

The Banco Central de Cuba’s public affairs officer says she can’t help with access because "these banks are legally independent of us".

She says we need to go via the foreign press centre at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, which controls media visits to the island. But our minder then tells us access to Cuba’s banks are the BCC’s purview. 

We explain this Catch 22 situation in person to BCC vice-governor Irma Martínez Castrillón, hoping she can help open some doors. "You will not be able to have an interview with any of them," she declares. "They are not available now."

Her resistance may simply be because we haven’t followed the central bank’s requested dress code for our interview. The BCC’s public affairs officer asks us to wear a 'light-coloured shirt’ to the Martinez meeting because, she explains, the central bank’s receiving room is dark, and she wants to photograph the encounter for internal publicity. Unfortunately, Euromoney only has a dark shirt freshly laundered that day.

Surreal

But as we try to plumb deeper into Cuba’s economic bureaucracy, the surreal moments only multiply.

For our arranged meeting with two senior finance ministry officials, our press minder has asked repeatedly for advance questions.

We arrive for the meeting, only to be told apologetically by the press centre’s co-ordinator, our usual handler’s boss, that it has suddenly been cancelled. Ashen-faced, she says that one of the officials has been in a "car accident", and goes into considerable detail about the incident.

We offer sympathies and ask when the new meeting will be.

The next day, our foreign ministry press handler telephones. There wasn’t any car accident involving any finance ministry official, he admits.

But his boss described the incident and injuries quite extensively, we say. There has been a "misunderstanding", he replies. The proposed meeting is now considered "inconvenient" and won’t be rescheduled. 

As for our questions to the finance ministry, which have been rejected by the BCC as outside its brief, he says the ministry won’t answer them either because they pertain to the BCC. 

But several of our questions are about tax collection, Euromoney replies, and we have been advised that one of the officials attending would be José Carlos del Toro, Cuba’s general director of tax policy.

"I’m deeply sorry about it all," says our handler.