Villa Marista is the chief "workshop" of the Cuban Interior Ministry. It was built to house a religious school, but since 1963 it has housed the country's most dreaded jail cells. At the beginning of the Revolution there was talk of "turning our prisons into schools," but in this case it was the other way around. The worst nightmare of many Cubans is that of landing in this Creole Lubyanka, looking into the glare of an interrogation lamp. Very few have been able to resist the psychological pressure exerted by the officers, trained in the methods of the KGB and the Stasi. The design of corridors, cots and cells, where you don't know if it's night or day, is conceived to make the strongest break and talk. It might be thought that this place is only for dissidents, but every day it takes in more people investigated for corruption.
When a neighborhood is visited by several minibuses accompanied by Technical Investigation Department (TDI) cars, people know what is going on. Very likely the dreaded visitors will park in front of some prosperous-looking house. The uniformed squad enters and carries out a minute search, later leading out - handcuffed, in view of onlookers - the scared administrator of some agency or state company. These incursions have become so frequent that you need only say: "Yesterday they took so-and-so away," and everyone knows what it means.
The "client" is taken to Villa Marista, where he will spend weeks in isolation, without right to a lawyer. His family cannot see him, except to bring him a toothbrush, or medication if he needs it. Not even foreigners are exempt, as shown by the case of some British executives, arrested for supposed bribes while working on a plan for a golf course.
The crusade against corruption mounted by Raúl Castro has everyone scared, even those who thought they were safe amid the prevailing negligence and lack of political will to stamp out illegality. The raids come to the doors of comfortable bosses in construction, powerful executives whose will was law in the importing of certain goods, and others who pocketed the proceeds of the hotel business. The only ones safe from the tribunal are those who belong to the hard core of the government. To have taken part in the fighting in the Sierra Maestra, or in the first days of the revolutionary process, is now the best insurance against ending up in jail. An olive-green uniform, a general's or commander's rank, keep the corruption investigator from your door. Even the Comptroller-General of the Republic, Gladys Bejarano, stops short and backs off when some thread of the corruption tangle goes too high up. This became apparent in the scandal of the Civil Aeronautics Institute, where the top man, general Rogelio Acevedo, was dismissed - but never saw the inside of the Villa Marista, as did several of his underlings.
These crooked businessmen enjoy status symbols, ranging from cars given to their mistresses to tuition paid for their children at foreign universities. They don't even look the way they used to. Rum has given way to whisky or wine as their drink of choice. Some began in the army or the party, and entered the business world as if on a mission of war in enemy territory. With time they enriched themselves, and imagined that their relations with foreign companies were a sufficient guarantee of their impunity. Many of them were born after 1959, and know of the laws of the market only in the satanized version presented in books of socialist economics and scientific communism. They were molded to be the "new man," but have not even succeeded in being the old-fashioned "honest man." Lots of them are now shivering in a cell in the Villa Marista.