Otto Rivero's March 2nd / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 2 March 2017 — Otto Rivero directed the
most powerful entity in Cuba at the beginning of this century, the
Battle of Ideas, but was ousted by Raúl Castro a few months after the
latter assumed the presidency. Now, the former youth leader has emerged
from his "pajama plan" – as such forced retirements are referred to in
Cuba – to be a producer for the Covarrubias National Theater, a few
yards from the Plaza of the Revolution.
Reserved and with psychological scars from his purging, Rivero navigates
behind the scenes of the well-known theater. Those who do not remember
his glory days cannot even imagine that the silent employee who
coordinates the events was once one of the most powerful men on the island.
Behind his discreet appearance hides the man who controlled the immense
resources of a "supra-ministry" with omnipotent powers, arising from the
campaign for the return of the child rafter Elian Gonzalez to Cuba. A
supra-ministry with the capacity to oversee gas stations, distribute air
conditioners or call forth the shock troops in repudiation rallies
On the second day of March, but eight years ago, a brief note published
in the official press gave notice of his end. The Council of State had
decided to "free compañero Otto Rivero Torres of his responsibilities as
vice president of the Council of Ministers." A phrase which, for
connoisseurs of the official grammar, confirmed his fall into disgrace.
Rivero's exclusion from the "family photo" had been foreshadowed since
Fidel Castro was sidelined by health problems in mid-2006. The former
secretary general of the Young Communists Union (UJC) had been part of
the entourage of the "Comandante's men" and his dismissal was only a
matter of time.
In the purges carried out by Raul Castro against the team loyal to his
brother, others who fell included vice president Carlos Lage and Foreign
Minister Felipe Perez Roque. But unlike in their cases, Rivero's ousting
was not the subject of an acidic public diatribe; no column by the
former president in the Party newspaper accusing him of addiction to
"the honey of power."
Close witnesses report that after his dismissal, Rivero went through a
real ordeal. He was detained in the cells of the dreaded Villa Marista,
State Security's headquarters in Havana. He was accused of having
allowed and participated in an enormous embezzlement that sucked funds
out of the Battle of Ideas. The losses totaled millions in an era when
Venezuelan oil allowed every kind of excess.
Police investigators blamed his lack of control over the entity and his
having allowed its resources to be squandered on luxuries, foreign
travel and gifts. Embezzled products circulated in the informal market:
white, red and blue shirts; refrigerators made in China; and air
"He was interrogated endlessly and his head couldn't resist," a close
family source told 14ymedio. "When he returned home he was a zombie, he
couldn't even speak." His mental state deteriorated to the point that he
attempted suicide, but "that didn't go well," the relative commented.
The former vice president's family fell into a precarious economic
state. The car and chauffeur were taken away as was the supply of luxury
foods. As a punishment, the authorities sent Rivero to work at the
Frederick Engels printers among the ink and printing presses. But he
spent weeks before showing up for work the first time, where he became a
mute automaton keeping his head down.
Rivero does not give statements or respond to questions about his past.
All attempts to make him talk about the subject crash into the wall of
his silence. But a nervous tic in his hands appears in response to the
sound of certain names. His co-workers describe him as someone
"affected" who has been "under psychiatric treatment."
Of the confidence with which he wove slogans from the dais, nothing
remains. "He is very careful and avoids being seen," a singer-songwriter
who has organized several events at Covarrubias Theater tells this
newspaper. "He has changed a lot physically and most of the people who
pass by him do not recognize him," says the artist, who prefers anonymity.
Before the crash, his trajectory had been meteoric. At the age of 38, he
was appointed Vice-President of the Council of Ministers after leading
the UJC for seven years. With a degree in Economics and a seat in the
National Assembly of People's Power, the young man ascended the power
structure at full speed to stand at the right hand of the
At the 7th UJC Congress, Fidel Castro defined Rivero and his team as "an
avant-garde army, an elite troop of the Revolution" for being at the
forefront of the Battle of Ideas. Four years after those words, the
brand-new official had become a pariah.
To accommodate the Battle of Ideas, he began to refurbish a luxurious
mansion on the central corner of 23 and B in Havana's Vedado
district. Here the promising leader would spend his glory days. The
arrival of Raúl Castro stopped that dream and now the property hosts the
Comptroller General of the Republic. A cruel irony.
Otto Rivero's biography has also been removed from EcuRed, a Wikipedia
substitute made to measure by the ruling party. For many Cubans, that
youth leader no longer exists or has been forgotten. But very close to
the Council of State he was once a part of, a gray employee ruminates
his fate of banishment in the dim light of a theatrical hall.
Source: Otto Rivero's March 2nd / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata – Translating