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Graham Sowa: I've been living in Cuba for three years now. I would like to blame my obvious hair loss seen in this updated photo on the rigors of life here and medical school, but it is probably just genetic. I've made some of the strongest friendships during my time in Cuba from other writers on this website. The strength of those friendships has almost restored my faith that the online world can lead to offline and real life change. On that same note I've adjusted to using internet one or two hours a month. In the meantime I have rediscovered things like flipping through the pages of books, writing stuff down by hand, and having to admit that I don't know something instead of rapidly looking up the answer on Google while the teacher isn't looking.

Gilbertman and The New Pirates of the Caribbean

February 3, 2015 | Print Print |

Cuba went to Miami, now Miami is coming to Cuba

By Graham Sowa

Gilberto Suarez in a Facebook photo

Gilberto Suarez in a Facebook photo

HAVANA TIMES — Over the last few years President Obama and President Castro have ended many of the travel restrictions between their respective countries. Ease of travel plus an overly favorable United States immigration policy directed towards Cubans has opened an international pipeline of criminal activity. This problem has gone largely unnoticed, however Gilberto Martinez Suarez, also known by his Reggeaton stage name “Gilbertman” just gave it a name and a face.

Gilberto Suarez did something dozens of Cubans have done in the past few years. He went to the United States, dabbled in credit card fraud in various south Florida counties, was arrested, skipped bail, and ran back to Cuba with a treasure chest full of booty.

Once on the island he didn’t go to the upscale Havana enclaves of Miramar, Siboney and Playa. Instead he went to the poor, dilapidated, Guanabacoa neighborhood of Cuba’s capital. He bought up a city block of shacks, built a concrete mansion with 5 car garage, and basically set up a lord of the flies situation.

At just 28 years old Gilberto had enough cash and bling to create a dedicated following of clingers-on, hoodlums, and racketeers.

In Cuba he turned his stolen money into a music career. Guns, drugs, and briefcases of cash were prominently featured in glorified orgies of urban violence in his Reggeaton music videos such as “No Hay Break”.

His combination of flagrant disrespect of the law eventually caught too much attention of authorities in the Cuban government. Something had to be done. About two weeks ago his empire crumbled as a Cuban SWAT team raided his compound.

The story is now the most popular theme of gossip on Havana streets.

Gilberto Suarez would not be worth writing about anywhere else in the world, much less Miami. He would just be another small scale crook who didn’t know how to manage money and live under the radar. An erasable blotch on the fabric of society, an easy case for prosecutors.

Gilbertman's house in Guanabacoa when being raided.

Gilbertman’s house in Guanabacoa while being raided.

But Cuba is not used to watching its parochial sons and daughters coming back and living this type of self-destructive sensationalism tinged lifestyle under the nose of the state.

While how he lived in Cuba might be unique how he stole his way to being rich is an old story.

The Sun Sentinel newspaper of Ft. Luaderdale Florida recently published an investigative report over a year in the making that highlights how Cubans are taking advantage of overly favorable immigration laws to go run scams in the United States. When looking at local Florida and national statistics on Medicare fraud, networks of marijuana growing houses, credit card fraud, identity theft, Cubans are overrepresented, more sophisticated, and more likely to escape justice.

U.S. law enforcement doesn’t pursue these criminals when they return to Cuba. A quick escape to their homeland after posting bail is currently the best “Get out of jail free” card in America.

I often wonder where all the money for these new restaurants, restored private houses, imported luxury goods and other elements of first world material culture come from in a country where the average worker is supposed to make between 20-35 USD a month. The answer is that at least a portion, maybe a large portion, is coming from ill-gotten gains from criminals ripping off the United States of America.

As long as we keep extending good will to Cuban immigrants through laws such as The Cuban Adjustment Act and refuse to normalize relations with the Cuban government in order to track down and extradite these fugitives of justice, the problem will keep getting worse.

Meanwhile Cuba will have to decide if it wants to get serious about cracking down on criminals who return from the United States before the situation gets out of hand such as in Gilbert Suarez’s case.

The fact that Mr. Suarez was able to build a mansion, keep guns, fighting dogs, drugs, acquire several luxury cars in a country where car ownership is the lowest in the hemisphere, and otherwise completely flaunt local law shows weakness in several institutions.

The Committee of the Defense of the Revolution, the People’s Power committee, and the local branch of the Communist Party should explain why Gilbert Suarez was given so much leeway before being arrested for crimes he was bragging about on Facebook.


What's your opinion?

  • Elizabeth Faraone

    Wow!

  • Colum Cunningham

    It is the legal???crooks the American Bankers the Cuban people should worry about ,with loan sharks charging 5000% as many unfortunate Americans have suffered for years.

  • emagicmtman

    Sounds like a contemporary version of the 1980’s “Scarface,” or an updated version of the 1920’s rags-to-riches Jay Gatsby! Whether in the U.S.A. or Cuba, there are still opportunities for upward mobility, though as you say, the upwardly mobile have to be descrete, and nuevo riches seldom are.

  • dani

    This is what maintaining the blockade/embargo is doing and things could get a lot worse. The crowning glory of US policy. Perhaps Moses and Griffin would like to do their lap of honour now or wait until the country has completely collapsed into violence and crime.

    • Griffin

      Please explain exactly how this criminal practice is produced by the embargo? State the cause, mechanisms & effects resulting.

      I have read some commentators in the media who identify the Wet Foot/ Dry Foot policy as abetting these criminals, and there is some merit to that argument. Cuban-Americans argue the policy needs to be fixed and enforced, but not discarded.

      Given the fact there are many more criminals from Mexico, Colombia & other Latin American countries who engage in these sorts of scams, it becomes difficult to argue a correlation with the embargo, let alone any cause and effect relationship.

      I do not wish to see Cuba collapse into violence & crime. That is why I consistently advocate the Cuban government begin a peaceful transition to liberal democracy with respect for the human rights of the people. The Cuban people deserve no less.

      If, on the other hand, the Cuban government continues on the path they are on, then Cuban society will be drawn deeper into a system run by a corrupt, criminal oligarchy. They are already half way there.

      • dani

        The embargo creates grinding poverty for the Cuban people. The embargo creates inequality (like in countries like Mexico, Columbia etc). Thirdly the embargo creates despair.

        Poverty, inequality and despair are a breeding ground for corruption, crime and violence.

        • Moses Patterson

          Poverty, however grinding, does not equal corruption, crime and violence. A healthy lack of moral leadership is also necessary to foment the kind of institutional morass that is growing in Cuba.

        • Griffin

          Castroism is leading cause of poverty, and despair in Cuba. I don’t see how the embargo has caused inequality in Cuba. Economists have remarked that lifting the embargo will increase economic inequality in Cuba.

          Inequality does not breed crime. There are many people far wealthier than I am, but I have never felt like robbing them. Absolute poverty does breed crime, but it is not the only cause. After all, some very wealthy people engage in crime. It’s important to understand the difference between poverty & inequality. The causes of crime are much more complex than simple economic excuses.

  • John Goodrich

    Were I running the Cuban government, I’d have every available, willing and capable Cuban making the trip to the U.S. and absolutely looting whatever U.S. business or government branch from which you can embezzle large sums of money and repatriating those funds into the general welfare fund for all Cubans.
    Take out a few hundred credit cards, have planned car accidents and collect from the insurance companies….I’ll bet there are hundreds of opportunity for high-paying fraud for those trained to exploit them .
    As long as the embargo and the “wet foot-dry foot” clause of the CAA are in effect, all travel from Cuba and back for purposes of committing financial fraud will be easier for Cubans involved in this .
    That should royally piss off the moronic hardliners like Ros-Lehtinen who want to retain all the points of the embargo and then some.
    They are cutting off their own noses to spite their face.

    • Moses Patterson

      In other words, rather than encourage Cubans to improve conditions in Cuba with honest work and increased productivity, you would encourage Cubans to commit crimes like fraud and embezzlement? Why not throw a little prostitution and human trafficking in the mix while you are at it? Well, you are too late. The Castros are already all over that strategy. But it is good to know where your moral line is drawn for future reference in assessing your comments.

      • John Goodrich

        Robbing the rich to feed the poor is a time-honored practice except among the rich and those who support a rich-poor society; you know, sociopathic misanthropes like you .
        You do not know morality any more than you understand democracy.

        • Moses Patterson

          Time does not honor “robbing”. Don’t confuse fairy tales with real life. Go easy on the name-calling please.

  • JennyC

    Very interesting article, Graham!