Theft of œElectronic Waste From Telephones Is a Business in Cuba /
Juan Juan Almeida
Juan Juan Almeida, 25 April 2016 — In 2008, General Raúl Castro,
showing signs of an "extraordinary benevolence," allowed Cubans to have
access to cellular telephone service.
The number of these devices created an elevated and accelerated boom
that was not foreseen even by the most seasoned economists. But,
according to sources in the office of the General Prosecutor of the
Republic, such a vertiginous increase runs parallel and proportional to
an increase in certain types of crime.
ETECSA (Cuba's telecommunications company) began operating in 2003. At
that time there were only some 43,300 cell phones on the island,
distributed among diplomats, foreign businessmen and Cubans linked to
foreign businesses. Today, a high percentage of the national population
has cellular coverage, and with that comes the proliferation of
pickpockets. They scour the provinces like birds of prey in search of
But this method of small-time thievery is the first link in a criminal
chain that not only implicates known private workshops (cuentapropistas)
[self-employed businessmen] or certain agencies of ETECSA where they
buy, modify and sell this type of equipment. It also implicates State
Security and other businesses of MININT [the Ministry of the Interior]
that pursue, track and even buy these telephones.
For what reason? According to someone who's a business owner, it's for
removing the most precious thing we keep in our phones: information.
The same thing happens everywhere, but each country has its own
particularities. As a general rule, in Cuba, this type of device isn't
stolen in order to decode it and sell it in other countries, but rather
to dismantle it and sell it for parts, on and off the island.
The General Prosecutor says that, although it's working on several
cases, it hasn't managed to discover the matrix of such a complicated
network. The National Revolutionary Police recognizes that there's a
black market where you can find the displays, speakers, headphones and
batteries of stolen cell phones, but it hasn't been able to find the
authors of the crime.
Both entities appear to ignore, on purpose, that power, in addition to
being an instrument, is a more underhanded and more dangerous vice than
drugs. As happens with criminal gangs, when their members converge at
some moment, the same happens with the rest of the pieces of the stolen
cell phones and many of the phones confiscated in ports and airports by
the General Customs of the Republic of Cuba.
A young businessman of Lebanese origin, who is known as "the king of
modern mining," buys them. With a French passport, the alleged
endorsement of the Government and the friendship of the "Grandson in
Chief," Raúl Guillermo Rodríguez Castro, he exports the stolen material
under the Customs category of "electronic waste."
This businessman sends everything by air to modern metallurgic plants
located off the island (according to the gossip, in Europe), where the
technology exists to isolate and recuperate valuable components like
copper, cobalt, antimony, gallium and coltan. These are not precious
metals, but they are rarely found in the world and are in such great
demand by the industry that they sell by the gram and cost more than gold.
I hope that this note helps the National Police.
There aren't many businesses in the world that are capable of
recuperating part of these materials among the electronic garbage. And I
venture to say that in Cuba there are no more than four Frenchmen (of
Lebanese origin) who are friends of Raúl Guillermo.
Translated by Regina Anavy
Source: Theft of œElectronic Waste From Telephones Is a Business in
Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida – Translating Cuba -