Rob Sequin | Havana Journal
In December 2010, news headlines announced the defection of Pedro Alvarez, former head of the Alimport purchasing authority and very prominent Cuban official who escaped Cuba three years ago, has kept a low profile in Tampa Florida.
His first public statements that testify to the fact that Alvarez is in the United States granted an exclusive interview to Iliana Rodriguez of Diario Las Americas in a private location near Tampa.
Pedro Alvarez was born on August 28, 1943 in the town of Alquizar in the former province of Havana, and was 16 years old in January 1959 when the Revolution swept through Cuba.
Mr. Alvarez was a pharmacy courier, fruit vendor, restaurant waiter and assistant carpenter who worked his way up in Fidel Castro’s government to the point in 1998 when he was chosen to be the Director of Alimport to negotiate complex, high value purchases from the United States, a country with federal restrictions on selling food to Cuba.
In October 1960, when it was known as the Foreign Trade Bank, Alvarez was hired as one of its messengers, then in February 1961 when the institution became the Ministry of Foreign Trade, he began undergraduate studies in Economics at the University of Havana.
“I did not choose a political career,” he said. “Life was what led me down this path. I was working permanently in the former socialist bloc and also visiting over 50 countries attending foreign trade activities. These functions prepared me for trade relations with the United States.”
For obvious reasons, having international negotiation and monetary responsibilities with highly confidential details was a challenge for Mr. Alvarez.
Regarding Mr. Alvarez’s departure from Cuba he said he did not leave dressed as a woman through the Havana airport as some media reports described. He said he arrived by boat, and that he “escape” was something that he alone organized and did not share with any family or friends because it was such a sensitive issue that he never wanted to put anyone at risk or expose anyone to any danger.
No one who lives in Cuba had any responsibility with his departure. He says that maybe one day he will decide to make it all public how he managed to leave.
“Although the media never ceased to haunt me, I adopted the stance of silence, especially since I prefer to live quietly.” Also, he did not to announce his arrival in the U.S. since many government officials, companies and entrepreneurs that he worked with might have felt a committment to contact me.
To date I have not called any of these people to spare drawbacks - he said.
So why did he leave Cuba?
Mr. Alvarez was very high up in the Cuban government due to his position at Alimport. Some people suggest that perhaps he became disallusioned with the Cuban government but Mr. Alvarez says he left Cuba for personal reasons. He says he felt lonely after the November 4, 2010 plane crash that killed his wife, Olga Lidia Cruz de la Llera.
In September of that year Alvarez had requested his release from office as president of the Chamber of Commerce of Cuba, after which he was reassigned as a consultant to a company under CONAS, a corporation that provides audit and consulting services. Around the days and decided to step down amid rumors of interrogations to which he was being subjected, his wife was denied a travel visa. “I took it as something they were doing against me, and that is was unfair. This discomfort grew, but he never thought of deserting even though he had the opportunity to do so in Canada or London where he often traveled with her.
After his wife’s death, he felt that he was too lonely and depressed so he decided to come to America where he has close relatives being his daughter, sister and nephews. Mr. Alvarez was very aware that leaving for the US was illegal and with his level of responsibilities, he knew that his thoughts and actions were treasonus. He was denied a request to travel to Spain.
Pedro Alvarez admitted that before these events, “as many Cubans, I questioned the system’s inefficiency”. He accepted that for being high up in Fidel Castro’s government, reactions to his departure “must have been very strong,” but he does not know if anyone in Cuba suffered from any reprisals for his defection.
Mr. Alvarez says he was contacted by the FBI since they would assume that he could be have valuable information due to his high position in the Cuban government. “I was questioned about intelligence that did not have, nor do I have and so far the FBI has left me alone.”
Regarding the state of the Cuban government and the US Embargo… Mr. Alvarez says Cuba is changing but it is “absurd” to expect the end of the era of the Castros. He says the key to this is not the pressure of the Embargo, but to encourge people to people contact.
He goes on to say that Cuba can be a very interesting business opportunity for U.S. businesses, even under the current conditions of US Cuba policy and trade and that President Obama has an opportunity to help US business sell more products to Cuba.
He agreed to give this interview not because he wishes to clarify anything, but because he wanted to make the point that his job was to enable more US Cuba trade.
Mr. Alvarez is living “modestly and trying to make negotiations with the help of friends”. Since he is eligible to have US resident status under the Cuban Adjustment Act, he is now seeking legal employment opportunities. An article was published last month about Mr. Alvarez’s alleged real estate and consulting businesses.