BY WILFREDO CANCIO ISLA | El Nuevo Herald
An official video that presents the reasons for the ouster of Vice President Carlos Lage and Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque has been shown for the past several weeks to selected groups of Cuba’s ruling elite, according to information received by El Nuevo Herald from Havana.
The showings began in mid-April before a small group of high-ranking officers of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Ministry of the Interior, as well as top-level government and Communist Party leaders, sources linked to government circles said.
‘‘There is total hermetism regarding these viewings. It is said that, for the time being, the high-level people are being summoned in small groups to watch the material in a room in the Central Committee building,’’ said a source who asked for anonymity. ``Controls are very strict.’‘
The video is shown in two versions: one lasting almost three hours, the other, seven. Both contain compromising images and statements made by Lage and Pérez Roque about retired leader Fidel Castro, current President Raúl Castro and First Vice President José Ramón Machado Ventura, according to those familiar with the footage.
Both versions show conversations between Lage and Pérez Roque in which they make jokes about Fidel Castro’s infirmities and his years in power, and question Raúl Castro’s ability to govern the country.
In a recording made presumably after the installation of a new Council of State, on Feb. 24, 2008, critical comments are heard about Machado Ventura’s appointment as First Vice President. In the recording, he is alluded to as ``the man with the hairpiece.’‘
The video also shows excerpts from a meeting of the Political Bureau at which Raúl Castro flails the behavior of Lage and Pérez Roque.
‘In the video, Raúl Castro says he invited Jaime Crombet [vice president of Parliament] to listen to what `his son-in-law’ said about the Comandante [Fidel Castro] and the country’s historic leadership,’’ one of the sources told El Nuevo Herald. Crombet, a veteran revolutionary leader, is the father of Tania Crombet, Pérez Roque’s wife.
Everything indicates that most of the recordings were made in the country residence of Cuban businessman Conrado Hernández, who represents Basque commercial interests on the island and has been a friend of Lage since childhood. The house—known as ‘‘la finca’’—is near Arcos de Canasí, about 37 miles east of Havana. Lage and Pérez Roque went there often for parties, domino games and relaxation.
Apparently, Hernández decided to record the informal chats between Lage and Pérez Roque to deliver ‘‘evidence’’ to Spanish intelligence about the way of thinking of the new generation of Cuban leaders and the impending political changes.
But there are strong indications that Cuba’s military counterintelligence had been doing the same for months and proceeded to act before Hernández could get away.
Hernández, a representative of the Basque Society for Industrial Promotion and Reconversion (SPRI), was arrested on Feb. 14 at Havana’s international airport as he prepared to leave with his wife to Bilbao, Spain. On Feb. 27, the SPRI’s office in Havana was raided by the police.
Barely 72 hours after the raid, on March 3, an Official Note from the Council of State announced that Lage and Pérez Roque had been ‘‘liberated’’ from their posts, without explaining the reasons for the removal. In an article published later in the official media, Fidel Castro called them ‘‘unworthy’’ and said ‘‘the honey of power’’ awakened in them ambitions that filled the enemies of Cuba with hope.
Lage and Pérez Roque recognized their errors publicly in letters published in the Cuban press. Since then, their whereabouts are unknown. There is an unofficial report that Lage was offered a post in a public health service but didn’t accept it.