The Weighty Legacy of ‘Furry’

El general Abelardo Colomé Ibarra, alias 'Furry', ministro del Interior desde 1989 hasta su renuncia, este lunes (EFE/Alejandro Ernesto)
General Abelardo Colome Ibarra, alias ‘Furry,’ minister of the interior from 1989 until his resignation on Monday, 26 October 2015 (EFE / Alejandro Ernesto)

Every Cuban has a minister in charge of his or her affairs, but the Ministry of the Interior is responsible for everyone. This is the reason why, when someone says “The Ministry” everyone understands that they are speaking about MININT, the Ministry of the Interior, that macro entity that controls, among other things, immigration, firefighters, border guard troops, identity card offices, the police, and that colossal apparatus generically known as “the organs of State Security.”

Abelardo Colome Ibarra was, since 1989 and until yesterday, the all-powerful minister of the interior. His long record of service began on November 30, 1956, when he joined the revolutionaries who took the city of Santiago de Cuba to support the landing of the  Granma expedition. He ended the war against Batista with the rank of commander, not yet having reached age 20, and has since been the confidant of the Cuban Government (especially of Raul Castro, having been head of his bodyguards) which has entrusted him with missions such as head of the State Security, directing the police, or commanding the war in Angola.

Furry, as his close associates call him, until this Monday was one of the seven living and still active men appearing on the list – almost never disaggregated – of the so-called “Historic Generation” of the Cuban Revolution. His role as a founder of the first Central Committee of the Communist Party and of the National Assembly of People’s Power, plus his being named as a “Hero of the Republic of Cuba,” support the merits that have allowed him to do something unusual: resign his position and receive a tribute.

Some years ago a rumor circulated about his declining state of health, but he continued to be one of the makers of government policy, and this also makes him responsible for the shadiest events, such as the sinking of the 13 de Marzo tugboat in July of 1994, the downing of the Brothers to the Rescue planes in February of 1996, the arrests of 75 regime opponents in the spring of 2003, and the frequently denounced horrible conditions in Cuban prisons. Under Furry’s mandate the activist Orlando Zapata Tamayo died, at the beginning of 2010, after a prolonged hunger strike during which it is alleged his jailers denied him water.

Who doesn’t know that it is almost impossible to organize a repudiation rally without the consent of State Security? Whenever Sunday operations are carried out in various provinces to suppress the Ladies in White, in the end there is a report that ends up on the minister’s desk. Behind every one of these brief and arbitrary detentions, beatings, assaults on the homes of regime opponents, searches and seizures, has been MININT and Furry.

During all the years of the humiliating “exit permits” that were required to leave the country, the lists of who could leave and who could not were drawn up in that institution. In the same way, from these offices were issued – and are still issued – the refusals to allow a Cuban abroad to return to his or her country, even for a visit.

According to insiders, Colome Ibarra had been spending less and less time in his office while the work was carried out by the vice-minister, Carlos Fernandez Gondin, also a member of the Cuban Communist Party Central Committee and a deputy to the National Assembly. Fernandez Gondin’s appointment as the new minister has not been a surprise, although it put to rests rumors that insinuated that Alejandro Castro Espin, Raul Castro’s son, would be promoted to the job.

Within six months Fernandez Gondin will probably be promoted to the Politburo as a part of the renewal that is expected with the upcoming 7 th Congress of the PCC. His face rarely appears in the media and he has a reputation as a loyal and inflexible person. In a few years, when there is no one from the Historic Generation making decisions, he will be surrounded by people to whom he does not owe obedience and whom he will know a lot about because he will have read secret reports on every one of them. This could be interpreted as bad news for the future of Cuba.

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