Chilean businessmen found dead in Havana after being detained during investigation by Cuba

By Brad Haynes, AP
Thursday, April 15, 2010

Chilean businessman dead after detention in Cuba

SANTIAGO, Chile — A top Chilean executive was found dead in his Havana apartment after being detained by Cuban authorities investigating his company, which is owned by a revolutionary-turned-businessman and friend of Fidel Castro.

Roberto Baudrand was prevented from leaving Cuba because of an investigation into the semiprivate food production business he was running, Chile’s Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno said. He was found dead Tuesday.

Chile’s diplomats pressed Cuban officials for information on the cause of Baudrand’s death but they had received no official response by Wednesday.

Baudrand, 59, was general manager of Alimentos Rio Zaza SA and served as point man in Cuba for Max Marambio, the former head bodyguard of Chilean socialist President Salvador Allende, who was toppled in a 1973 military coup. Marambio sought refuge in Cuba after the coup and took part in secret military missions before becoming one of Cuba’s wealthiest business leaders. He has lived mainly in Chile in recent years, with Baudrand acting as his liaison in Havana.

Marambio is known in Cuba as “Guaton,” or “Potbelly,” and his company makes “Tropical Island” brand juices and other food products sold in hard-currency stores catering to foreigners and tourists. The company is joint-owned by Cuba’s government and Marambio, but has been shuttered for months as part of an investigation.

Cuban police and prosecutors referred all questions to the government press center, which had no comment Wednesday.

Eduardo Contreras, the lawyer for Marambio’s businesses, told The Associated Press he visited Baudrand two weeks ago and found the businessman distraught about the investigation, which prohibited him from leaving the island.

Chile’s foreign minister said several Chileans working with Baudrand had been arrested. Baudrand had been in Cuba for two years since being named to the post by Marambio.

Cuba’s government has not commented on any investigations in progress, but the probe of Rio Zaza comes after the abrupt March 9 firing of veteran revolutionary Rogelio Acevedo, who had overseen the country’s airlines and airports and as a teenager fought alongside Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara. No official reason was given for his removal, but the island is awash with speculation that he has been placed under house arrest for corruption.

As a teenager, Marambio met Castro in 1966, after coming to Cuba as part of a delegation of sympathetic political leaders that included his father. He stayed on the island to study agricultural science, becoming infatuated with leftist revolutions and guerrilla movements. He and Castro have maintained a friendship spanning nearly 45 years.

Marambio served as chief personal bodyguard to Allende and stockpiled weapons to defend the leftist government at the Cuban Embassy on the day of the Sept. 11, 1973, coup in which Gen. Augusto Pinochet took power. Marambio stayed in the embassy for months before finally fleeing to Europe and on to Cuba.

In an interview with the Chilean digital magazine El Mostrador, Marambio said he participated in secret military missions for the Castro government in the 1970s in Lebanon and Central America, as well as Angola, where Cuba eventually sent troops to defend the country’s leftist government.

He later served as the first president of the Cuban government’s retail conglomerate Cimex and opened food production plants, eventually controlling holdings in international real estate and tourism and building a business empire.

In recent years, Marambio expressed support for free elections in Cuba, whose government he has characterized as “a kind of direct democracy that has its imperfections.”

Marambio discussed his personal history in a 2009 book, “Las Armas de Ayer,” or “The Weapons of Yesteryear,” which Fidel Castro praised in one of his frequent opinion pieces.

“I swear, if I had the money I would pay for the widespread distribution of this book,” Castro wrote.

The book’s prologue was written by Nobel Prize-winning Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, another friend of Marambio’s.

Last year, Marambio ran the unsuccessful Chilean presidential campaign of Marco Enriquez-Ominami, an independent candidate who broke away from the governing center-left coalition and took 20 percent of the first round vote in December. Conservative billionaire Sebastian Pinera won the presidency in a run-off.

Associated Press Writer Will Weissert in Havana contributed to this report.

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