The Fissure We All Carry Inside and the Long Arm of Corruption

Dmitri Prieto

Center for Genetic and Biotechnological Engineering (CIGB). Photo: infomed.sld.cu

One of the recent court cases revolving around corruption and the embezzlement of government resources involved people who worked at the Havana airport and in the modern bio-pharmacy industry (especially those associated with the firm Heber Biotec, which is a part of the Center for Genetic and Biotechnological Engineering, or CIGB).

I worked at CIGB for a few years in the ‘90s, so I was shocked when I learned that among those individuals convicted and sentenced to jail were two of my former acquaintances. One of them was a young guy who had been in charge of the processing and paperwork for international trips back then; the other one was an older man who took care of the administrative details with the airport for receiving items acquired by the center and for exporting its products.

Of the first guy, I remember him giving me a lift on his motorcycle to the Italian Embassy to pick up my passport with its approved visa; that same day I was traveling to Trieste for a course. As for the second fellow, I recall how one afternoon we went to the airport to pick up an expensive computer that had been sent by a Swedish agency for a project in our research department. Both he and the younger guy were kind and helpful people.

At that time I still felt like a teenager and CIGB was still like an oasis of unparalleled development and prosperity surrounded by the desert of the Special Period crisis. Everyone (well, almost everyone) liked working there. It was prestigious, interesting, and it stimulated dreams that refused to die.

For me it was a controversial experience, but I learned in an aggressive way how to “knuckle down” with the work that I still feel proud within myself for having accomplished. It was this “consecration” to the aims of the center about which so much had been said, and that I don’t consider — as some do — as being reducible to simple youthful zeal or material interest enclosed by hypocrisy.

It’s sad to hear that those co-workers of bygone days have now fallen into the trap of corruption. I can’t remember anything bad about them – and that worries me, because it bears witness to a fracture that somehow all of us sustain inside.

I know that many will think about politics, or needs, or rather the spirit of self-enrichment that is present in human souls and which, according to ones affiliations, should be extirpated (as desired by Che Guevara) or transformed into the motive force in the service of social interest (as Adam Smith illustrated).

For my part, I came to appreciate ‘the fissure we all carry inside’ through Dostoevsky, and when this hits me in the gut I feel pain accompanied by unlikely affection.

I left the CIGB more than 10 years ago, but I still maintain the vocation for research, and in my heart I hope that those individuals being punished today will find a better road tomorrow.


Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.

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