Isbel Diaz Torres
HAVANA TIMES, Feb 23 — The husband of my neighbor, a colonel in the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), just bought a washing machine that in Cuban stores costs more than 700 CUC (about $770 USD).
Of course he didn’t pay that amount. Those who work in internal security and the military in Cuba receive perks.
Although this issue is neither unique to the Cuban military forces nor new to readers of Havana Times, it seems appropriate to discuss this type of “authorized corruption,” which wasn’t discussed at the recent National Conference of the Communist Party.
I can only presume that the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) and the Interior Ministry (MININT) receive a high percentage of the national budget in Cuba since the numbers aren’t made known to the public. As far as I know, not even members of the National Assembly are aware of the amount, though it must be astronomical.
To cap that off, the recent promotion of Adel Yzquierdo as a vice president of the Council of Ministers promises even better conditions for the military.
Yzquierdo headed the Office of Planning and Finance in the FAR, and last year was made the nation’s minister of Economy and Planning, a post he continues to hold.
On the other hand, the majority of young people who are recruited for military service, especially those who live outside of Havana, are deployed for work in agriculture or construction for three years of their lives.
Neither FAR nor the Interior Ministry pay taxes on the use of this workforce, while they pay the recruits miserable wages and benefit from their virtually free labor.
Although part of their agricultural output goes to farmers markets open to the public, a substantial part of it is directed to military outfits as well as to businesses, hospitals, hotels and rest homes that serve the military.
Recently my father ate beef (an exotic delicacy in Cuba) several times at the Marianao Military Hospital. He was there for a week getting a checkup in the wing reserved for mid-level officers.
The food there isn’t the same as in the rest of the hospital. I can only imagine what’s prepared for the generals who are admitted there – lobster?
If this is a self-financing mechanism, it would be somewhat understandable. But the fact is that most items that are regularly supplied to the military are not the output of agricultural labor – much of it is imported.
Not only do they receive heavily subsidized food, but also cellphones, cars, furniture, and home appliances such as refrigerators, computers, washing machines, televisions, air conditioners, and much more, items which add to their already high salaries and generous retirement checks.
Can such economic waste be sustained by the country, which also reduces the respectability and credibility of the military? Are we talking about a socialist system, or did someone “turn the channel” at some point?
As the son of a officer, I have visited the R&R facilities they’ve designed for themselves. It’s appalling to see how the logic of unbridled, non-solidary, elitist and selfish consumption is enthroned in these facilities.
The higher the rank, the more the privileges. Those members of this military-bureaucratic complex allow themselves to live like true capitalist entrepreneurs (many of them are), and their managerial presence in the major businesses of the island (transgenic crops, the Mariel port redevelopment project, the fiber-optic link with Venezuela, “dollar stores,” golf courses, “civil” aeronautics) is scarcely known by most people.
It is astonishing to see how they assume those privileges so naturally, not even blushing over the profound differences they are generating between themselves and ordinary people.
They are called the heirs of the Mambi independence forces and the Rebel Army, but they’re increasingly forgetting the austerity and sacrifice of those men and women in our history.