Corruption, Cuba’s Real Threat

Patricia Grogg

Havana picture by Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, April 15 (IPS) — One of the priorities of the process of change undertaken by Cuban President Raul Castro is apparently curbing corruption, which threatens to undermine the country from the inside.

“The capacity of any nation to withstand challenges from outside is measured, in first place, by its internal strength,” Cuban academic Esteban Morales wrote in an article in which he said corruption is “much more dangerous than the so-called internal dissidents” in this one-party socialist state.

The dissidents are “isolated; they have no alternative proposals, no real leaders, no mass support. Corruption is the true counter-revolution, and can do the most damage,” he added.

The article, which has been circulating on the internet since Monday, deals with a touchy subject that is almost completely ignored by Cuba’s state-controlled press.

“I am in favor of not allowing these and other questions, which are ‘our’ issues, to be dealt with by others,” Morales, an economist and researcher at the University of Havana’s Centre for the Study of the Hemisphere and the United States, told IPS.

His article coincided with the government’s announcement of 750 inspections and audits to be carried out “at random” nationwide from Apr. 19 to May 22 by the Comptroller General’s Office, created in August 2009 as a key element in the process of changes promised by Castro after he replaced his ailing brother Fidel as head of state.

The president said at the time that the Comptroller General’s Office would play an essential role in controlling and overseeing government spending, and would decisively crack down on “any form of corruption,” while tackling “the causes and conditions that can lead to negligent or criminal behavior by any government leader or functionary.”

In an interview published Monday by the daily newspaper Trabajadores, Comptroller General Gladys Bejerano said her office is in charge of oversight of public assets, funds and resources, “including state bodies and political and mass organizations,” and that one of its tasks is to follow up on reports by Cuban citizens of corruption or illegal activity.

Bejerano, who said the phenomenon of corruption was “very complex,” admitted that oversight and monitoring systems had been badly weakened, and stressed that workers must press for their right to discuss the use of public resources and that public bodies have the obligation to report incidents.

In his article, Morales referred to rumors about the reasons behind the Mar. 8 removal of the president of the Civil Aeronautics Institute of Cuba (IACC), Gen. Rogelio Acevedo.

Acevedo was one of the guerrillas led by Fidel Castro in the Sierra Maestra Mountains in the 1950s, and later participated in the Angolan civil war in the 1970s and 1980s.

In Morales’ view, the unofficial explanation that is going around for why Acevedo was sacked is disturbing. And he added that “there must be some truth in these reports, because this is a very small country where people know each other.”

According to the information from unofficial reports, unnamed civil aviation personnel reportedly sold space on Cubana de Aviación planes to Latin American firms to transport their merchandise, and pocketed the money. The sources of the reports also say many people are under investigation in relation to the case.

“An exhaustive public explanation for the case has not yet been offered, and people are waiting for one,” Morales said.

The writer said similar cases have been discovered in other public bodies. In some public enterprises, “bosses might be taking commissions and opening up bank accounts in other countries – which means other probes should be carried out as well.”

In his view, it is starting to become clear that there are people in the government who are “stashing money away” against the possibility of “the revolution’s collapse.”

Others, Morales added, “might have just about everything ready for the transfer of state assets to private hands, as occurred in the Soviet Union” after it fell apart in 1991.

Without naming names or dates, Morales said “extremely serious” matters led to the Mar. 2, 2009 removal of then Vice President Carlos Lage, Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque and other high-level officials.

He insinuated that the officials were passing information to Spanish intelligence, “questions as sensitive as claims and aspirations to power, favoritism, corruption and indiscreet expressions about the country’s highest-level leadership, which foreign intelligence services were already aware of.

“Political merchandise of extremely high added value, in the hands of enemies of the revolution,” Morales commented.

The United States pays close attention to the internal situation in Cuba, he pointed out.

“Everything that happens inside Cuba is observed and monitored by U.S. political leaders, and especially by the special services of that country,” he said.

A Cuban official who engages in corrupt practices with any foreign company must know that the information in question can fall into the hands of the special services of any country, and that from there to the hands of U.S. agencies “is just a tiny step.”

Any sensitive information about Cuba fetches a high price from the U.S. intelligence services, Morales said. “If by this time we’re not aware of that, we’re done for,” he stated.

5 thoughts on “Corruption, Cuba’s Real Threat

  • You can’t pay people $15/month in professional, corporate positions and expect a fraud-free flow of activity.

  • Addendum:

    With workers’ cooperative ownership, workplace democracy is automatic. If you own, you control.

    All that’s needed in Cuba is to change the core hypothesis to “Mondragon-style cooperative corporations with partial, non-controlling ownership by the state, plus respect for the small entrepreneurial sector.”

  • Patricia, tks for this fine journalism.

    The corruption that presents in every state socialist experiment is a symptom. The disease–metaphorically speaking–is an economic model that disallows cooperative ownership of enterprise by workers, & gives it instead to the socialist state.

    What is important to understand–if the disease is to be cured before political collapse–is that the pathogen comes from Engels & Marx, not from Stalin or any other state leader.

    The pathogen–the core hypothesis of this form of socialist experiment–comes directly from the last two pages of the 2nd chapter of the Communist Manifesto.

    “Concentration of all the instruments of production in the hands of the state” is what is stated, and socialists must grapple with this undeniable fact.

    Jasi is correct in saying, “. . . an outdated and spent economic model that creates a black market.”

    Sam is wrong in calling for workers’ democracy instead of workers’ cooperative ownership.

  • A corrupt state socialism is a sick state socialism. I think Raul and the public intellectuals are right to close in on this as an issue of particular concern. One quote I agree with:

    “Bejerano, who said the phenomenon of corruption was “very complex,” admitted that oversight and monitoring systems had been badly weakened, and stressed that workers must press for their right to discuss the use of public resources and that public bodies have the obligation to report incidents.”

    Ultimately, if you have some a model, the best way to clamp down on corruption is to engage workers in management. If they are not utilized, it clearly in the long term diminishes their purchasing power and wages despite the fact that they work at a public institution, and will therefore demand more efficient and effective management. More workers democracy in Cuba could lead to more smart socialism-in fact, it was Lenin himself who argued Socialism would be the highest form of democratic state!

  • It does not surprise me at all that civil aviation was selling space to merchants and pocketing the money. Obviously various levels turned a blind eye to this practice, which was not-unacknowledged. I was on a late night Cubana flight from Cancun to Havana. With only 9 other passengers on board, the remainder of the inside cabin was packed full with merchandise being transported into the country. This was obviously a pseudo-state sanctioned scheme – the sheer number of people involved in such a scale of operation to carry this off would be significant. It was also sufficiently public, with many non-involved individuals observing such practice. Cuba is rife with situations like this, all fueled by an outdated and spent economic model that creates a black market. All this talk of audits is boring – the push for audits will come and go, like every other reactionary measure that the government takes to deal with a visible problem. Until the root issue is dealt with, Cuba will limp along.

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