HAVANA TIMES, Nov 16 (IPS) – The battle against corruption is one of the greatest challenges faced by Cuban President Raúl Castro, who began designing his strategy for preventing and combating the problem when he temporarily took office after his brother Fidel fell ill in July 2006.
One of the first decree-laws he signed, in August 2007, included an extensive list of punishable “breaches of discipline” applicable to individuals in positions of authority in workplaces.
The new law reinforced existing legislation, and the punishable violations ranged from absence and tardiness to abuse of authority, negligence, dishonesty, nepotism, damages to the workplace or activity under the individual’s authority, and the loss, theft or appropriation of assets from the workplace or a third party, among others.
Penalties began with a “private warning” and increased to temporary demotion for lesser charges, or dismissal, including being banned from a given industry or activity.
All of this was separate from any criminal proceedings that might be initiated around a particular case.
In speeches, the Cuban president has emphasised that ignorance of the law does not exempt anybody from complying, and that, according to the Constitution, all citizens have equal rights and duties. Therefore, anybody who commits a crime in Cuba, “independently of the position they may hold, whoever they may be, will have to face the consequences of their errors and the full weight of justice.”
The issue also came up in the grassroots debates promoted by the government regarding Raúl Castro’s Jul. 26, 2007 landmark speech. As interim president at the time, he said he agreed with people’s concerns and admitted that so many years of “irrational prohibitions” were conducive to violations of the law, corruption and impunity
In that sense, the authorities predict that the recent lifting of restrictions on the buying and selling of automobiles and homes not only will restore people’s ownership rights, but also will bring order to and legalise transactions that previously were done on the lucrative black market.
Official sources frequently cite the warning issued by Fidel Castro in November 2005, when he stated in the midst of an offensive against theft and abuse of power in state enterprises, among other crimes, that the Revolution could be destroyed by Cubans themselves.
In that respect, Gladys Bejerano, the current director of the Comptroller General’s Office, said during an international forum on the challenges for society posed by corruption – held Nov. 9-11 in Havana – that the former Cuban president’s opinion was confirmed by every incident of corruption detected in this country.
She said corruption destroyed ethical values, weakened morale, and undermined state institutions and personnel, while diverting resources and detracting from development efforts and programmes, and disorganising, discouraging and negatively impacting Cuba’s economic and social development objectives.
The Comptroller General’s Office, created in 2009, is charged with improving internal controls and “directly confronting any manifestation of corruption,” among other functions. It has authority over any government ministry and reports directly to the president of the Council of State.
According to Bejerano, who is also a vice president of the Council of State, the anti-corruption struggle is conducted on two fronts: cracking down on “crime, indiscipline, illegal activities and any manifestation of corruption,” and prevention.
In the first case, action is reinforced with the coordinated participation of the offices of the Interior Ministry, the Attorney General’s Office and the Comptroller General’s Office, along with other government bodies, social organisations, and complaints and reports by the public.
“Our State reaffirms prevention as the principal strategic focus,” Bejerano said during a session of the international anti-corruption conference. This focus is based on the conviction that corruption is a “deliberate” social phenomenon that takes place at different levels.
In that sense it is “preceded by a process of a loss of values, of social breakdown, that generally begins with small favours or infringements that compromise people’s behaviour, as a result of weakness and inefficiency in systems of organisation and control,” she explained.
Bejerano heads periodic audits of state enterprises. The latest audit, conducted in the first half of 2011, covered 750 enterprises selected at random.
According to what was reported at the time, 63 percent of the entities audited were ranked as satisfactory, and the rest were described as deficient or poor.
Cuban Attorney General Darío Delgado said during the international anti-corruption conference, the fifth such event involving professionals and scholars from 20 nations, that the corruption being confronted in Cuba is “administrative and has been identified at certain levels of different sectors, fundamentally business enterprises.”
Delgado announced that Cuba would continue an “all-out” struggle against any manifestations of corruption,” whether they are committed by foreigners or nationals.” As some of the “profound and complex” challenges faced at this time, he mentioned the sheltering of Cuban capital in a joint enterprise or other form of association, money laundering and trials of foreigners in absentia.
The defendants in trials involving charges of economic crimes and corruption this year included a former government minister, Cuban managers and officials of the food industry and Cubana de Aviación airline, and Chilean businessmen Max and Marcel Marambio, both of them tried in absentia.
With respect to other investigations underway in sectors such as telecommunications, which may involve at least two companies with foreign capital, no official statements have been issued confirming or denying reports that have appeared principally in the U.S. media.
Cuban scholar Esteban Morales was expelled from the Communist Party of Cuba in 2010 for writing two articles in which he warned about the serious risks of corruption, which he said was “much more dangerous than the so-called internal dissidence.” However, his membership was restored in July.