A Subtle Form of Corruption

To my constant friends

By Esteban Morales* (Published by Progreso Weekly)

HAVANA TIMES – When in 2010 I wrote about corruption and what happened to me became general knowledge, it was inevitable that many people worried. Nobody ever understood how it was possible to take a political step of the nature that was taken against the denunciation that was made.

Those writings went through the hurricane of incomprehension, so to speak, and today we have moved ahead in terms of that type of criticism. Our highest Political Directorate, being consistent with what it had said ever since it assumed command, condensed its pronouncements: Corruption is the equivalent of counterrevolution.

All of us revolutionaries breathed a sigh of relief. Taking up criticism was a reality and nobody had to right to silence it.

But we must continue to advance. An important body of our revolutionary intellectuals valiantly assume the criticism of our realities, as Raúl has suggested, but we cannot yet feel deeply and confidently that they are doing what they should do, even though they’re convinced of it.

Some bureaucrats lie in wait, taking advantage of the opportunity to tell us intellectuals that we are wrong, that apparently things cannot be exactly as Raúl has told us. Meanwhile, all of us who have assumed the criticism of our society are, along with Raúl, convinced that it’s the only way to save the process.

What did Raúl Castro mean by “corruption is the equivalent of counterrevolution”? No doubt, that assertion is painfully all-encompassing, because it includes the following dangers, among others:

• In the first place, it means that whoever becomes corrupt has already crossed into the enemy’s ranks.

• That he tries to discredit the political discourse of the Revolution at its most critical moment.

• That he leads people to say that things are not always what they seem, which – like a direct attack on the nation’s leadership – is counter to any process that tries to propel the economic renovation, to accomplish the necessary social adjustments, and to achieve a change in mindset.

• That, amid the difficult material situation the nation is going through, he gives a baleful example of how to solve my individual problem.

• That whoever becomes corrupt is practically incapable of upholding other values, so his next step is to collaborate with those who can facilitate his work, corrupting others and placing all of them in the service of subversion.

But there is a more subtle, concealed form of corruption among us, which many people minimize because they practice it systematically or because they don’t consider it as dangerous as the highest functionaries do.

In material terms, it is a piddling corruption, practiced gradually and directly among low-level functionaries who, able to move certain resources, exchange them as if they were swapping merchandise.

I’m talking about a functionary who manages a coffee shop and procures the sweets and the beer for a friend who’s going to celebrate his daughter’s 15th birthday. In turn, his friend, who manages a factory, delivers to him the flagstones and the cement he needs to build another room in his house. A simple exchange between the two, where no money is exchanged, only goods, and where many look the other way, waiting for their turn to engage in the same deals.

This way, in an illegal fashion, an incredible amount of resources disappear, resources that should have been sold to the population. This type of corruption is no less harmful than the former one, for the following reasons:

• Its low monetary value makes it appear as simple favors from a friend. This has become popular under the description of “resolving.”

• In general, in the workplace, it is something that almost everyone knows about but ignores, because they don’t care, they fear reprisals, or they think that their day might come.

• It tends to create a level of compromise between the administrators and the rest of the workers, who may consider they have the right to enjoy those illegal advantages at some future time.

• It is very easy to conceal by means of accounting and economic control.

• Because no money is involved, the peril of its practice is quite limited.

• Nevertheless, the degree of corruption of this practice corrodes the authority of even the political organizations in the workplace.

Looking at corruption in all its characteristics and levels of practice, we see a phenomenon that can be defeated only if all the social sectors participate, declaring a generalized war that makes us more aware of what that corruption means and gives us the tools to combat it.
That means transparent information, open discussion and the confidence that opportune and efficient criticism will always be welcome.
(*) Esteban Morales, a renowned Cuban academician, founded and directed for 18 years the Center for United States Studies at the University of Havana, where he was Dean of Humanities.

3 thoughts on “A Subtle Form of Corruption

  • Continuing with the ‘pearls before swine” simile I set up in my comment to Esteban, the ‘porker’ who started off the comments calls Esteban “daft”. Corruption, of course is endemic in his country. It’s a hallmark of capitalism. Based on greed, there is no buy-in to the common good except for suckers. Everybody and their brother is on the take, especially the fat cats. No need to take my word for it, just follow the news from any capitalist country. It’s what you get in a system that is unegalitarian by nature. Nothing temporary here – it’s a permanent fixture of capitalism.

    ‘Moses’ would have us believe corruption exists in Cuba because “THEIR SALARIES ARE TOO LOW!!!” It’s certainly true in the US – corruption does come from low salaries which are plentiful there. But what about the one-percenters who are corrupt?. At times it seems most of them are. Some are quite extremely corrupt, the Ponzi schemers, responsible for bringing misery to thousands of people.

    If you live under capitalism, you are living in a system based on inequality, thus corruption is an obvious given.

    ‘Moses really should avoid submitting comments to essays with “intellectual” in the text. It doesn’t make him look real good.

  • Thank-you Esteban for your thoughtful essay. I am always reminded of the aphorism, like ‘casting pearls before swine” when I read comments like the first one. I’ve discussed with a fellow Canadian friend of mine who is also a frequent traveler to Cuba, the reasons for the habitual low production in Cuba and the products for sale that have ‘fallen off the back of a truck’ that we see as tourists, representing corruption.

    My friend always asks, ‘why is there no buy-in?’, meaning why are Cubans working against the Revolution that has so much to offer by corrupting it with their corruption? I read in Granma Raul’s speech and what he said about corruption certainly caught my eye. You have written about the effects it has with clarity. Perhaps I can try to understand why a buy-in has been so difficult.

    The obvious one is that in a system dedicated to egalitarianism, one where everyone is expected to benefit and sacrifice equally, any inequalities kill the buy-in spirit. Inequalities cannot always be eliminated, at least short term, especially in Cuba where the most powerful country on earth has been dedicated to the destruction of its government for more than 50 years.

    The highly unegalitarian dual currency system, for example, was created as a direct result of the US tightening of it’s economic embargo. It is intended to be temporary, the best that is possible under the circumstances.

    But the incredible and disgusting long-term US effort to destroy Cuba’s government has prolonged Cuban deprivation and inequality, causing it to grow and as it grows, the buy-in spirit lessens.

    There are no easy answers here. The whole world condemns the US embargo yet does nothing to put on pressure to end it. Countries and businesses shamefully cave in to the alpha dog and as capitalist institutions, no doubt are worried their citizens will see how a better system is possible.

    The Cuban people cannot wait forever. Some of the Reforms are highly dangerous, introducing more inequality, replacing the group buy-in spirit even more with individual self-interest. Hopefully Cubans will see these are necessary, but not permanent measures. Havana Times can act as a watchdog, calling out unegalitarian policies that are extreme or threaten to become fixed. And to explain, as Esteban’s essay does, why corruption is ultimately counterrevolutionary.

  • How can the writer, as a self-proclaimed intellectual, be so daft as to see what the real problems is? These low-level functionaries engage in this piddling corruption because THEIR SALARIES ARE TOO LOW!!! If the leadership, which you seem to believe should be shielded from direct attacks (are they sissies for goodness sakes!) raised salaries to a decent level, people would use their own money to repair their homes or celebrate quincearas instead of stealing from the Castros. Duh!!!

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