Bureaucracy in Cuba as a Contagious Disease

By Fernando Ravsberg

1.burocracia-cubaHAVANA TIMES – When in Cuba people talk about the bureaucracy we always think of powerful officials that make our life miserable creating increasingly complex procedures to justify their wages and privileges, office, auto, gasoline, etc, etc, etc.

These are personages spread throughout public offices such as the housing and water departments, immigration and others. With some we come face to face and can tell them a thing or two, but those who cause us the most problems only give orders and remain behind the scene.

Bureaucracy isn’t exclusive to the Stalinist model but it has apt conditions for its extension because all means of production, even stands selling fritters, are in the hands of the state which needs to create a gigantic apparatus to control the economy.

Later, bureaucracy takes on its own life, as Jose Marti warned, and it is imperative because it has created so many absurd procedures that hundreds of thousands of office workers are needed to fill out forms and issuing certificates requested by other office workers.

I recently witnessed the sale of an old car from one foreign company to another and it made me laugh. First, the two companies had to submit to the Chamber of Commerce all documentation that accredits them to operate in Cuba.

The plague of bureaucracy extends throughout the social fabric and infects us. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

This was the first useless formality because the two companies have offices on the island and therefore the Chamber of Commerce already has all those documents in their files. With the authorization of this office they went to a notary to make arrangements for the sale.

There they were met with a big surprise; the notary informed them that the presence of the owners of the two companies is essential to carry out the transaction. So it was necessary to coordinate the trips to Cuba of one owner from Spain and the other from Canada, so they could coincide in Havana at the same time.

It wasn’t about selling a luxury car or a classic but a 10-year-old work vehicle of Romanian origin, with 160 thousand kilometers traveled. A car that in Cuba is worth twice what it cost when purchased new.

In another area, for immigration procedures a number of recent documents are requested, such as one that verifies marital status or one’s Police record. It seems logical that these need to be recent because the person’s status may have changed.

However, they also ask for a birth certificate with a maximum of 6 months of being issued and one wonders why is one issued a year or two ago not sufficient? At the end of the day the place, day and time in which we were born cannot be changed by us or any authority.

But the worst of bureaucracy is that it is a contagious disease to which we are all exposed even if our power is very limited. It imprints its “reasoning” on us and we begin repeating absurdities as if we were robots.

Now, for example, to be a member of the Canary Islands Cultural Society in Pinar del Río it is no longer enough to show a Spanish passport, registration at the consulate or a birth certificate that was used to obtain citizenship as a legacy of his/her grandfather.

The “authorities” of the Canary Society, copying immigration, require a birth certificate issued less than six months ago, which the grandchildren of immigrants have to return to get certified in Spain.

Bureaucracy is present in every problem faced by Cubans. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

Is it that we all carry a small bureaucrat inside? Is it that power, however limited it may be, transforms us? Is it a virus that is waiting to manifest itself at the slightest chance? Is it that we retaliate against others for what’s done to us?

In any case, there are two types of bureaucrats, those above and those below. With the first, there is no basis for resolving the problem because they defend their economic privileges. But those below are we making life very difficult for others.

Making things unnecessarily complicated and slow to obtain money in exchange for speeding up the process is a vicious circle in which the money that enters from one side is lost on the other, when the small bureaucrat needs to do their own paperwork.

The nation can be better and that does not depend solely on the changes made by the government, it also has to do with personal choice. Ultimately it is acting as a brother/sister to others or as a predator.

5 thoughts on “Bureaucracy in Cuba as a Contagious Disease

  • Is one able to get things done more quickly with gifts or bribes? In Mexico one can. In fact, the main reason for inefficiencies in public Mexican bureaucracies seems to be a lower-level functionary’s waiting for a bottle of perfume or wine. In the financial sector, the reason seems to be the opacity needed to hide money laundering in the informal economy.

  • Pretty bad deal with the hierarchy running the show Carlyle. Short note, I read your book, Cuba Lifting the Veil, ordered it via Amazon. Superbly written and learned quite a bit about Cuba and those who now run that country. I guess if you disagree with Carlyle or agree with him, and he’s a great poster overall, I’d recommend this book. You can then follow with your reviews and thoughts.

  • My friend is a musician in cuba…..he wanted to change bands…first he had to visit the office of culture and explain to the official what he wanted….which was to go from one band to another…the man in charge said first he needed a letter fom the manager of his present band releasing him from his present band…my friend said “”well thats not a problem because i am the official manager of my band””and the man in the office of culture said””oh jose i know that but i still need a letter””so my friend jose the musician said “”you want me to write a letter to my self giving myself permission to leave my present band”??the offical said “”yes “. Where is the cuban diginity….where is the common sense???

  • An application to build a 650 sq. ft. house complete with plans, a site purchased and financing in place was made in late November 2014. The status of the application was sought every three months. Over a year later permission to build had still not been given.
    In late December 2015 because no assurance could be given of when or if a licence to build would be issued, the project was abandoned, the site sold and a house was purchased using the proper channels and paying the requisite fee to the regime. Eventually in late May 2016 (five months) the ownership documents for that house were eventually issued.
    Such is the level of efficiency of the ‘socialismo’ system. Cuba is short of housing stock as demonstrated by the multi-generation occupation of a high percentage of homes, but the idea of adding just one new house had to be abandoned. However in the same municipality at the time of the fruitless wait for permission, a whole group of new houses were built for occupation by MININT employees
    Meanwhile a rapturous meeting of the 7th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba approved yet more economic plans by Marino Murillo.
    Unto others shall be given.

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