Cleaning House in Cuba

By Circles Robinson

 Unity, Firmness & Victory is once again a battle cry, this time to fight corruption.  Photo: Caridad
Unity, Firmness & Victory is once again a battle cry, this time to fight corruption. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, August 10 – The Cuban government’s answer to the rampant theft and corruption problem plaguing the socialist economy is a new comptroller’s office, something that exists in many countries.

The lax administrative and accounting controls present in much of the country’s state-run economy are no secret to anyone, much less to the nation’s leaders.

With a major drive taking place to improve work efficiency and productivity and to cut imports at a time of international economic crisis, confronting a problem that has permeated all strata of Cuban society is an urgent but equally difficult task.

President Raul Castro sounded the alarm when he took office in February 2008, when he made it known that tolerance of misuse of state resources was on the out.  Since then, little guys scraping to get by, on up to several of the country’s top ministers and political figures in much larger illicit operations, have fallen from grace after being accused of theft or corruption.

The president has made battling such un-revolutionary behavior a priority, while also recognizing that low salaries and a lack of incentives for greater initiative have affected job motivation and efficiency.

Trusting more in the businesses run by the military, Castro has put several former Army administrators in key positions in the civilian state economy.

Nonetheless, neither the military nor the civilian economy are held accountable to the public as neither the workers nor the general population are privy to the economic performance information that would make possible an educated evaluation of efficiency.

Instead, Cubans are accustomed to being told to blindly trust the judgment of their leaders and the administrators they in turn appoint to manage public resources.

The other catch-all factor has been the ever present “enemy to the north” with its blockade and other attempts to strangle the island’s economy, which serve corrupt officials as a shield.

The New Watch Dog

Last weekend the government announced that the Comptroller’s Office – conceived as a watch dog over the use of state funds and resources – would be a place where citizens can file complaints on such abuses and expect to get action.  The office is headed by legislator Gladys Maria Brejerano Portela, just appointed a week ago.

 Castro has put several former military administrators in key positions in the civilian state economy.  Photo: Caridad
Castro has put several former military administrators in key positions in the civilian state economy. Photo: Caridad

Created by the legislature, the office will receive and follow up on complaints filed by citizens on the misuse of public resources and other illegalities and acts of corruption, said Jose Luis Toledo Santander, president of the parliament’s Constitutional and Juridical Affairs Committee.

Virtually every Cuban, foreign resident or visitor is in one way or another regularly taken in by the different income-supplement scams that have grown to become as normal as rice and beans for most people, whether they like it or not.

In everyday life, very few people even bother to complain about being overcharged or getting taken on the weight or quality of a product.  Instead, they often show understanding or even sympathy toward whoever is doing the taking to make a sorely needed buck.

At the same time, many people speculate privately that for so much theft to take place so rampantly on the ground level, there have to be accomplices higher up – from supervisors to managers, to executives, on up to ministers.

Will people now take advantage of the opportunity to file a complaint that supposedly could bring some action?  Or will they continue to avoid picking a fight with a boss or higher up that in the past has often had the cards stacked in their favor?

One thought on “Cleaning House in Cuba

  • One thing is certain: if corruption at the top is not elimminated, it won’t be stamped out further down the chain. And I understand how some cuban people don’t feel so revolutionary, after a lifetime of struggling with few resources — honestly or otherwise — while large income differentials continue to exist on the island. However, the success or failure of the entire socialist project hinges on whether cubans can finally organize their society in a truly egalitarian manner, given whatever specific, concrete circumstances history has handed them.

    And so everyone had better make ALBA work, right..?

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