Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*
HAVANA TIMES — A few weeks ago, Cuban academic Esteban Morales returned to the same issue that in 2010 cost him his membership in the Communist Party, though he was reinstated in 2011. That issue: corruption.
Morales raised the issue tactfully, with all due discretion, and if in 2010 he pointed to ex-general Rogelio Acevedo’s alleged embezzling of millions, in 2012 he raised his concerns pointing to the poor soul who might sell a few crates of beer under the table to buy their child a birthday cake.
Obviously a great deal of what Morales says is true, and corruption is both grand scale and petty. I would also agree with him about the need to address this growing corruption in Cuba and that this will require greater transparency and more public debate.
I would also say that it’s going to need more political will and a more decent and modernized police force. In addition, something elementary, is that it would require a more dynamic and inclusive economic system than this current eyesore in ruins that the general/president wants to update, inside and out.
Nevertheless, this is an issue that requires much more analysis than what Morales is spending on it. Though I’m sure that I won’t be able to do a better job, I will nonetheless try to toss out some polemical ideas with no other intention than to stimulate further discussion.
If by corruption we understand it as the appropriation of resources and values outside of institutional structures and existing norms, then there has always been corruption in post-revolutionary Cuba. It’s not a problem of the world crisis or the market.
There were always officials who benefitted from sums of money and quantities of products far in excess of what was due to them by law. In these cases, it has especially been reflected in salaries. Corruption also existed in the forms of nepotism, influence trafficking, impunity and deceitful cooptation.
Everything was inherent in the reproduction of the elite itself and the cultivation of political loyalties.
This was a form of corruption that could imply family trips abroad, paradisiacal vacations at beachside resorts, free cars and gasoline for all of them, nice houses always available, all types of gratification for secret lovers, etc. But this was also a form of corruption centrally administered from and that didn’t allow a substantial accumulation of resources.
At most it was possible to store used items, because the system itself didn’t favor capitalization. This is why it didn’t encourage autonomy. It was necessary to be a member of the apparatchik and defend the structure tooth and nail, including the supreme leader and the immortal party.
On the contrary, autonomy meant returning to the plebeian austerity that was practiced by those at the bottom: eating from the ration book, going swimming on the “dog teeth” (sharp rocks) of Monte Barreto “beach” and being a pedestrian.
When an official was punished for corruption, this didn’t mean that others weren’t corrupt, but that the one sanctioned had broken some golden rule and hadn’t taken it sufficiently into account that their prosperity was revocable. Accusations of corruption appeared regularly when an official fell from grace either for trying to practice corruption on their own or because they committed some other inadmissible slip up.
In 2005 Fidel Castro delivered a marathon speech in which he said corruption could bring down what he called “the revolution.” It was a single point in a four-hour tirade in which he also talked about everything from drinking hot chocolate to the imperialistic threat.
Nonetheless, this was sufficient to inflame the intellectual class, always interested in saying something without dying in the attempt. And it’s possible that when Esteban Morales wrote his first article in 2010 he had been motivated by the words of his political leader.
But this involved not only an echo weakened by time, but one that was also confused by the circumstances, because what Fidel Castro protested in 2005 was the proliferation of a type of corruption that he couldn’t control and that could change many of the rules of the game: He feared corruption with a relationship to the market.
Since then, corruption no longer refers to how much an official takes from what politically they’re assigned, but how much they appropriate based on their aggressiveness and unscrupulousness in a world that basically disregards vertical political controls.
Ex-general Acevedo didn’t fall from grace because he appropriated what wasn’t his. That’s something done every day by many high-level Cuban officials, their children and lovers. This is done by many of those cheerful guests of that elegant Havana – including the heirs of the Castro clan (as was described by Lois Farrow Parshley in a recent article).
Acevedo surely fell from favor because he exceeded what was permitted, because he accumulated on his own, because the system doesn’t admit loose electrons or because his foreign accomplices weren’t reliable.
There could have been another reason with which I’m unfamiliar, but he wasn’t sacked simply because he was corrupt. It was not because at some moment he wore crocodile-skin shoes or sported a solid Rolex, though nor had his worn-out humanity been decked out on those nights of the famous.
The corruption that prevails in Cuba today, the one that’s really important, is the one that’s occurring in the process of the primitive accumulation of capital by a political elite in its bourgeois metamorphosis.
Of course there’s also another form of corruption that Morales describes very well. This is the one happens from below, the one that is the result of the holes in a worm-eaten system. Sometimes this is to live better and other times it’s simply in order to live at all, and in this latter instance, more than corruption – it’s resistance.
Because in the end, the system that exists today is inseparable from that corruption that implies the switching of products, wrongful billings, work hours used for other purposes, state cars used for taxis, among other calamities that happen when the state possesses everything also doesn’t know how to manage it.
But to speak only about this is to talk about what’s secondary while omitting what’s fundamental. This is, I repeat, something that is happening to all the partisans of the “orderly transition” (where there’s a lot of order and very little transition) when they want to shape public opinion: They are always talking about love without ever mentioning sex.
(*) A Havana Times translation of the original published by Cubaencuentro.com.