Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*

What is revolution?

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.

With dignity, honor and courage our five heroes will return.

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.

9 thoughts on “Corruption of a Political Elite

  • I don’t use tactics, I use logic, reason and honesty. These values have not been corrupted as I am not selling an ideology or a product. Capitalism, based on selling, is naturally corrupting.

    By universal, common agreement, power is corrupting, so powerful entities – individuals and countries – are by nature corrupt.

    It follows, as a powerful, capitalist country, the US will naturally be an extremely corrupt society.

    ‘Moses’ uses the standard claim that is used to disguise the endemic nature of corruption in the US – the ‘bad apple’ strategy. Every instance of bad behaviour – torture, fraud, bribery, etc – is explained as due to a ‘few bad apples in the barrel’ that taint the whole barrel.

    It attempts to cover up the basic logic laid out above -that it is the ‘barrel’, i.e., the system that is bad, responsible for contaminating the fruit inside, i.e. individuals, causing it to rot morally.

    In terms of numbers or degrees of corruption, i.e., what country is more corrupt than others, it depends on how you define corruption and on the areas you are looking at. There was one attempt to rate countries on a corruption index, based on perceptions and nothing else. It has been mostly discredited. New Zealand was rated number one, the least corrupt – a common perception. Australia is 8, Canada is 10, the US 24.

    I’ve spent extensive time in all four countries and would agree with the ratio of corruption in relation to the four, directly proportional to their population and to the degree of power they have in the world. But in terms of integrity, virtue, or moral principles – measures of an uncorrupted society, there is little to choose from. All four are heavily capitalist and exhibit all of the corrupted values common to that institution. I can supply many examples.

    Haroldo writes about corruption that “is both grand scale and petty”. The Google definition limits the meaning to “dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery.” It also includes “the action of making someone or something morally depraved or the state of being so.”

    This is getting close to the root word “corrupt, or the verb form, “to corrupt”. Other variations for the meaning of corruption are “moral perversion; impairment of virtue and moral principles”, “lack of integrity or honesty”, “impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle”.

    Do I really need to list examples of corruption in the US to illustrate its basically corrupt nature based on its economic system and its thirst for power? Pick up any US newspaper and read all about it. The mass media will report it because citizens in the US are inured to accepting it. It’s ‘just how business is done’, or “it’s how I get through the day.”

    ‘Moses’ writes, as evidence for systemic corruption in Cuba, Raul’s acknowledgment of it, missing the entire thread and meaning in Haroldo’s essay and in subsequent comments. Raul acknowledged that corruption needs to be dealt with for the health of the Revolution, whilst the US covers it up with its ‘bad apple ploy’. Face it – powerful, capitalist countries are by nature going to be corrupt.

    As far as what ‘Moses’ wife is “worth”, he writes we should ask her US employer, again missing the point – salaries in the US are not based on worth to the society but on worth to one employer. Many times it is at the expense of co-workers, and salaries are further corrupted by many other factors – ‘old boy’ networks, privileged classes, colour of skin, gender, etc. etc.

    A useful question to ask is, no matter what she makes, if she was Angl-Saxon, a man (nothing implied here ‘Moses’), didn’t speak with a Spanish accent, and went to school at Harvard, would she be paid more? I suspect Univision couldn’t afford to hire her if that was true!

    True worth has to do with your value to your society, where doctors and sanitation workers have equal worth in their respective occupations. But that’s not ‘Moses’ value system, nor his wife’s, obviously. But it is for 99% of his fellow citizens.

  • Your tactic of using specific cases of corruption and greed to impune an entire US system is disingenuious. You know full well that the Bernie Madoffs and Enrons are the exceptions rather than the rule in the US. Corruption as discussed in this post is systemic in Cuba and not just isolated cases. If it were, Raul would not have addressed the problem as he did. US bankers played by the rules. The rules were bad and the bankers took advantage. As far as what my wife is worth, ask Univision!!!

  • Our second US propagandist starts with “Blah, blah, blah”, establishing the intellectual level he can handle so I’ll keep it to that level.

    “If Cubans were able to earn more money doing their jobs and if what they earned better reflected the time and effort invested to acquire the skills and knowledge to do that job, there would be less corruption.”

    Whatabout Bernie Madoff? (many, many other examples but we will keep it simple.)

    “The thief will find a way to steal but the otherwise honest man will resist the temptation and live on what he has earned.”

    Whatabout US bankers?

    “The Cuban form of government does not work and as a result, Cubans are reduced to corruption as a means of survival.”

    Whatabout the Enron boys? Does this mean the US government doesn’t work? (again, many, many other examples but we will keep it simple.)

    “Pay people what they are worth” (how do we know your wife is worth more than $20 a month? CEOSs in the US certainly aren’t worth the multi-million dollar salaries they get).

    Bye, bye, ‘Mosey’, see you later!

  • As I wrote to Haroldo, “We will no doubt see comments from the usual capitalist propagandists chortling over corruption in Cuba, ignoring the reality in their country, a reality that many Americans are finding it increasingly difficult to ignore.”

    So your ‘reputation’ precedes you. And what a reputation it is.

    The link is to a book promotion squib for a book authored by Sergio Díaz-Briquets and Jorge Pérez-López, two Cuban-Americans. Díaz-Briquets is a bit too close to the halls of US government power for my comfort – he is a vice president of Casals and Associates, a “consulting firm” (aka lobby group) in the Washington, DC area. Casals is part of Dynacorp, a US-based private military contractor with a very ugly history that is detailed in Wikipedia.

    Nevertheless, he and his co-author seem to be more objective on the subject of Cuba than the quotes ‘Griffin’ supplies that were taken out of context and rearranged to suit ‘Griffin’s propaganda. Let’s look at the text that was in the book promotion squib and see what ‘Griffin’ has done with it.

    He starts with the second paragraph in the text, quoting the first two sentences, then utilising an ellipsis (three periods) denoting deleted text, and jumps to the last sentence in the paragraph. This would be legitimate as long as it didn’t change the meaning of what the author intended.

    The full text actually validates what Raul is doing when he spoke out against corruption. This is what ‘Griffin’ quotes in the second paragraph:

    “Fidel Castro did not bring corruption to Cuba; he merely institutionalized it. Official corruption has crippled Cuba since the colonial period, but Castro’s state-run monopolies, cronyism, and lack of accountability have made Cuba one of the world’s most corrupt states.”

    I would question the claim that Cuba is ” one of the world’s most corrupt states,”asking what is the basis of the claim. The term corruption is used to describe a number of things. Haroldo writes about corruption that “is both grand scale and petty”. Presumably the text refers to the three areas, ” state-run monopolies, cronyism, and lack of accountability”. It’s sloppy writing but after all, it was intended to sell a book – another illustration of the inaccuracies resulting from servicing bottom lines at the expense of accuracy.

    Haroldo also noted that Cuban state corruption “didn’t allow a substantial accumulation of resources,” only manifested as “family trips abroad, paradisiacal vacations at beachside resorts, free cars and gasoline” and “nice houses”, unlike the corruption we see in capitalist countries. The book may address the finer points that the promotion material did not.

    Here is the text ‘Griffin’ replaced with an ellipsis:

    “The former communist countries in Eastern Europe were also extremely corrupt, and analyses of their transitional periods suggest that those who have taken measures to control corruption have had more successful transitions, regardless of whether the leadership tilted toward socialism or democracy. To that end, Díaz-Briquets and Pérez-López, both Cuban Americans, do not advocate any particular system for Cuba’s next government, but instead prescribe uniquely Cuban policies to minimize corruption whatever direction the country takes after Castro.”

    Written in 2006, the ‘Castro’ in question is Fidel. And Raul seems to be paying attention to what the authors are writing. ‘Griffin’ felt it was safe to quote the last sentence in the paragraph:

    “As their work makes clear, averting corruption may be the most critical obstacle in creating a healthy new Cuba.”

    Then,’Griffin’ uses another ellipsis and gives us the last sentence in the FIRST paragraph of the text:

    “In short, unless measures are taken to stem corruption, the new Cuba could be as messy as the old Cuba.”

    He may just be ignorant of writing conventions, but this is not a proper use of ellipsis. You cannot legitimately rearrange a writer’s text whilst making it appear what you are quoting was in the sequence the author intended. Or ‘Griffin’ the propagandist may just hope you won’t notice.

    The text at the beginning of the first paragraph that ‘Griffin’ omitted continues to validate what Raul is doing, addressing corruption:

    “While Fidel Castro maintains his long-time grip on Cuba, revolutionary scholars and policy analysts have turned their attention from how Castro succeeded (and failed), to how Castro himself will be succeeded—by a new government. Among the many questions to be answered is how the new government will deal with the corruption that has become endemic in Cuba. Even though combating corruption cannot be the central aim of post-Castro policy, Sergio Díaz-Briquets and Jorge Pérez-López suggest that, without a strong plan to thwart it, corruption will undermine the new economy, erode support for the new government, and encourage organized crime.”

    So the text, quoted in its entirety strongly illustrates that Cuba’s government is following the wisdom provided by “revolutionary scholars and policy analysts.” The picture that ‘Griffin’ provides us with by his selective omissions and rearrangements of the text gives an entirely different picture.

    This is what dishonest propagandists can do if you don’t read them carefully. I’ve read Granma for a long time and I’ve NEVER come across propaganda of this nature.

    In light of what Haroldo wrote, and what the book’s authors’ wrote about, Griffin’s finishing sentences stand out – thoughtful, intelligent writing vs simplistic assertions worthy of a preschooler.

    He writes, “When the people have little hope for the future and they have no trust in the rule of law, corruption is inevitable” There are many other causes of corruption but ‘Griffin’ singles out one.

    ‘Griffin’ writes, “A transition to democracy must also involve seriously tackling corruption and the root causes.” If he hadn’t deleted the text, he might have noted the book’s authors were not fixated on a ‘transition’ to American so-called democracy. They “do not advocate any particular system for Cuba’s next government, but instead prescribe uniquely Cuban policies to minimize corruption whatever direction the country takes after Castro.”

    “Uniquely Cuban policies” are exactly what ‘Griffin’, a dishonest propagandist for US policies, doesn’t want. For Christ’s sake and the mother of God, isn’t it about time to leave Cuba alone?

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