Cuba: A Strange Conversation about Corruption

Fernando Ravsberg*  

Cubana Airlines was the victim of massive corruption from its top official on down. Photo: wikimedia-commons

HAVANA TIMES, Mar 15 — A week ago a good friend gave me a call asking for help in speaking out against the case of an official who was “wrongly accused by the prosecutor’s office, savagely tortured by State Security forces, and sentenced to 10 years in prison by the court.”

I found the story interesting and a few hours later I was seated in front of an attractive and energetic 40-year-old woman. She hurriedly told me the details of her case, which was mixed up with the group of corrupt executives from the state-run civilian airline company.

I tried to organize the events chronologically so as to better understand her story. In a few words, she had been convicted of having received $10,000 USD from a foreign businessperson soon after having finalized a business deal with him.

After being directly accused by the same person who delivered her the money, the woman admitted to the police that she had received that sum of cash, but she assured them that it was a simple gift, one that didn’t involve any exchange of favors.

She also told me that she signed a confession after being “tortured” at Villa Marista, the headquarters of Cuban State Security. I asked her several times to describe the torture that she underwent, but she was reluctant to provide me the details.

Finally she relented and explained to me that the day that she signed the confession, she had been confined for several hours in a waiting room, sitting on a wooden bench, and that later they threatened to raid her house in front of her children and her neighbors.

I told her that this could be considered poor treatment, but to describe it as “torture” required quite a leap. She insisted that it was, saying, “It was psychological torture; I read it on the Internet.” She then told me, “At 11:00 that night, I finally signed what they asked me to so that I could go home.”

The prisons are open for officials sentenced for corruption. Photo: Raquel Perez

I tried to make her understand that it would be very difficult to accuse the authorities of torture for having made her sit in a waiting room for several hours and that these days it’s even more difficult to defend an accused executive who has confessed themself of corruption.

Bothered by my answer, she told me that she didn’t understand why I wasn’t taking her seriously since “the foreign press is here to attack the government. I know that perfectly well, I was member of the party until I had this problem.”

I can only imagine that opinions about our work as journalists must spill over into the study circles of party cells, but I assured her that many of us foreign reporters are serious professionals and dedicated to covering the news about her country in the most objective manner possible.

By her look I could see that I didn’t convince her, evidently the ideological courses had soaked in deeply. Still, I think such courses would have achieved better results if, instead devoting themselves to criticizing us, the party cells had focused on ways of combating corruption.

But the woman didn’t accept defeat, nor did she give me much time to reflect. With a cunning look on her face, she told me that she planned to join dissident and human rights groups in order to stir up international interest in her case.

I couldn’t advise her concerning that approach, but I think that it’s paradoxical that this official — an executive of the civilian aviation company, a member of the Communist Party and someone who had been convicted of corruption — might wind up appearing on a list of “prisoners of conscious.”

Bitterly, she complained that others who were implicated received lesser sentences because they collaborated with the authorities or remained free because they’re very important people. “They found one of them with more than $2 million USD in his house,” she told me.

With that, I explained to her that we did indeed have a good story, so I took out my audio recorder to ask her for the names of those people she was referring to. She confined herself though to asking me, “And what would I get out of that?” To which I replied that her country would receive the benefits.

“Then I’m not interested,” she said, and we ended the conversation.

(*) An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original) published by BBC Mundo.

4 thoughts on “Cuba: A Strange Conversation about Corruption

  • Fernando, I am amazed… but would really like to know facts…

  • This article supports an intuition of mine that says that at least 90% of what’s said about Cuba is bullshit.

  • Ravsberg’s report of his own behaviour makes it very obvious that his informant was right that people like him are employed by Western corporations to attack the Cuban government.

    Her mistake was in not realising that he needed a better story from her to base his attack on. All he got instead was an opportunity to falsely praise himself as “objective” yet again.

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