HAVANA TIMES — The struggle against corruption in Cuba has proven to be a long-distance race where every lap presents new and more difficult challenges. It’s like opening a Russian nesting doll and finding that the one inside is larger than the first.
The Comptroller’s Office is making a huge effort, but it is pitted against a silent army of corrupt and/or inept officials united by common financial interests. They protect and rescue one another as they are “canned.”
This is why the Comptroller’s Office complains that some of the inept officials who are dismissed reappear six months later as managers in a different company. Their mutual aid network reaches far back in history, having emerged as a means of skirting regulations against nepotism.
Official X cannot give his son or wife a good job where they work, so official Y gives them a good position in his place of work. In exchange, X repays Y by hooking up his relatives and friends with jobs where one can get one’s hand on hard currency, trips and gasoline.
Most of those who have been hooked up become the accomplices and enablers of the person who hooked them up. Thus, X and Y surround themselves with a group of unconditional officials who put up a smokescreen when a State inspection or audit is conducted.
Tearing down such protective walls is not an easy task for the Comptroller’s Office, which has had significant success nonetheless. These, however, could well be tiny victories, because corruption, like weeds, tends to grow back, in the same place and just as vigorously as before.
The mechanisms that once allowed authorities to know the workings of all Cuban companies – unions, Party cliques or the Young Communists League (UJC) – are today in cahoots with the management, covering up inefficiency, deliberately overlooking mistakes and sometimes even concealing corrupt practices.
Only that can explain how thirty or so patients at Havana’s psychiatric hospital died of hunger and exposure without any of these organizations having sounded off the alarm or reported, through the appropriate channels, that the staff was stealing these patients’ food and coats.
Common folk, the average Cuban, the simple factory worker – these people do however know what goes on at these places. They know the absurd things being done in their companies, how much is being stolen and how and, most importantly, by whom.
They, however, do not have the means to report on the true situation at their place of work. I know a young Cuban woman who approached her trade union leader to report on some problems at a factory and was called in by the manager that same day to be given a “dressing down.”
Workers are not the only ones who suffer this. Some State company managers are actually threatened by officials at import companies and forced to do business with foreign suppliers who are paying these officials commissions under the table.
Every time anyone rubs salt on the wound, the “sharks” bare their teeth. As a result of this, some people have learned to keep quiet and look the other way, allowing the bigwigs at their company to do well provided they get a piece of the action.
The workers are not responsible for this situation. They have merely adapted as best they can to the mechanisms established by the government, to the officials appointed by the government and the salaries decreed by the government.
Many common people hate corrupt officials and have contempt for inept managers. They say nothing merely because they have no means to do so: they distrust the existing channels and fear reprisals, lest their bosses find out where the criticisms are coming from.
A man from the countryside once told me that marabou brush can be only be kept at bay with two fingers: those of the farmer that rips out new shoots every day. While the official channels continue not to work, the average Cuban will not join the weeding efforts, and the terrains that are cleaned will surely become contaminated once again.
(*) Visit the website of Fernando Ravsberg.