Cuba and Weeding Out Corruption

Spaces for citizen participation have become a formal enterprise and many have no confidence in them.


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.

No one knows as much about a company’s inefficiency and corruption as those who work there.

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.”

If the State does not manage to involve citizens in the battle against corruption, it will continue to reproduce in all of the country’s companies.

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.

5 thoughts on “Cuba and Weeding Out Corruption

  • Corruption exists virtually everywhere. Imagine that there are countries where candidates spend millions of their own money for a job that pays a small percentage of the “investment”. Why would that be? A great love for public service? In the case of Cuba the problem is endemic because of a lack of controls at virtually all levels. The greater the accountability the better chance for fighting corruption. In Cuba public accountability is next to zero. The country has run for decades on political and personal loyalties; something that is very conducive to corruption. That will have to change to make a dent in the problem.

  • Corruption in Cuba is endemic as it is part and parcel of the system. officials consider the kickbacks as perks of the job. Doctors consider bribes as “making up” for low basic pay. Employees feel stealing from the company is the only way to survive.

  • Unfortunately so true…..

  • Just returned from my second trip to Cuba and saw and heard of many similar issues. We went into the store and they had no to go bags , but as we went outside with a handful of items the lady wanted to sell us bags. When I pointed the many instances out to my Cuban wife, she reminded me that a good job there, is one where you can steal. The weeding of the Cuban garden that has grown untouched for over 50 years cannot change with the same gardeners in charge.

  • I spent a lot of time at a bar named Las Vegas Cabaret in Havana (before it became a gay bar, not that it matters). Even as a foreigner sitting at a table in front outside, I saw countless examples of corruption in that workplace. Just a few include that every mojito sold there is made from a bottle of rum that the bartender has purchased himself from the bar. The bartender sells the mojito to the tourist for 3 or 4 cuc and pockets all it for himself. Well, not exactly. At least 1 cuc goes to the boss and the accountant to help fudge the books. I also saw the boss sells cases of frozen chicken to a paladar owner on a regular basis. The bar kept half and the boss kept the other half. Of course, the accountant reflected these sales as chicken plates sold to customers. The irony of all this was that at the end of every shift or ‘turno’, the bar staff would effectively close the bar for a half hour so that they could reconcile accounts down to the peso. They made sure that anything sold ‘out of the back door’ was accounted for as a sale to a real customer or written off as breakage. As far as I could tell, no one was getting rich “inventando”. On the contrary, most of these hustles never amounted to more than 10 or 15 cuc per person per shift. But if you consider that most people who work in gastronomia only earn 15 cuc per month as their official salary, being able to steal a month’s salary on every shift, became a big deal. By the way, the boss and the bartenders who engaged in these shenanigans no longer work at Las Vegas. So the MININT guys who read HT can relax.

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