Cuba: Corruption in Troubled Waters

Fernando Ravsberg*   

Fishing on the malecon. Troubled waters mean good fishing for white-collar bandits. Photo: Raquel Perez

HAVANA TIMES — Cuba has just been ranked among the 5 least corrupt countries in Latin America – behind only Uruguay, Chile, Puerto Rico and Costa Rica – on the basis of the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) developed by the German NGO International Transparency.

Despite this perception, the issue appears to worry Cubans. The country’s press continues to turn a blind eye on the issue but videos dealing with cases of corruption are being passed via USB memories – and almost clandestinely – from one person to the next.

Cuba’s Comptroller’s Office is tirelessly auditing all of the country’s companies in search of evidence revealing illicit activities by corrupt managers or incompetent superiors, those who normally work together to empty the State’s coffers.

Now, citizens also want to contribute to his battle. Two bloggers from very different generations of Cubans are advising authorities not to limit their search to State companies and to start looking at the assets amassed by government officials.

Roberto Peralo, one of the authors of La Joven Cuba (“Young Cuba”), asks whether “it is so difficult to identify corrupt officials?” telling the government that “instead of auditing financial statements issued by companies, they should audit the standard of living of our officials.”

Havana’s Carlos III commercial center became the stage of an enormous corruption case. Photo: Raquel Perez.

He says “the procedure is easy” and suggests a balance of their possessions and expenses be drawn up for comparison with their salaries. He also urges authorities to “determine where their closest relatives are working.”

What’s interesting is that Noel Manzanares, a renowned intellectual who belongs to a different generation and commonly takes stances in support of the revolution, agrees with the suggestion of auditing the standard of living of government officials and their relatives.

If the government sincerely wanted the population to participate in the struggle against corruption, it has already succeeded in getting it to pitch in ideas. Now, it’s only a question of implementing them, as common citizens do not have the power to pass laws that can make the finances of government leaders more transparent.

Can corruption be detected that easily?

What Peralo and Manzanares recommend could well be the most efficient way of detecting corrupt officials, as many of them like to boast of their “success”, throwing big parties, eating at expensive restaurants, buying cars, moving to nicer houses and spending vacations at 5-star resorts.

One such official had rented a car that costs around US $1,500 a month on a permanent basis. That is to say, he was publicly spending 36,000 pesos a month while earning a 600-peso salary – talk about multiplying the bread and the fish!

He was renting it from a State car rental agency and staying at expensive tourist hotels managed by the Cuban State, checking in with his full name. Everyone in his neighborhood knew what he did for a living and what his standard of living was. How could his activities have gone unnoticed for so long?

The answer is simple: people don’t know whether they are the perks of the job or of embezzling from the State. The one way of dispelling these doubts is to have all Cuban high officials make their finances, their standard of living, their possessions – and those of their relatives – a matter of public knowledge.

In addition to doing what Peralo and Manzanares suggest, the State could inform the public about the benefits an official receives, so that society knows they are not ill-gotten. For instance, they could have everyone use their real names when staying at tourist hotels.

Corruption affects all Cubans: while garbage collection officials pocket tens of thousands of dollars, there is no money to clean up Havana’s streets. Photo: Raquel Perez

Though the press doesn’t report on these cases, it is futile to try and conceal certain benefits, because, after checking the person in at the hotel, the receptionist will tell the waitress and she will tell the chambermaid and they will tell all of their respective relatives and neighbors.

Hiding the official perks that come with high positions from the public only serves to create an atmosphere where corruption can breed, because, in the ambiguity created by such secrecy, no one knows for certain when something is licit and when it is ill-gotten.

The government asked the people for its support, but how can any citizen help in the struggle against corruption when faced with a lack of transparency which makes it impossible to tell who is who. Peralo and Manzanares propose a solution that’s a bit bothersome but ultimately very effective.

A Latin American politician who specializes on the issue of corruption would tell me that we can all agree about transparency when it comes to others, but that, when we have to undress, it all begins to feel like a rather uncomfortable act of strip-tease.

There is, however, no other way. Transparency makes corruption visible and is thus a solid foundation on which to build a more virtuous society. While no progress is made in this direction, our troubled waters will continue to mean good fishing for white-collar bandits.
(*) A Havana Times translation of the original first posted in Spanish by  BBC Mundo.

13 thoughts on “Cuba: Corruption in Troubled Waters

  • December 14, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    Obtuse must be your middle name. Sarcasm aside, those who are corrupt, in most cases are those with the money. I doubt if the 99%, in either the US or Cuba, are corrupt, or staying at posh, expensive, hotels. Most of us travel on limited budgets, if we can afford to travel at all. Of course your travel probably comes under the heading of a ‘Business Expense’…

  • December 13, 2013 at 11:01 am

    Godwin’s Law notwithstanding, if you are not being sarcastic (hard to tell) and you are genuinely asserting that US politicians, celebrities and the wealthy are just as bad the corrupted Cuban people then that leaves 99% of the US population in pretty good shape. I’ll take that.

  • December 12, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    They say Hitler loved dogs too. I am not sure how “plastic” he was, nor if he was adept at appearing intelligent and decent, altho his admirers publicly deemed him so. Their private writings and memoirs don’t support that conclusion 100%.

    I am certain he would have remained one of the “otherwise decent professional and blue-collar people [turned] into liars, thieves, pimps, and prostitutes.”, corrupted by the evil powers of Communism, Socialism and International Judaism.

    It’s amazing how your description of the poor benighted corrupt Cuban People so closely mirrors the reputations of US Politicians, Celebrities, and Wealthy…

    You are greatly blessed to be so immune to such influences

  • December 11, 2013 at 10:04 am

    The irony here is that later we chatted with this woman several times in the dining room and around the pool. She was very “plastic” as Cubans say regarding snobbish Cubans but seemed intelligent and otherwise decent. That is what is so unique about the moral destruction caused by the Castros. Their tyranny has turned otherwise decent professional and blue-collar people into liars, thieves, pimps, and prostitutes.

  • December 10, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    That was not an awkward attempt at sarcasm, it was the way I react. Why should anyone just get away with a wink and a nod? Especially someone as critical of the Cuban Government as you?

    And, no. I don’t know what, if any, direct actions occurred because of my report. All I know is that the transportation and travel departments were involved in ‘corruption’ scandals, and heads did roll. Those were the two areas I reported on, a Cubana Air Ticketing Agent, and one of the inter-City Bus Terminal Managers. Both events involved CUC, not Pesos, so if they were SOP, it would amount to a lot of money.

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