Cuba Needs Openness to Fight Corruption

Fernando Ravsberg*

Because of the lack of information about corruption, rumors circulate across the island. Photo: Raquel Perez

HAVANA TIMES — Cuba is a country of rumors. “Radio Bemba” (or “word of mouth,” literally “Radio Lips”) transmits from one Cuban to another all across the island. It’s the means by which citizens are informed — and sometimes misinformed — about the most sensitive happenings in national life.

In recent years, conflicting reports have circulated putting into question a number of important personalities connected to a host of schemes, ones involving everything from serious political corruption to their being recruited by the CIA.

“You can’t believe in anyone,” said one veteran teacher; she was appalled by the embezzlement of resources that supposedly occurred in several companies associated with the office of the Havana Historian Eusebio Leal, one of the most respected Cuban intellectuals both inside and outside the country.

Like the old saying goes, “There’s a reason why the river roars,” but this Cuban river has speakers that amplify everything that happens. The exile media immediately insinuated that Leal was complicit in the acts of corruption committed by his subordinates.

Even government officials have asked me what I’ve learned about the matter, but I don’t know if it’s because they’re really interested in getting the information or whether they want to “test out” public opinion – although it was likely a combination of the two.

Another rumor traveling around the country is about the president of the Cuban Parliament, Ricardo Alarcon. Though one of the “historicos,” his name no longer appears on the list of deputies nominated for the upcoming elections, and up until now no explanation has been given.

His political disappearance coincides with the arrest of his right hand assistant, Miguel Alvarez. There’s no official information about this occurrence either, but in the street people are weaving together tales espionage in which “Miguelito” was recruited by the CIA and was sending information through his wife.

“Radio Bemba” transmits information — and misinformation — about everything that happens in Cuba. Photo: Raquel Perez

Much earlier, Cuban General Rogelio Acevedo, who fought in the Sierra Maestra Mountains, was removed from his post as head of Civil Aviation, though it was unclear as to why. Shortly after, a serious case of corruption was discovered at the official Cuban airlines.

The war against corruption in high places is producing its fruits. Dozens of leading cadre have ended up in jail or removed and replaced, and those who have assumed their positions are being that much more careful to avoid the same fate.

Ministers, deputy ministers, directors of large companies, managers and administrators are feeling firsthand that things have changed. The canons are finally pointing at the major con artists, whether these are “hijos de papa” (children of the elite, literally “daddy’s boys”) or the parents themselves.

Nevertheless the lack of transparency with which the government processes these cases increases the flow of rumors that circulate around the country and that are amplified in Miami. This creates the impression that everyone is corrupt and that “you can’t believe anyone. “

A worker who makes a stupid mistake on their job can be publicly reprimanded in front of all their peers, so why doesn’t this same approach apply to those who do much more damage to the national economy?.

Corruption isn’t unique to Cuba or socialism; it’s something that’s global. It takes place in all countries and under any ideology. No one is immune; it appears among businesspeople, politicians, lawyers, judges, bankers, builders, soldiers, and journalists, and even among those who are already rich.

I don’t think we’re witnessing increased “white collar” corruption in Cuba. What we’re hearing now are the echoes of the fight against it. A nation shouldn’t be ashamed but should feel pride when it puts its house in order and washes away the dirt.

Therefore greater transparency in these processes would accomplish several things: it would send a clear message to those who manage state resources, eliminate malicious rumors, protect the integrity of innocent people and give the public a sense of the true dimension of the problem.
(*) An authorized HT translation of the original published in Spanish by BBC Mundo.

2 thoughts on “Cuba Needs Openness to Fight Corruption

  • Have you noticed how every time an enterprise is raided on suspicion of “corruption”, that enterprise is soon handed over to the control of the Cuban army holding company, GAESA? It’s now the largest corporation on the island. The director of GAESA is Raul Castro’s son-in-law.

    Suddenly I’m reminded of the classic rock song by The Who,

    Won’t Get Fooled Again

    There’s nothing in the streets
    Looks any different to me
    And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
    And the parting on the left
    Are now parting on the right
    And the beards have all grown longer overnight

    I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
    Take a bow for the new revolution
    Smile and grin at the change all around
    Pick up my guitar and play
    Just like yesterday
    Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
    We don’t get fooled again
    Don’t get fooled again
    No, no!
    Meet the new boss
    Same as the old boss

  • Unfortunately, as the Castros dictatorial grip on the Cuban people weakens through self-employment and immigration reforms, their capacity to limit high-level corruption also weakens. The closer the corruption is to the throne, the more likely it will continue. This is simply due to the fact that loyalty is a two-way street. The Cuban elite engaged in these acts of corruption realize better than most that their days are coming to an end so they must “make hay while the sun is shining”. As a result, even as the occasional “official” reports of prosecuting mid-level funcitionaries surface, the incidence of highest-level theft, embezzlement and corruption will likely increase unabated. History bears witness to this phenomenon. In the waning days of Hitler, Franco, Ceasescu, Pinochet, Hussein among others, the dictator’s inner circle went on a virtual shopping spree robbing the country of everything they could carry. In Cuba’s last days under the Castros, history is likely to repeat itself.

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