Cuba: Police Videos, Corruption and Us

Fernando Ravsberg*      

Hundreds of corrupt public officials and company managers have been imprisoned as part of a nationwide anti-corruption campaign. Photo: Raquel Perez

HAVANA TIMES — One of the most surprising comments prompted by my previous post came from a Cuban émigré, who warns his compatriots on the island that Cuba’s anti-corruption campaign may be part of an enemy strategy designed to “have us persecute each other and fight amongst ourselves.”

I believe, however, that, when the majority of Cubans living on the island hear talk of corruption, there is a clear ethical line separating “us” and “them” in their minds, the same line of separation that has always existed between those who live to steal and those who steal in order to survive.

Some people would have us look on the bricklayer who steals a bit of concrete mix for some unofficial job needed to make ends meet as a case of corruption. The fact, however, is that the sum total of the tiny thefts “we” commit every so often is most likely less than the sum “they” steal in a single scam.

In a video that Cubans began to circulate via USB memories (1), we saw how a group of garbage collection officials embezzled US $1.5 million, inflating the allocated State budget by declaring non-existent employees.

Construction workers would have to steal 300,000 sacks of cement to cause the country’s economy the same damage this group of public officials is responsible for – and we’re not even talking about the big shots that have been charged, but of “small-time” con-artists.

Police crackdwon on corrupt managers at Havana’s Carlos III Commercial Center (Video still).

The brains behind Old Havana’s Waste Management Office scam confesses that he spent US $50 thousand in rental cars. He says that he would rent the most expensive vehicles because smaller cars would have deprived him of social status – something he believes we should all understand.

Speaking about the scam, he says that “the trick was the easiest thing in the world,” explaining that financial and accounting controls are minimal. A letter to the bank from the Waste Management director was all he needed to increase biweekly withdrawals from US $700 to US $20,000.

The accused himself admits he was surprised no higher official responsible for regulating his activities looked into such a significant rise in the amounts issued by a municipal waste management office.

This is perhaps what Raul Castro meant when, in his speech (which closes the video), he said that “the negligence, non-fulfillment of duties and ignorance of administrative officials (…) are the cloak with which all acts of misappropriation and the thefts (…) of hundreds of millions of pesos are covered.”

With his ill-gotten earnings, the accused lived like a king: he had a 3-story house built, refurbished an additional 7 homes (belonging to his accomplices), buying all manner of electrical appliances for these. He was particularly thoughtful with his superior, the Waste Management Officer superior, buying him a car and boat. That’s the way the corrupt operate.

His modus operandi was simple: “I come to you and do some favors for you, (…) who have the huge needs everyone has. I start by bringing you a snack. Then I invite you to lunch. Before you know it, you’re completely in my debt.”

The corrupt dig their hands into the pockets of their fellow citizens, taking advantage of the “needs everyone has.” In another video (2), we see how a group of people led by the top managers of Havana’s Carlos III Commercial Center operated.

In many cases, the thefts and scams are organized by the very corrupt officials who act as workplace managers. (Video still)

The operation was so large that the police, Ministry of the Interior and Military Counterintelligence took part in the crackdown. The video shows searches of nearby homes that sold the products stolen by store managers.

The general manager herself confesses before the cameras that, through fake invoices, they would also “overcharge” for the products sold, charging customers 25% more than the established price – a sum that fattened the pockets of corrupt officials and their accomplices.

In Cuba, these incidents also have political costs for the government. A State manager who becomes wealthy by stealing from the public or an official who makes city residents live surrounded by garbage generate more social discontent than all enemy propaganda put together.

No State is free of corruption, but it is just that citizens be informed of what their governments are doing to prevent it. The videos being circulated clandestinely should be aired on television, such that the entire nation knows what the corrupt are doing and how their actions are being combatted.

Conducting anti-corruption campaigns in secret appears to be the worst of strategies. Nothing undermines the government’s credibility as much as secrecy, which can be interpreted by common citizens as passivity in the face of white-collar crime.
(*) An HT translation del articulo original published in Spanish by BBC Mundo.



14 thoughts on “Cuba: Police Videos, Corruption and Us

  • Nous avons vecu une tentative de corruption (extortion de fonds) de la part de la police de trinidad,complice avec un chauffeur de bus qui prétendais que j;avais endommagé le pare choc de son bus. la police est venu et nous a demandé de les suivre au poste en précisant que le chauffeur suivrait. ce dernier nest jmais venu et nous avons attendu 2 h . on ne nous a pas demandé d’argent mais c’était implicite.avons tel a l’ambassade de france qui nous aconfirmé que ces pratiques étaient courantes.nous sommes repartis sans explications.depuis nous ne sommes pas retournés à cuba alors que nous aimons ce pays et les gens, dommage

  • The US has embargoes over more than 30 countries and no one talks about those including the one against South Africa that helped change the regime to the delight of many. It is precisely a trade embargo, and the people of Cuba are not allowed to trade at all or own significant enterprises by Cuban law, only foreigners can. If the intent was directed against the people, no food no medicines and no financial family aid would be allowed but the US is in fact the number 6 trading partner of Cuba in terms of volume, and the Helms Burton law is suppressed every six months by every US president so far. The only entity allowed to trade in Cuba is the government, run by the same dynasty for 59 years. The idea of the embargo is to debilitate the heavy hand of that dictatorship on its people, it hasn’t worked because as Obama said, ” it is not in the best interest of the US to destabilize the Cuban regime”. They don’t want to, that is why it still exists.
    Also the only thing that is shared in Cuba is the poverty that comes with socialism as in every socialist country that has ever existed and failed. Not a single one is an example of a sharing society but misery and mass exodus. And please stop going back to Batista, it looks dumb, he governed for only 7 years and the first casualties of his government were produced by Fidel at the Moncada Garrison attack. Batista belongs in the days of president Truman, I have never seen anyone go so far back just to justify a present dictator.

  • I have explained on several occasions how the U.S makes it extremely difficult for Cubans to emigrate to the U.S legally , leaving the “balsero” method as the only way to do it and in doing so make people like you who are ignorant of the U.S. strategies write the ignorant ( in the true sense of the word) stuff as in your last sentence.
    Read up on the process involved for Cubans who apply at the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba for a visa and then catch up on the “Wet Foot-Dry Foot” Clause of the Cuban Adjustment Act and how these two create the balseros .
    Here I am assuming that you are truly unaware of the factors involved and not being disingenuous.and am giving you the benefit of doubt .
    Lastly for you to compare life in the U.S. to life in Cuba rather than say, as a poor person in a country with comparable circumstances /resources as Cuba is simply intellectually invalid.
    Let me repeat something I’ve said many times before :
    were that policy that allows Cubans and ONLY Cubans to float into Florida to be applied to all countries in the Caribbean and Latin America, you’d be able to WALK across all the vessels afloat in the Caribbean all the way to the Keys.

  • The amount is $5,105,120,000 which I rounded to $5.1 Billion. This is per the research report “remittances drive the Cuban economy” dated June 11, 2013

  • You get more ridiculous by the post.
    Please provide your source for the idea that Cubans think that Raul and the retired-to-a-relatively -modest- home- and-not-a castle- and not- a- chalet- in- the- south- of- France Fidel are stealing from the people of Cuba.
    Your addle-pated thinking has you believing that the Castro brothers are in any way like Batista who flew to Miami with a piano full of cash and the Duvaliers and the many other U.S. supported dictators of the past who now live in luxurious exile.
    Well, all except Anastasio Somoza whose armored limousine was bazookaed while he lived in luxurious exile in (I believe) Argentina and whose remains were buried in a matchbox .
    Speaking of which , your family could save a lot of money on funeral expenses were they to have you given an extensive enema after death which would also enable them to bury you in a matchbox.
    Again , were the embargo not creating the problems across the wide spectrum of the Cuban society that it IS , the U.S would have ended it years ago..
    Lastly, Cuba ranks fifth lowest of all Latin American countries when it comes to corruption and their corruption is nothing compared to the corruption of the once democratic U.S. electoral system by the wealthiest people in the country.

  • I fail to see any connection between Alan Gross and corruption in the Cuban government or why you even brought him up. But on the topic of Alan Gross, I do agree with the basic premise of your comment above.

  • John: you ask “Would you prefer to raise your children in Cuba or any other capitalist Third World country of comparable resources ?”

    I ask: if this is some sort of trick question? If I had to face raising my children in Cuba, I would be building a raft as so many have done.

  • An excellent post, thank you

  • Please do explain why the 50+ year war on the people of Cuba continues if it is not succeeding in creating havoc in the Cuban economy ?
    You also MIGHT want to explain why the value of FREE health care for all, FREE educational opportunities for all, guaranteed housing for all, electricity, clean drinking water for all and all the other things like free sporting events and concerts and a guaranteed healthy nutritional level for all were not included in what ALL the Cuban people get.
    I’ll ask you the same question I have asked others:
    Would you prefer to raise your children in Cuba or any other capitalist Third World country of comparable resources ?

  • Your 5.1 Billion $ is incorrect.

  • A Cuban-American ‘take’ on Alan Gross’ imprisonment in Cuba: “Mr. Gross is not a hostage. He was not a tourist in Havana. He was working for a U.S. government regime change program. But all Cubans and Americans of goodwill should put all the blame for these irresponsible and interventionist actions where it is due: The U.S. policy of embargo against the Cuban people and its disrespect for Cuban sovereignty. The pro-embargo politicians are also the ones who would like to see Mr. Gross’ situation deteriorate in order to dismantle any possibility of improvement of relations between the two countries.”

  • John: It is important to look at two economic metrics:

    1) foreign remittances sent direct to Cuban people totaled $5.1 Billion last year. Almost all of this came from Americans.

    2) the Cuban government paid just under $1 Billion in total salaries and wages to its employees which represent the overwhelming majority of the Cuban workforce.

    If the US government is trying to make life hard for the Cuban people, it is doing about the worst job ever imaginable.

    A logical person would conclude that the cause of corruption within the Cuban government is 2) above, not 1)

  • What I recognize is that no one can force anyone else to lie or steal. The US embargo can not be blamed for corruption in Cuba. Ad nauseum you repeat your ridiculous mantra about the US embargo on Cuba. Has it caused EVERY Cuban to become a thief or a prostitute? Of course not! Morality, or the lack thereof is learned from our parents or from our peer group. Those Cubans who steal from the Castros do so because they believe the Castros are stealing from them. Cubans have a saying that other Cubans understand as justification for cutting a corner or fudging here and there. They say “No es facil”. They don’t say “La culpa es las yumas”.

  • Corruption in a sharing society is , and should be considered more of a crime than in capitalist societies where the ends justify the means in making money .
    When an already poor society is further impoverished by having the most powerful nation to ever have existed , wage a fifty year war on that economy, there are bound to be distortions and corruption to add to the existing problems .
    That U.S War On The People Of Cuba was explicitly put into place 50+ years ago to make life as hard as possible for the people of Cuba and certainly some of the problems arise from the desired ( by the U.S. ) effects of that war.
    Poverty is most pernicious in its effects on a society and everyone but those like the morally blind Moses recognizes this.

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