HAVANA TIMES — Eight million eggs are stolen, tens of thousands of cows disappear, over a million dollars destined to garbage collection are embezzled, food for psychiatric patients is re-sold, a seafood container goes missing and a minister makes a buck off people’s food.
A former Sierra Maestra rebel is dismissed from heading the commercial airline industry and his wife detained for corruption. Virtually every day, a new manager of an import company is imprisoned for receiving under-the-table commissions and some of the businesspeople who hand these out also end up behind bars.
Despite the magnitude of these incidents, we are slowly getting used to this kind of news, the few reported by the press and those that reach us through the grapevine, the voice of the people. We are also getting used to seeing some of those accused go free, without any explanation.
During an interview, the son of a high-ranking military officer told me he was brought back to Cuba from Mexico on charges of trafficking cigars, works of art and people. He ended up, not in prison, but in a psychiatric ward, where they “cured” him of his vices and was sent home, all better.
Professor Esteban Morales was expelled from the Communist Party for demanding that a general’s participation in a case of corruption be cleared up. Ultimately, Morales was allowed back into the rank and file and the general was later dismissed, without an explanation as to why.
Raul Castro created the Comptroller’s Office and made it respond directly to the presidency, without intermediaries. A short time later, he announced no one was above the law and the “untouchables” – political figures, a bigwig’s son, a higher-up’s brother-in-law, the wife of some general or other – began to land in prison.
The fact of the matter, however, is that acts of corruption aren’t even deterred this way. They send a group of people to prison and, 3 months down the line, their replacements are at it again. The stream of delinquents appears unstoppable, and knowing that this takes place elsewhere in the world is no consolation.
The country is being bled out by public officials who buy from the suppliers who pay them the highest [under the table] “commissions,” by those who are capable of burying entire neighborhoods under heaps of garbage to pocket the company’s money or those who speculate with the protein of the poor – the egg.
While all this takes place, people continue to be told their salaries will not go up until the country’s productivity improves. How could such productivity improve in a food supply company if a shrimp container disappears and the manager has a secret bank account abroad?
Something is clearly not working in the battle against corruption. It is very hard to uncover any evidence by monitoring higher-ups solely at their place of work, owing to the complicity secured by the corrupt, who tend to grease palms all around.
It is in their neighborhoods, their homes, their furniture, their household appliances, their cars, the places where they eat, the hotels they stay at and even the clothing they wear that one can sense whether they are stealing from the government or not.
It is surprising that, in a county with the surveillance system that Cuba has, the garbage scam should have gone unnoticed, particularly when the delinquent in question built a mansion for himself, stayed at the best hotels in Varadero and had rented a high-class car from a State company on a permanent basis.
It is advisable to look for solutions to the problem of corruption quickly for, as of December 17 last year, it’s become evident that business dealings with the whole world will become more common and, as such, opportunities to steal from the nation’s resources will also multiply.
The weakness of Cuba’s corrupt officials lies in their need to show off, which is why the young authors of La Joven Cuba blog (1) suggest that all State officials and company managers make a statement of their assets before starting at their jobs, so that they can be audited later.
No one ever replied to them, despite the fact that anyone who knows the issue knows that transparency is the first step to be taken in the struggle against corruption, as it eliminates its possible hiding places. Transparency is the best form of prevention.
The men and women who lead honest lives at the service of their nation have nothing to fear, but those who are after more money should do something else. As Uruguay’s Pepe Mujica recommends: “Those who like money a lot should be removed from politics.”
(*) Visit the website of Fernando Ravsberg.