How Far Will We Allow Corruption Spread in Cuba?

Esteban Morales

Havana street. Photo: Esteban Morales

HAVANA TIMES — When, between April and June, 2010, I wrote my two articles about corruption (“Corruption: The True Counterrevolution” and “The Mystery of the Holy Trinity: Corruption, Bureaucracy and Counterrevolution”), there was no shortage of people who asked me why I was delving into the issue and who said I was playing into the enemy’s hands by publicly addressing something the Party wanted to handle with the utmost discretion.

At the time, our press – let’s call it the “official press” – didn’t touch on the issue at all. Today, almost three years later, it still doesn’t. It only briefly mentions some things it has no choice but to publish. Despite this, people know what’s going on – as my grandmas always said, “There are no secrets under the sun.”

This is especially true in a world of fiber optics and telecommunication satellites, where the alternative press, relying on blogs, email messages and the Internet in general, systematically reports on everything the official press chooses not to publish.

I wonder why our press, in spite of the attention our government pays the issue of corruption, doesn’t publish anything about the phenomenon. Only on one occasion, some time ago, did they report on some cases with the names of the accused and their sentences.

Now, we know that there are hundreds of people facing trial on charges of corruption, and that this situation has even changed the racial make-up of the country’s population facing criminal charges, but we are given no details about how the proceedings are unfolding, much less the names of those accused.

Why do they insist on keeping these proceedings under “a cloak of discretion”? Who benefits from that?

I believe that this is not a matter of discretion (something senseless, at this point, as the situation has already become an open secret), and that the attitude of our press is already raising certain suspicions.

Could it be that, despite Raul Castro’s criticisms, there is someone at some level of power interested in keeping the issue a secret?

It is also highly interesting that we should hear people in Barcelona criticize the fact that corruption is being targeted so fiercely in Cuba. It would be good to know who those people’s friends on the island are.

Recently, the work Cuba has been doing to combat corruption was acknowledged internationally. We should not, however, content ourselves with that. We still have a long way to go before we can confidently say we have corruption under control.

Around Havana’s Capitlio building. Photo: Juan Suarez

The way in which corrupt government officials confess on camera that they stole State resources easily and with impunity, suggests a degree of chaos and complicity that inspires fear. It clearly reveals the existence of an administrative bureaucracy whose officials can be bribed with extraordinary ease.

It also shows us that we are dealing with mechanisms that can operate for a very long time and involve many different people, a veritable network that cannot be dismantled until such time as people who are not part of that network manage to penetrate it and break the chain of corruption.

The fact these corrupt mechanisms can operate for such a long time has no doubt to do with the importance that bribes have for officials. When they are unmasked, the losses are already considerable and practically irrecoverable, and the moral damage has already gnawed away even the foundations of the entity in question.

Generally speaking, nothing can be salvaged at that point, for the situation has somehow involved those who didn’t benefit directly from it, those who were simply waiting for an opportunity to do so or those who were aware of the situation but didn’t have the authority or moral capacity to put an end to it.

This is why, in one of my previous articles dealing with this issue, I pointed out how, now, we are beginning to see that the markets set up outside the premises of State shopping centers, where several individuals approach customers offering them all manner of products (from air conditioning units, through cans of paint to spare parts for cars and other items unavailable in State stores), are merely discrete extensions of the State market operating inside such stores.

Those who control this “fringe” market are quite simply the employees of those who provide them with the products taken from inside the store, products which come out of State warehouses.

As I also pointed out, the products offered at the entrance to State shopping centers cannot be sent in packages from Miami, and those who sell these products outside the store do not have the means to import them.

We are dealing, not with a simple illegal sale or stolen products, but with something more complex. The issue is that State officials who sell these products are placing these in the black market, where they become the owners and can establish prices that favor them, particularly in the case of merchandise that tends to run out quickly.

These mechanisms can only be controlled by the State officials who receive these products, manage their inventories in warehouses and have the administrative means of operating two markets, the State market and their own. They are also able to alter prices within State stores themselves, something that can only be accomplished with the participation of store employees.

Save for fraudulent practices, whereby certain functioning products are declared as broken, these mechanisms cannot be detected financially, as the prices which the products have really been sold at will never appear on official ledgers – only the person buying the product, who is charged more than the official market price, knows of this.

The customer, however, can never actually be sure whether the price they are paying (inside or outside the store) is the real market price of the product, for that price will never be made public. It will be kept a secret by the official, who calculates how much he can make out of it and what he has to declare to the State to go undetected.

Corruption therefore contaminates the State’s entire governing and political structure and has become a national security issue.

As such, it must be combatted by the government and persecuted with the full force of the law.

Busy Havana Street. Photo: Juan Suarez

We are dealing with a phenomenon that ought to be punished in such a way as to prevent its recurrence and the re-establishment of the relations that gave rise to it, as well as its insertion within the bounds of international crime.

If corruption cannot be kept under control in the country, it can well begin to make common cause with drug trafficking, the illegal arms trade, mafia operations, human smuggling and even State terrorism.

Those who make a living off State resources a habit, illegally and continuously accumulating wealth, riches and power with impunity, will stop at nothing to continue living the good life, surrounded by such wealth and power. If corruption goes unchecked, thus, it can spawn crime and even result in political assassinations.

Efforts to put an end to corruption must be based on a system of collective participation. No bureaucratic apparatus suffices to combat it, as all bureaucracies tend to make common cause with corruption, to set up limits and arrive at compromises, while corruption spreads at the highest levels.

Therefore, in addition to State and government mechanisms designed to combat corruption, we need organized workers who support the harsh treatment of corruption and the monitoring of government proceedings, citizens who can act as the counterpart to State and government officials, prevent compromises and demand the transparency of all proceedings.

The very nature of bureaucracy tends to make it corrupt. Bureaucracy tends to appropriate State resources as though it owned them and, in the midst of the confusion (which we have not yet put behind us) between State and social property, the bureaucracy tends to shift the balance towards a top-down system and to make use, administer and even enjoy resources, forgetting, no few times, that such resources belong to the people, that they belong to society and not any State or government in particular.

Workers must therefore not allow any bureaucratic institution to combat corruption alone, without their direct participation and inspection.

6 thoughts on “How Far Will We Allow Corruption Spread in Cuba?

  • Some rave about Cuba’s supposed accomplishments in education, health care, housing, and nourishment. I see the realities from spending a good amount of time in Cuba in small towns, mid-sized cities, and the bowels of major cities.

    Education becomes almost meaningless when there are no realistic opportunities to utilize such. There are too many well educated Cubans among the ranks of the long term unemployed. Parents encourage their children not to pursue a “career” such as being a doctor, dentist, or lawyer as such will destine them to a live of poverty. Instead they encourage them to pursue some form of employment in the tourist industry, self employment, or working for the government in fields like housing allocation, merchandise distribution or similar where there are “opportunities”. I have a friend and neighbor in Havana with a graduate degree but makes her living as a prostitute to be able to provide for her mother and son.

    Health care has a mixed benefit. There are many doctors to advise you but a great shortage of equipment or supplies to deal with common medical problems. I know a woman in Holguin province who is ill but needs more tests to determine the problem. The equipment in Holguin cuidad for her needed tests has been broken for years. There is a big backlog for testing using the machine in Santiago so they suggest she travel to Havana and wait. She also cannot find her needed medicine at the free pharmacy and cannot afford it at the CUC pharmacy. I have been in hospitals and they are dismal. I recently spent an hour photographing in a dental clinic where there were no pain meds and the sanitary conditions were scary. The much maligned US health care system takes better care of poor people than the Cuban one. Cuba does benefit from the economic situation causing a reduction in lifestyle diseases such as heart disease.

    Housing is a major problem both in the cities and out in the provinces. Too many people living in 2 bedroom accommodations with their parents as well as their married children. Too many people living in housing built before the Revolution but not maintained since. Too many houses or apartments that flood in a simple tropical rain. Too many buildings approaching collapse. Too many people forced to live in remote communities where there is little employment or future prospects for such because that is the only place the government can find them housing.

    Safe environment? Simply observe the number of houses that have bars on the windows. Ask a Cuban if they consider law enforcement to be a benefit or a problem to them.

    Nourishment is the number one problem. It is commonly acknowledged that the current 3 biggest problems are breakfast, lunch and dinner. Much of a Cubans time is spent trying to find food. The Cuban diet is poor nutritionally with the majority of caloric needs met by starches. Think “congri belly”. Actual vegetables are more of a rarity than meat. The libreta or ration booklet has diminished in value where it has little significance for the majority of Cubans. The need for an adequate food supply requires the Cuban government to spend a majority of it foreign currency to acquire food abroad then insuring a continuation of its economic problems.

    Spending time in Cuba shows the fallacy of some peoples belief that Cubans have adequate education, medical, housing, and food. Cuba’s economic problems rip at the heart of every one of these.

  • No Jack Abramoffs? Says who? Are you basing your remarks on the fact that you have not read about it in Granma, the Castro-controlled national newspaper? The unofficial media in Cuba has long known about and reported on Paolo Titolo. General President Raul Castro’s son-in-law and Italian-born husband to first daughter Mariela. He is suspected of funneling tens of millions of dollars to personal family accounts as the intermediary between European merchants selling to the Cuban State.

  • You think South Africa is a hellhole? Why do you choose to unfairly compare South Africa’s failures to Cuba’s successes to justify Cuba’s failing political and social system. To be fair, you should compare where South Africa succeeds to Cuba’s successes. In reality, there is very little to compare. South Africa’s colonial and racial scars are far more debilitating than you appear to realize. BTW, at $2.00 per day, South Africans still earn 3 times what Cubans earn. Cuban morality and corruption are learned behaviors. The US embargo is has little to do with the rotted moral codes in Cuba. More likely to blame is the lack of organized religion and the example set by the Castro regime.

  • Just imagine how much more would be available to all in the society reducing the need for this petty theft/corruption were not the U.S to be waging a highly successful war on all the people of Cuba with the stated intent of making life so miserable for all that they would overthrow their own revolution and return to totalitarian capitalism .
    Interesting that Cuba was rated the 5th lowest country in corruption so you can imagine the corruption levels under capitalist countries of the hemisphere with whom the U.S has very friendly trade relations (NAFTA).
    Your post is, in no small part, a lie of omission since not included in your “low salary ” mention is the health, education and welfare benefits that accrue to every Cuban citizen and which, by comparison with hellholes like South Africa where more than half the population live on less than $2.00 a day WITHOUT the educational opportunities, WITHOUT the cradle-to-grave health care, WITHOUT the guarantee of a place to live and WITHOUT the safe environment in which to raise a healthy, well-educated and well nourished family .

  • On the positive side, there are no Jack Abramoffs in Cuba. Unfortunately though, Cubans seem to accept and participate almost universally in the petty corruption that pervades everyday life. I agree that this won’t be controlled by the government until people have a radical change of consciousness and realize that this is a major factor holding back living standards.

  • Professor Morales chooses to ignore the impact of low wages on the Cuban worker. Cubans have heard all their lives how well-educated they are. They are told how much the world admires them for all of their sacrifice. Most Cubans believe that the least they can do is steal a little bit from the State. In fact, they don’t consider it stealing. It is euphemistically called “resuelve” or resolve. Cuban corruption is unique in comparison to corruption elsewhere in how widespread it is. I am always amazed how ingenious some of these activities are and how the person you least expect is likely the biggest crook in the room.

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