HAVANA TIMES, Oct. 28 — Among the worst damage suffered by Cuban society in its conflict with the United States has been perhaps the excessive secrecy established throughout the country as an essential civic virtue for protecting lives and properties on the island from “enemy” assaults.
This might appear to be a simplistic excuse, but what was true was that the bearded guerillas had to defend their gains. On March 10, 1959, barely two months after they took power —and well before declaring themselves socialists— Washington made its decision to eliminate Fidel Castro.
Adding to this “mystery syndrome” was the fact that the Cuban government was in the hands of revolutionaries accustomed to conspiracy, an art in which everything is played behind the scenes and where knowing how to hide one’s cards is the key to winning.
On a recent trip to El Salvador, I had a long and interesting conversation with one of the members of the Under-secretariat of Transparency. This is a new institution created by the government of President Mauricio Funes and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN).
These former-guerilla fighters believe that the people should be entitled to control their leaders, institutions and businesspeople, but not only through formal hearings [as in Cuba]. Instead, they’re providing permanent and ongoing public access to information about their activities.
The official also assured me that transparency is seen as the first battle against corruption, with this being a preventive method of curbing that crime. The maneuvers of the corrupt are much more difficult when their activities are placed under public scrutiny.
How many inept officials could Cuba free itself from if a public control mechanism were implemented over plans and outcomes? How many corrupt individuals would be uncovered if everyone were able to find out about these people’s incomes and expenditures?
Students at the Computer University understood this quite well when in a discussion with the president of Cuba’s Parliament, Ricardo Alarcon, they demanded that political leaders, elected representatives and ministers periodically make themselves accountable to the people.
The ‘protecting national security’ argument
But what happened is just the opposite. Those in power argue that the “empire” is constantly searching for vital information to destabilize the country’s economy and that the “media multinationals” continually take advantage of any problem to internationally discredit the island.
I won’t deny this is true; the US government does have a legion of functionaries pursuing Cuban business activities around the world to economically isolate Havana. Likewise, efforts are made to sabotage the island’s trade and to sanction businesspeople of third countries.
It’s also necessary to recognize that some media are obsessed with the issue of Cuba. They go to the length of fabricating completely false and ridiculous stories, such as the supposed censorship of American cartoons by United States TV producers.
But what is true is that much of the island’s excessive secrecy is not aimed at keeping information out of enemy hands; the hard fact is that all the information that is already in the hands of the “imperialists” and the foreign press could be published on the island.
How then can one explain why the case of corruption —known about internationally— involving Cubana de Aviacion airlines hasn’t been made public in Cuba? This secret doesn’t seem aimed at protecting the nation; instead, it’s being used to salvage the “reputations” of those who were implicated.
Another case: Nine months since it happened, and despite promises of justice pledged through the Granma newspaper, the public was never informed of the results of an investigation into the deaths of over two dozen patients from starvation and cold at the Havana psychiatric hospital.
I have no doubt that those who were responsible have now been judged and sentenced, but what’s troubling is that the government didn’t make itself accountable to its citizens. Moreover, the minister in charge of that operation was merely transferred over to other responsibilities without having to give the slightest public explanation.
The argument of protecting national security collapses before cases in which the only people who go uninformed are ordinary Cubans on the street. Like writer Lisandro Otero once said, “Under capitalism you don’t know what will happen to you, while under socialism you never find out what just did.”
It’s understandable for a country to guard its secrets, especially when confronted with such powerful enemies, but the “protected sector” in Cuba seems excessive. It has reached such an extent that it could be serving to conceal those who are corrupt, inept and irresponsible.
The Salvadoran authorities know that their policies of transparency will expose even themselves to public scrutiny. However they believe that “it’s doubly positive, because eliminating corruption within our own ranks will also give us greater prestige in the eyes of the people.”
An Authorized Havana Times translation of the BBC Mundo original in Spanish.