Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

CUBA: Corruption, the Real Threat

Patricia Grogg

HAVANA, Apr 15 2010 (IPS) - One of the priorities of the process of change undertaken by Cuban President Raúl Castro is apparently curbing corruption, which threatens to undermine the country from the inside.

“The capacity of any nation to withstand challenges from outside is measured, in first place, by its internal strength,” Cuban academic Esteban Morales wrote in an article in which he said corruption is “much more dangerous than the so-called internal dissidents” in this one-party socialist state.

The dissidents are “isolated; they have no alternative proposals, no real leaders, no mass support. Corruption is the true counter-revolution, and can do the most damage,” he added.

The article, which has been circulating on the internet since Monday, deals with a touchy subject that is almost completely ignored by Cuba’s state-controlled press.

“I am in favour of not allowing these and other questions, which are ‘our’ issues, to be dealt with by others,” Morales, an economist and researcher at the University of Havana’s Centre for the Study of the Hemisphere and the United States, told IPS.

His article coincided with the government’s announcement of 750 inspections and audits to be carried out “at random” nationwide from Apr. 19 to May 22 by the Comptroller General’s Office, created in August 2009 as a key element in the process of changes promised by Castro after he replaced his ailing brother Fidel as head of state.

The president said at the time that the Comptroller General’s Office would play an essential role in controlling and overseeing government spending, and would decisively crack down on “any form of corruption,” while tackling “the causes and conditions that can lead to negligent or criminal behaviour by any government leader or functionary.”

In an interview published Monday by the daily newspaper Trabajadores, Comptroller General Gladys Bejerano said her office is in charge of oversight of public assets, funds and resources, “including state bodies and political and mass organisations,” and that one of its tasks is to follow up on reports by Cuban citizens of corruption or illegal activity.

Bejerano, who said the phenomenon of corruption was “very complex,” admitted that oversight and monitoring systems had been badly weakened, and stressed that workers must press for their right to discuss the use of public resources and that public bodies have the obligation to report incidents.

In his article, Morales referred to rumours about the reasons behind the Mar. 8 removal of the president of the Civil Aeronautics Institute of Cuba (IACC), Gen. Rogelio Acevedo.

Acevedo was one of the guerrillas led by Fidel Castro in the Sierra Maestra mountains in the 1950s, and later participated in the Angolan civil war in the 1970s and 1980s.

In Morales’ view, the unofficial explanation that is going around for why Acevedo was sacked is disturbing. And he added that “there must be some truth in these reports, because this is a very small country where people know each other.”

According to the information from unofficial reports, unnamed civil aviation personnel reportedly sold space on Cubana de Aviación planes to Latin American firms to transport their merchandise, and pocketed the money. The sources of the reports also say many people are under investigation in relation to the case.

“An exhaustive public explanation for the case has not yet been offered, and people are waiting for one,” Morales said.

The writer said similar cases have been discovered in other public bodies. In some public enterprises, “bosses might be taking commissions and opening up bank accounts in other countries – which means other probes should be carried out as well.”

In his view, it is starting to become clear that there are people in the government who are “stashing money away” against the possibility of “the revolution’s collapse.”

Others, Morales added, “might have just about everything ready for the transfer of state assets to private hands, as occurred in the Soviet Union” after it fell apart in 1991.

Without naming names or dates, Morales said “extremely serious” matters led to the Mar. 2, 2009 removal of then Vice President Carlos Lage, Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque and other high-level officials.

He insinuated that the officials were passing information to Spanish intelligence, “questions as sensitive as claims and aspirations to power, favoritism, corruption and indiscreet expressions about the country’s highest-level leadership, which foreign intelligence services were already aware of.

“Political merchandise of extremely high added value, in the hands of enemies of the revolution,” Morales commented.

The United States pays close attention to the internal situation in Cuba, he pointed out.

“Everything that happens inside Cuba is observed and monitored by U.S. political leaders, and especially by the special services of that country,” he said.

A Cuban official who engages in corrupt practices with any foreign company must know that the information in question can fall into the hands of the special services of any country, and that from there to the hands of U.S. agencies “is just a tiny step.”

Any sensitive information about Cuba fetches a high price from the U.S. intelligence services, Morales said. “If by this time we’re not aware of that, we’re done for,” he stated.

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