Corruption in Cuba

News from Cuba con­cern­ing a crack­down against entrenched cor­rup­tion have cir­cled the world in the last few weeks.

A for­mer food indus­tries min­is­ter, Ale­jan­dro Roca, is serv­ing a 15-year sen­tence. The pres­i­dent of Cubana de Avia­cion was fired and 14 exec­u­tives of that air­line and a tourism agency were sen­tenced to prison terms. Offi­cials from the Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Min­istry and from Etecsa, a phone com­pany, were detained.

More­over, twelve exec­u­tives of Habanos, S.A., the cigar and tobacco state monop­oly, have been jailed since 2010.

The crack­down hasn’t spared for­eign­ers. Accord­ing to news agen­cies, French, Czech, Chilean and Eng­lish cit­i­zens have been recently jailed or tried and sen­tenced. Sarkis Yacoubian and Cy Tok­makjian, two Cana­di­ans that opened car deal­er­ships in Cuba, are detained and under house arrest, respectively.

Regard­less of whether these indi­vid­u­als are guilty of cor­rup­tion or not, the first valid ques­tion might be: how entrenched cor­rup­tion in Cuba is? The sec­ond might be: who started it?

A cou­ple of years after seiz­ing power, Fidel Cas­tro started preach­ing about an ascetic way of life from which he grad­u­ally and per­sis­tently dis­tanced himself.

Priv­i­lege is a rel­a­tive con­cept. If one com­pares Castro’s homes with the White House, Buck­ing­ham Palace or the Élysée Palace, it would be fair to con­clude that he lives in unpre­ten­tious lodg­ings. But if the com­par­i­son is drawn between his res­i­dences and the aver­age Cuban dwelling, Cas­tro lives at the Taj Mahal.

In 1980 he moved from a mod­est (but well-appointed) apart­ment build­ing in Vedado to a zone code-named Point Zero, sev­eral pre-1959 fully ren­o­vated res­i­dences in the plush­est part of Havana. Defec­tors have revealed that the Max­i­mum Leader, his wife and chil­dren live in the lap of lux­ury at a two-story house with lav­ish fur­nish­ings, wine cel­lar, the best-stocked pantry on the island, and house­maids, wait­ers and cooks in uniform.

Besides Point Zero, in case he needed to stay overnight at one of four­teen Cuban provinces, Cas­tro kept a dwelling staffed year-round by a team of ser­vants and cooks at each province. There is a fully-equipped hos­pi­tal for the exclu­sive use of Fidel and Raúl Cas­tro and their rel­a­tives in Havana’s Kohly neighborhood.

Cayo Piedra del Sur was Castro’s pri­vate key. A pricey yacht and three fast boats named Pio­nera I, Pio­nera II and Pio­nera III with a price tag of US $250,000 each, used to be moored at the marina. There were a bun­ga­low for him and a house for vis­i­tors both of which were fully air-conditioned. His chil­dren played with dol­phins at a dol­phi­nar­ium. An Olympic pool was exca­vated. Gen­er­a­tors pro­vided electricity.

As con­se­quence of Castro’s ill-advised cross­breed­ing and a dearth of graz­ing land, for over forty years no healthy per­son older than 7 has had the pos­si­bil­ity of going to a store to buy a bot­tle of fresh milk. But accord­ing to Lt. Col. Juan Rey­naldo Sánchez, who spent sev­en­teen years in Castro’s secu­rity detail, there are sev­eral cows on a graz­ing lot near his house at Point Zero. Milk is graded accord­ing to fat con­tent and the ani­mals are num­bered to sin­gle out what par­tic­u­lar fam­ily mem­ber drinks each cow’s milk.

Also, a for­mer offi­cer of the Min­istry of the Inte­rior cur­rently liv­ing in exile has revealed that he flew to Spain on sev­eral occa­sions to pur­chase the Pata Negra hams (up to 900 euros a 16– to 18-pound leg) and wines that the Cas­tros love.

Fidel’s con­stant crit­i­cism of con­sumerism, the impen­e­tra­ble secu­rity cocoon that has sur­rounded him since 1959, dress­ing in army fatigues and boots, and the intense vet­ting and con­fi­den­tial­ity demanded of staff, man­aged to keep the men and women in the streets igno­rant of their leader’s lifestyle.

But those he dealt with reg­u­larly –his inner cir­cle, the party’s top brass, gen­er­als, min­is­ters, and mem­bers of his secu­rity detail– wit­nessed the glar­ing con­tra­dic­tion between the man’s pub­lic facade and his pri­vate life. The response to the sec­ond ques­tions is: After 1959, the man that started cor­rup­tion in Cuba is Fidel Castro.

That must have been the rea­son that spread cor­rup­tion among the higher-ups. A pos­si­ble ratio­nal­iza­tion might have been: “If he lives like a king, why can’t I live like a count or a baron?”

This con­jec­ture is sup­ported on the fact that, start­ing in the mid-1970s, the elite opened spe­cial food, cloth­ing and elec­tronic stores to pur­chase what the pop­u­la­tion couldn’t even dream to own. Reg­u­lar folks noticed and dis­hon­esty, bribery and fraud started trick­ling down. The response to the first ques­tion is: Yes, cor­rup­tion is entrenched in Cuba.

Another, no less tran­scen­den­tal rea­son was that by the late 1960s many sen­si­ble peo­ple real­ized that Com­mu­nism didn’t work. The USSR arti­fi­cially kept it run­ning in Cuba, but when it closed the spigot in 1990 and later, once it was dis­solved, many knew that par­a­sites die after the host organ­ism is extinct. The rev­o­lu­tion was des­tined to history’s trash can.: It was only a mat­ter of time and every­one was for themselves.

Unsur­pris­ingly, for over 40 years Raúl Cas­tro didn’t per­ceive cor­rup­tion at the top of the pyra­mid. He and his brother lived the life they had the right to live.

In the early 1990s, how­ever, the sit­u­a­tion was so dire that for­eign firms were autho­rized to estab­lish rep­re­sen­ta­tions in Havana. For over 20 years Cuban exec­u­tives have been sign­ing con­tracts worth mil­lions and get­ting paid a monthly salary between 20 and 30 US dol­lars. Only those blinded by power, ide­ol­ogy or stu­pid­ity didn’t see it coming.

At present, despite liv­ing a life of priv­i­lege for 50 years, the younger brother of the man who kick-started cor­rup­tion sends to jail cor­rupt under­lings and some for­eign busi­ness­peo­ple because he and his brother, who are incor­rupt­ible, must pre­serve the purity of the revolution.


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