Monday, August 15, 2011

Juan Tamayo on the Quickening Pace of Publicly Confronting Corruption in Cuba

(Juan O. Tamayo, Corruption again alleged in Cuba: Reports: Two Cuban officials fired for corruption, others under investigation, Miami Herald, Aug. 9, 2011 (El edificio de la compania telefonica ETECSA en Miramar))

One of the marks of the seriousness of a commitment to change is the willingness of the state apparatus to acknowledge and confront corruption within its institutions and socio-political culture.  That has been a hard pill to swallow in Cuba.  Misguided by the idea of perfection of theory must equal perfection of implementation, ther Cuban state apparatus and its Parry leadership had for years sought to treat corruption as an internal matter fore remedying.  More disastrously, it also tended to treat discussion of corruption not as an effort of loyal cadres to improve the implementation of the theory of state organization, but rather as acts of betrayal or of hostility to the state.  That attitude emphasized the imbalance between theory--the march of ideas--and praxis, the hard work of making theory work within the realities of Cuban political and economic life.  The shocks of the last decade has brought these realities home.  Recently, the Party has exercised a more practice oriented approach to the problem of corruption in both of its aspects--as an indication of systemic imperfection, and as a matter of venality among cadres in need of discipline.  The recent rehabilitation of the historico Ernesto Morales made this point quite public.See, Larry Catá Backer, Corruption in Cuba--The Cuban Communist Party Signals Public Recognition and Party Obligation, Law at the End of the Day, July 16, 2011.

Juan O. Tamayo, the well respected journalist has recently written two articles well worth reading on this point.  In the first,  Juan O. Tamayo, Corruption investigation reported in Cuba, Miami Herald, Aug. 8, 2011 (in Spanish HERE), Mr. Tamayo explored the changes in approiaches to corruption:
Cuban prosecutors are investigating several top officials of ETECSA, the state telecommunications monopoly, on allegations of corruption, according to knowledgeable sources in Havana and Miami.
 * * * *
  Cuba’s state-controlled news media has not reported at all on the case. It traditionally reports on corruption cases only when they involve foreigners or already have become widely known on the island and abroad.
   If the ETECSA reports are true, it would be the latest in the long string of major corruption scandals that have shaken Cuba since the Raúl Castro government began moving the island toward a so-called “socialist market economy.”
  Petty corruption was historically tolerated in Cuba’s communist-run system when the values involved were relatively small, such as items pilfered from factory warehouses or bribes paid to police and health and tax inspectors to look the other way.
   “But now there’s more money involved, so it’s more spectacular,” said Larry Catá Baker, a professor of international affairs at Pennsylvania State University’s school of law who monitors Cuba issues.
   While the exact nature of the corruption alleged in the ETECSA case remained unknown, the Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A., considered one of the largest enterprises on the island, marked two milestones this year.
   On Feb. 8, the Alba-1 fiber-optic cable from Venezuela reached Cuba after a four-year wait. The $70 million cable was financed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez as part of Cuba’s integration with his regional movement, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America.
Via satellite
   Cuba’s external telecommunications, now funneled through slow and expensive satellite connections, will soon move through the cable, which can carry 10 million telephone calls at the same time and increase the speed of the transmission of digital data by a factor of 3,000.
    And in January, Telecom Italia sold its 27 percent ownership of ETECSA to Rafin, a Cuban firm variously described in news reports as owned by the island’s armed forces or as personally controlled by Cuban rulers Fidel and Raúl Castro.
   Rafín was created in 1997 with the stated purpose of negotiating, buying and selling financial instruments, and paid $706 million to the Italian telecommunication company, according to the news reports. It is unclear how Rafín paid for the deal.
   Raúl Castro has tried to crack down on the burgeoning corruption since he succeeded his brother in 2006, putting his son, Alejandro, in charge of the anti-corruption campaign and creating the powerful comptroller general’s office to audit state enterprises.
   But the scandals have kept coming.
  Last month, 15 officials of Cubana de Aviación and the brother of Chilean Max Marambio, once a Marxist guerrilla close to Fidel Castro, were sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. Marcel Marambio was tried in absentia.
   The details of the case were not made officially public, but there were reports last year that Cubana de Aviacion airplanes reported as undergoing maintenance outside the country were in fact making off-the-books passenger and cargo trips.
Cigar allegations
   In April, Manuel García, vice president of Habanos S.A. and 10 of his staffers were reported to be under arrest for allegedly selling cigars at discounted prices to foreign distributors who competed with Habanos’ own chain of approved distributors.
  * * * *
Esteban Morales, a well-known Havana economist, was dismissed from his Communist Party cell last year after he published a column warning that corruption was more dangerous to Cuba’s stability “than the counter-revolution.”
   He appealed the dismissal and was reinstated last month. 
(From Justicia cubana condena por corrupción a 10 empleados de Cubana de Aviación, Hanley Times News, July 31, 2011 ("Un tribunal cubano condenó por corrupción a penas de tres a 13 años de cárcel a 10 altos funcionarios y empleados de la aerolínea Cubana de Aviación, de una empresa naviera y una comercializadora de medicamentos, informó la televisión cubana.")).

In the second, Juan O. Tamayo, Corruption again alleged in Cuba: Reports: Two Cuban officials fired for corruption, others under investigation, Miami Herald, Aug. 9, 2011 (In Spanish HERE).

A corruption scandal in Cuba has led to the dismissals of two deputy ministers of communications and the head of the state’s ETECSA telecommunications monopoly, according to reports Monday.
Another senior official of the Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A. (ETECSA) is “under a criminal process” and yet another has defected in Panama, according to the reports.
* * * *
Cuba’s official news media has reported nothing at on the scandal, but Havana residents said that word of the investigation and arrests has been circulating in the Cuban capital for a few weeks.
Diario de Cuba reported it had received information that Ramón Luis Linares, first vice minister of communications and information technology, and Alberto Rodríguez Arufe, another vice minister, had been fired.
Rodriguez Arufe previously served as Cuba’s ambassador to China and as No. 2 of the International Relations Department of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party.
The firings were linked to a fiber optic cable laid underwater from Venezuela to Cuba and completed in January, the blog noted. Its $70 million cost, which includes a leg to Jamaica, was financed by Venezuela.
A “criminal process” also has been opened against ETECSA’s deputy director for economic affairs “and all her team,” Diario de Cuba added, and a vice president of the company defected in Panama.
* * * *
Prosecutors have detained the vice president and several other officials in that section, he alleged, as well as several persons in the transportation section because of a fraud with spare parts.
A vice president in charge of the transportation section who was in Panama on business defected rather than return home, Mendez added.
This is the second house-cleaning at ETECSA in recent years.
In 2006, then-Communications Minister Ramiro Valdes fired one of his vice ministers and ETECSA’s chief in what one news report described as “a drive to increase state control over the economy, improve efficiency and fight corruption.”
Valdes at the same time fired the head of Copextel, a state enterprise involved in advanced communications, computing and other high-tech, after some of its officials were caught taking kickbacks from foreign companies.
Valdes, who also served two long terms at the head of the powerful Ministry of Interior and is sometimes described as a possible successor or rival to Raúl Castro, was replaced in January by Brig. Gen. Medardo Diaz Toledo.
An announcement at the time said Valdes, who is also vice president of the ruling council of ministers, would focus on his responsibilities for oversight of the telecommunications, construction and basic industry sectors. 

Both of these stories indicate a small but significant change in the policy of both State and Party to the issue of corruption, made more important by the need to implement the structural changes adopted in the Lineamientos this past April.  Part of the change involves a definite, if reluctant, willingness to recognize corruption--at least in its venal aspects.  Juan O. Tamayo, Régimen cubano reconoce aumento de corrupción, El Nuevo Herald, June 22, 2011.  It also suggests an interesting turn in Raúl Castro's efforts both to strengthen his control over the Party and State apparatus, and his determination to counter internal opposition to the structural reforms he has shepherded through in the last year.  But sadly, this effort also evidences the reluctance of the Party and State to too transparently confront the issue of corruption.  This resistance also has been well documented by Mr. Tamayo.  See, Juan O. Tamayo, Resistencia a las reformas de Raúl Castro, El Nuevo Herald, Aug. 3, 2011.
El gobernante cubano Raúl Castro ha criticando duramente a los burócratas por bloquear algunas de sus ambiciosas reformas, una confesión que un disidente economista dijo que ilumina claramente las deficiencias de su campaña por el cambio.
El mayor obstáculo a sus reformas es “la barrera sicológica formada por la inercia, el inmovilismo, la simulación […] la indiferencia o insensibilidad” de la burocracia cubana, dijo Castro el lunes en un discurso ante el parlamento cubano.
* * * *
Una prueba clave de la resistencia de la burocracia, señaló, fue un reciente informe oficial de que las granjas estatales no han reportado todas sus tierras sin cultivar, las cuales Castro quiere alquilar a campesinos particulares para aumentar la producción doméstica de alimentos y disminuir las costosas importaciones.
 * * * *
La comparecencia de Castro el lunes ante la Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular, la cual se mantuvo cerrada al público y los medios de prensa extranjeros, estuvo marcada por algunos cambios en los procedimientos de costumbre.

 (Raúl Castro, habla com José Ramón Machado Ventura, el lunes 1ero de agosto del 2011 en La Habana, Cuba. Emilio Herrera / AP)

[ENGLISH: Cuban President Raul Castro has criticized the bureaucrats for blocking some of his ambitious reforms, a confession that a dissident economist said that clearly illuminates the deficiencies of his campaign for change.

The biggest obstacle to his reform is "the psychological barrier formed by inertia, inaction, simulation [...] indifference and insensitivity" of the Cuban bureaucracy, Castro said Monday in a speech to the Cuban parliament.

* * * *

A key test of the resistance of the bureaucracy, he said, was a recent official report that the state farms have not reported all of their land fallow, which Castro wants to rent to private farmers to increase domestic food production and reduce costly imports.

* * * *

Castro's appearance Monday before the National Assembly of Popular Power, which was closed to the public and foreign media, was marked by some changes in custom procedures.

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