Saturday, December 31, 2005

Cuba looking at broad use of GPS to track pilferers

[December 28, 2005]

Cuba looking at broad use of GPS to track pilferers
(EFE Ingles)
By Jose Luis Paniagua.

Havana, Dec 27 (EFE).- Cuba's Communist regime, which already this year used straight-arrow cadres to revert large-scale theft of gasoline by corrupt gas station attendants, is looking at the possibility of using tens of thousands of GPS units in official vehicles to keep track of how they are being misused.

Fidel Castro's announcement that Cuba is capable of turning out Global Positioning System-equipped devices at the rate of 30,000 per month represents a ratcheting-up of his government's crusade against graft and corruption.

The gas-station initiative, launched in mid-October, uncovered pilfering equivalent to almost $100,000 a day nationwide, while the deployment of young Communist militants to the stations has boosted revenues from fuel sales more than fivefold in several provinces, including Santiago de Cuba, the cradle of Castro's revolution.

"There was a tremendous diversion of fuel resources on the part of the nouveau riche, those who made great profits as a result of the special period (the 1990s economic crisis)," Castro said earlier this month.

During the "special period," as Havana refers to the slump caused by its loss of subsidies after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Cuba allowed some narrow concessions to the market.

But even those tentative, half-hearted moves away from the command economy have now been repudiated by Castro, who chose his alma mater, the University of Havana, as the venue for a Nov. 17 speech in which he stressed the traditional ties between academe and the revolution and vowed no mercy for the corrupt.

"In this battle against vice there will be no truce with anyone, and we will call a spade a spade," the 79-year-old dictator said.

Castro linked the war on corruption with what he described as the other big goal for 2006: maximizing energy conservation as Cuba struggles to upgrade its aging power-generation and -distribution infrastructure.

Last week, he presented to parliament the results of a GPS-aided investigation into the use of state-owned vehicles, including buses and tractors.

The Communist leader presided over a session in which members of the rubber-stamp legislature heard that people entrusted with official vehicles routinely ignore speed limits, traffic lights and the rules at railroad crossings, besides using the state assets for personal excursions.

Investigators documented the amount of personal driving being done and, in one case, tracked one offender's visits to his girlfriend's home, said Enrique Gomez Cabezas, a militant with the Union of Young Communists who oversees the 28,000 people mobilized for Castro's anti-corruption drive.

Charts and graphs in hand, Gomez Cabezas also detailed an instance where a tractor driver not only failed to plow all the furrows he was assigned, but ended his day by driving diagonally over the fields he had just plowed, essentially undoing his own work.

Castro then recounted the discovery by police that fishing boats were being used to smuggle in appliances and other electronics from Mexico.

"Fishermen who instead of carrying fish carried contraband products. That is going to end," he said.

While blaming some common abuses on "innocence or foolishness," Castro was explicit that all transgressors will be pursued as part of a policy of zero tolerance for illegal conduct.

He also said Cuba can produce 30,000 GPS devices a month at a cost per unit much lower than the international market price of $8,000, and promised that the island will make "the thousands we need." EFE


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