Monday, November 26, 2007

Corruption rooted in society

Corruption rooted in society
Posted on Mon, Nov. 26, 2007

HAVANA -- Two years ago, on Nov. 17, Fidel Castro delivered a speech at
the University of Havana in which he gave detailed information about the
rapid rise of corruption in Cuban society.

Until that moment, the problem had not been dealt with openly. One of
his statements was that the corruption to date had reached such high
levels in Cuba that it could become a destructive factor in the revolution.

He thus acknowledged the gravity of the situation. He assured us that
the complicated scenario of growing illegality and other negative facts
would be corrected by the people and the revolution.

Two years after the sounding of that alarm, the scenario has not
changed. It could even be said that corruption has increased, something
that was implicitly recognized by the Fourth International Conference on
Society and its Challenges in the Face of Corruption, held in Havana
Nov. 7-9. Deputy Attorney General Carlos Raúl Concepción Rangel admitted
that ``in the past 10 years we have observed a certain spread of this

In reality, this assertion by such a high-ranking official confirms what
all Cubans experience daily, because the process of corruption does not
lessen but grows unceasingly. In 2006, losses and shortfalls in domestic
trade amounted to 270 million pesos, according to the sector's minister,
Marino Muriño Jorge. Losses amounting to 416.9 million pesos have been
carried over from previous years, for the same reason.

Also, according to official information, the Ministry of Domestic Trade
(MINCIN) detected deficiencies in 90 percent of the 33,843 inspections
it made in the nationwide network of commerce and services in 2006. In
various inspections conducted so far in 2007, 125,000 deficiencies have
been found.

The figures indicate only the detected portion of the existing
corruption, since they reflect only the fraud found in the
domestic-trade agencies. They do not include the huge volume of crime
committed daily against the population. If all that were added up, the
figures would be several times greater than the published violations.

In no way are the problems of illegalities and corruption in general
restricted to commerce and gastronomy. In several articles published for
the past several months in the newspaper Juventud Rebelde, we were told
that the problem is present in all sectors of national life. The
illegalities range from the misdirection of resources, to swindles,
altered prices, the counterfeiting of goods, profiteering, speculation
and a great many other illicit activities. They include sectors that for
years have been hailed as exemplary, such as education and public health.

Although the fact that in recent months these evils have been exposed in
the official media is positive, the mechanisms employed to counteract
them cannot provide the necessary response. The insistence on using
legal provisions, such as laws and decrees, merely increase the
repression, sidestepping the fact that corruption in Cuba is rooted in
an increasingly sick society, where honest work ceases to be the basic
means to achieve a decent standard of living.

Also, the often-repeated calls and slogans to combat corruption and
illegality have lost their validity, as they are voiced in a social
environment that's propitious for anything except virtue.

The real problem lies in a system that generates widespread inefficiency
and has led to starvation wages and misery. This forces workers to turn
to crime to survive.

It is a system that, by being bankrupt, has inspired methods of
distribution such as the outdated ration book, an illogical variety of
markets and prices for the same product, a dual currency, dysfunctional
methods of control that make accounting unreliable in 60 percent of the
companies and other ills.

It is absolutely wrong to say that corruption is limited to the
administrative and economic sectors; it also affects the nation's
politics and spirituality. Aren't double standards, methodical deceit
and lies, and the selection of leaders by their political fidelity,
regardless of ability, evident proof of corruption?

The problem lies in a system that has rapidly destroyed the economy and
has perversely affected the souls of Cubans, creating a dual moral that
has blurred the line between good and evil.

If Cuba wants to exorcise the ills of corruption and other demons, it
must urgently disassemble the political, economic and social system that
has nurtured them for almost 50 years.

Oscar Espinosa Chepe is an economist and independent journalist in Cuba.

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