Cuban Government launches crusade against theft and corruption
BY WILFREDO CANCIO ISLA
El Nuevo Herald
The Cuban Government has sounded the alarm on a troublesome increase in
the theft of state resources, the mysterious disappearance of supplies
from hard-currency stores and price speculations on food items in the
aftermath of hurricanes Gustav and Ike.
Already grappling with recovering the agricultural sector and
alleviating the housing crisis, the Government is now trying to curb
corruption and rampant theft of state-owned resources that has
flourished amidst the shortages.
Following several statements published by former leader Fidel Castro,
Cuban authorities have mobilized forces to end the debacle on all fronts.
On Thursday, the Cuban Worker's Union -- the island's only union,
directly controlled by the Communist Party -- urged its more than 3.4
million members to resist the theft of state-resources and price gouging
in markets through worker's assemblies. Meanwhile, the television's
program Mesa Redonda focused entirely that night on the fight against
criminal activity that has become rampant amidst the aftermath of
destruction from the recent hurricanes.
The mobilizations that took place due to the hurricanes unleashed the
looting of homes and government institutions throughout many
communities. Law enforcement authorities have carried out several
large-scale operations to prevent the looting of everything from
mattresses to furniture and other personal belongings, as well as
supplies destined for state-run markets.
In the town of Güira de Melena, located in Havana province, a rumor has
run through the community of three men that arrived from the neighboring
city of San Antonio de los Baños in horse-drawn carts and proceeded to
loot the El Encanto commercial center that had lost its roof during
The looters were deterred by employees of the commercial center and
Ministry of the Interior agents, although residents report that there
was a confrontation.
''For those people that divert resources or try to speculate with the
price of food items, that steal electrical or telephone cables, or try
to appropriate resources from the state reserves, our penal code
foresees circumstances of aggravated crimes,'' noted Deputy Attorney
General Rafael Pino Becquer during the Mesa Redonda program, adding that
``prosecutors will rigorously solicit sanctions from the courts.''
Pino Becquer also stated that people that have accumulated goods through
lucrative activity will have their possessions confiscated.
The Attorney General, Gen. Juan Escalona Reguera, appeared on Mesa
Redonda to warn that the nation will preserve ''the socialist legality''
and ''will consequently apply the law for this scenario,'' further
stating that his office will ``act with a lot of force.''
Escalona Reguera also said that days earlier his office had instructed
prosecutors on how to deal with the rash of crimes surrounding
``black-market food items and prices that rise through the roof so that
the usual bandits today have a greater possibility of trying to assault
The instructions include the establishment of ``substantive measures of
deprivation of freedom, correctional labor with internment, correctional
labor without internment, and when the risk elevates: sanctions
''There are no other alternatives and we are going to maintain [the
measures] until our nation lives again what we had before the
cyclones,'' the attorney general warned.
Hours earlier, the labor union stated that it would combat the crimes in
a collective effort, through assemblies that began on Thursday
throughout the island.
The government moves come amidst strong criticism from the population
for the increase of prices in agricultural markets and the shortages
that have affected government hard-currency stores, primarily in the
eastern region of the island.
''There is no solution at the moment, because a despair has taken root
among the people, forcing them to deal with the situation,'' said Mario
Ledesma, a resident of the city of Holguin, adding, ``The lines at shops
begin at dawn and what they provide runs out in a blink of the eyes.''
Ledesma noted that among the priorities for Cubans are soap and
detergent that are scarcely offered in stores around Holguin.
''The other day I saw a woman leave with 80 rolls of toilet paper,''
noted Ledesma, adding, ``I don't think she will give it much use, as it
is probably to save or resell.''
Mounting criticisms of agricultural markets have led the Ministry of
Agriculture to release a statement saying that it will not tolerate
price gouging on items that are basic staples of the Cuban diet.
The government's attention also is focusing on public employees involved
in commercial transanctions.
''All manifestations of privilege, corruption or theft must be combatted
and there are no possible excuses in this for a true communist. Any type
of weakness in this sense is absolutely inexcusable,'' Castro wrote in
an article last week titled ``The vices and the virtues.''
Castro insisted that theft in state-owned factories, stores, gas
stations, hotels, restaurants and other activities that handle resources
or currency, ''must be combatted without mercy'' by the militants of the
The Cuban Government plans to broaden the war against price gouging,
corruption and theft to a neighborhood level with the intervention of
the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution that comprise -
according to official estimates - 8 million Cubans over the age of 14.
The government has exhorted the committees to be ``combative with
opportunists, increase vigilance and defend the nation.''