June 22, 2011
By Juan Tamayo, The Miami Herald
Cuba’s feared “Lady Anti-Corruption” has reported a setback in the fight against malfeasance in Havana — a top priority of Raúl Castro’s government as it tries to overhaul the island’s foundering economy.
“There were increases in crimes and corruption” in the Cuban capital, Comptroller General Gladys Bejerano, who also serves as vice president of the ruling Council of State, was quoted as saying in a Granma newspaper story Tuesday.
Bejerano was commenting on her agency’s recent audits of 132 public entities in Havana. Only 73 got a grade of “acceptable,” showing a setback when compared to before, according to Granma.
Havana’s performance was much worse than the rest of the country. Only 37 percent of the more than 750 entities across the island audited April 25 to May 31 were deficient, according to a Bejerano report published Sunday.
Cuba’s state television, citing a Bejerano report, on Sunday had reported an improvement in the nationwide figures from 2001, when only 46 percent of 300 entities audited were given a passing grade.
But her comments to Granma underlined the growing concerns over corruption as Castro tries to abandon some of the economy’s Soviet-styled central controls and embrace parts of a market system.
Determined to avert the rise in Cuba of the mafia-like economic leaderships that Russia and China are experiencing, Castro ordered Bejerano to tighten the audits, earning her the nickname “Dama Anticorrupción.”
Castro also has put his son Alejandro in overall charge of the campaign against corruption. Reported to be a top officer in Cuba’s security forces, Alejandro Castro Espín also serves as his father’s national security adviser.
Corrupt managers of state agencies and enterprises had long fiddled with their books in order to divert goods for sale on the more profitable black market. One common joke has managers reporting that missing food items were eaten by wild dogs.
Audits of state entities were peremptory and the results were seldom made public. Many managers and administrators made it a practice of giving gifts to auditors and few went to prison as long as they were politically reliable.
But a string of recent scandals led economist and long-time Communist Party member Esteban Morales to warn in a column last year that corruption was growing so much it posed a significant challenge to the government.
Several top party and government officials have been sent to prison since Castro took power in 2008, but Cuba analysts say it’s not clear if that’s because there’s more corruption or more enforcement.
Earlier this month, 15 top officials at the state-owned Cubana de Aviacion airline and the brother of a Chilean businessman long allied with Fidel Castro were sentenced to three to 10 years in prison in a kickback scheme.
Manuel García, who was vice president of the state tobacco monopoly, and 10 of his employees were arrested in April on charges of selling cigars under the table to unapproved foreign distributors.
Pedro Álvarez, former president of Alimport, the estate agency that each year imports hundreds of millions of dollars worth of food, was under investigation on charges of corruption when he fled Cuba late last year.
And Rogelio Acevedo, president of the Civil Aviation Institute, was fired amid allegations that Cubana de Aviacion airplanes reported as being grounded for maintenance were in fact making off-the-books cargo flights.
Hundreds of lower-ranking officials in the government and party have been replaced in less public shakeups in recent years, according to a Reuters news agency dispatch from Havana this week.
The BBC correspondent in Havana wrote last week that corruption “is capturing the attention of many, some who want to persuade us that the revolution is irreparably rotten, and others who are just finding out that it is not immune to everyday sins.”
Corruption happens worldwide but in Cuba it’s “a heavy blow for those who believe in the virgin revolution, capable of conceiving without sin,” Fernando Ravsberg wrote in Cartas Desde Cuba — Letters from Cuba.
Others complain that “the scalpel is not cutting deep enough,” he added, quoting a neighbor as telling him that in Cuba “they hand out more years in prison for killing a cow than for murdering tens of psychiatric patients.”
Up to 50 patients in Havana’s main psychiatric hospital died during a cold snap last winter — allegedly the result of malnutrition and exposure caused by hospital officials who sold their food and blankets on the black market.