Saturday, April 17, 2010

In island-wide sweep, Cuba takes aim at corruption

In island-wide sweep, Cuba takes aim at corruption
Published on Saturday, April 17, 2010
by Isabel Sanchez

HAVANA, Cuba (AFP) -- The Cuban government will deploy an army of
auditors across the island nation Monday to track down corruption
pervading the Communist society, from lowly street milk vendors to
officials in powerful government agencies.

For a month, thousands of finance inspectors will descend on some 750
businesses for surprise checkups.

"Everyone is on edge about it, because you never know when an inspector
will come knocking on your door," an official with a state company, who
declined to be named, told AFP.

"The problem is, if they search well, they will find (irregularities)."

The death this week of Chilean contractor Roberto Baudrand, accused of
undertaking shady business practices with state officials, and whose
body was found in Havana under suspicious circumstances, has further
raised anxieties about the mass audit.

On Friday, Cuban President Raul Castro swore in a new attorney general,
Dario Delgado. AFP PHOTO
On Friday, President Raul Castro swore in a new attorney general, Dario
Delgado, who faces what his office says has been an increase in
corruption cases over the past year and a half.

Rooted in decades of state control over the economy, corruption has
become a pressing concern for the government because of its potential
impact on the island's stability during a period of political transition.

"Corruption is more dangerous than what is called internal dissidence,"
said political analyst Esteban Morales.

He said the problem has been gaining ground at all levels of local and
national government, emerging as a veritable "anti-revolution" that
could un-do years of communist rule.

In the last two years, notably after revolutionary leader Fidel Castro
handed over power to his younger brother Raul, graft has been on the
rise "with increased participation of (government) leaders and
officials," according to attorney Caridad Sabo.

"There are people working for the government and state who are building
a financial cushion for the day when the revolution collapses, and
others are readying to transfer state assets into private hands, like
what happened in the former Soviet Union," added Morales.

He was referring to the vast privatizations of state assets in the wake
of the collapse of the USSR in early 1990s, which created mammoth
fortunes for a handful of Russians, who became known as the "oligarchs."

Since assuming the presidency from the ailing Fidel, Raul Castro has
launched a crusade against theft from state companies that supplies a
vast and lucrative black market.

Millions of gallons of fuel and other commodities such as milk, chicken,
rice, sugar or coffee are sold on the black market, where Cubans can get
goods that cannot be found in the legal economy or buy them at cheaper

"Without a strong social stigma and systematic moves against the various
forms of corruption, many (people) will continue to profit at the
expense of the majority," Castro said earlier this month, denouncing
graft as contrary to "the essence of socialism."

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