Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Cuba, corrupt?

Castro brothers press anti-corruption drive

By Marc Frank, Reuters

Havana (ANTARA News) - Cuba's ruling Communist Party has sent thousands of its members, including retirees turned into detectives, to track corruption that Defense Minister Raul Castro warns is spreading like a "deadly cancer," government sources said this week.

President Fidel Castro's younger brother, in a video making the rounds of the country's leadership, says 6,000 party cadre and 2,000 retired members working in pairs have discovered "the situation is far worse than we imagined."

Raul Castro, 74, number two in Cuba's political hierarchy and constitutionally in line to succeed his 79-year-old brother if he were to retire or become incapacitated, heads the party's Commission against Corruption and Illegalities set up three years ago.

"The deadly cancer has metastasized from our knees up to here," Raul Castro, pointing to his chest, told national-level leaders and administrators in a recent meeting, according to sources who had seen the videotape.

Castro singled out the East Havana municipal wholesale food company as an example of how managers and their government superiors appear to be "blind" to the diversion of resources to the black market.

Despite 14 visits by ministry officials, 21 inspections and an audit, it took a pair of party retirees to discover 2,000 tonnes of products were missing, the younger Castro said.

"How can you explain that a couple of retirees are able to discover in a week grave problems that were not detected by management in the same companies, nor by their superiors, during months and years," Castro asked.

Corruption is not new in Cuba, where there is a thriving black market and national audits discover poor accounting of company books year after year.

Embezzlement, theft, bribery

Attorney General Juan Escalona reported 5,800 cases of economic crimes in 2000, including embezzlement, theft and bribery.

But the current anti-corruption campaign led by Raul Castro is the most serious since he and his brother swept to power in a 1959 revolution.

Cuban authorities first shook up the tourism industry more than two years ago and made a Raul Castro protege the minister in charge of the country's main source of hard currency.

Then all economic activity was further centralized, strict controls were placed on the use of foreign exchange and company managers were stripped of perks.

The measures coincided with a retreat from market-oriented reforms of the 1990s and began as Cuba started to pull out of a long economic crisis that followed the Soviet Union's demise.

Ally Hugo Chavez of Venezuela helped by shipping oil with preferential financing and paying for massive medical and educational assistance.

Late last year President Castro announced he was mobilizing an army of young Cubans on a crusade to stamp out rampant theft and graft from below.

Thousands of university-age youth took over gasoline stations and soon discovered half the fuel was being stolen at the pumps.

"Nobody will be spared in this battle against vice," Castro warned in a speech to Havana University students in November.

The drive against corruption has resulted in hundreds of employees being fired from the state bureaucracy and often expelled from the Communist Party, according to the sources.

Fewer Cubans are stepping forward to fill the posts as more and more illegal scams are being detected and they risk being held responsible for corrupt practices of their subordinates.


I hope that cancer metastasizes quickly!

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