Castro enlists Cuba's young in war on corruption
Published: November 29 2005 02:00 | Last updated: November 29 2005 02:00
The campaign is part of a broader effort, government sources say, to make effective use of increased resources flowing into the country from generous Venezuelan energy financing and payment for medical services, as well as Chinesesoft trade and development credits.
The first target of the campaign – dubbed “Operation July 26” after Mr Castro’s movement in the late 1950s that outflanked the Communist party and brought him to power – has been the country’s fuel distribution system.
Thousands of student-age youths have taken over petrol stations and started working in refineries and riding in fuel trucks tomonitor an industry where up to half of this precious resource was being stolen, according to receipts since the take-over began a month ago.
Cuba registered its first balance of payments surplus since 1989 last year, and expects another surplus this year, despite an increase of more than 30 per cent in imports.
“We need to get back to a situation where the state pays a wage that can meet basic needs and in proportion to what one contributes to society,” says Anicia Garcia, head of Havana University’s Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy.
She points out that state salaries and pensions have increased on average by more than 20 per cent this year and that there are more consumer goods, mainly imported household appliances, and food available.
“We are taking advantage of the better situation to deal with the social problems that appeared during the crisis that came with the end of the Soviet Union. For example, that one could do better not working than working, or as a hotel bellboy or gas station attendant make more than a brain surgeon,” she said.
The Communist party launched an assault two years ago on “corruption and illegalities” within its ranks and the state administration as it recentralised economic activity and control over hard currency after what it characterised as “liberal errors” in the 1990s.
Bureaucratic corruption and a booming black market are nothing new in state-run economies like Cuba’s, but Mr Castro said recently that market-oriented reforms such as decentralisation, authorisation of small private initiatives and circulation of the dollar alongside the peso, among other emergency measures taken after European communism’s collapse, “increased these ills to the point where they have taken on a certain massive character . . . and inequality has grown”.
Mr Castro said he was mobilising 26,000 young social workers to fight fora purer society and would mobilise more than 100,000 social workers and university students if needed, threatening to drag corrupt officials out in public.
Oscar Espinosa, an economist recently released from prison after serving time for dissident activities, said the current campaign would simply create more hardship and more illegal activity. “What we need here is market reform, like in China or Vietnam. By returning to command economics and repression, they are simply throwing gas on the fire,” he said.
Raul Castro, the defence minister and second in the Cuban hierarchy after his older brother Fidel, is reported to have told party officials 18 months ago: “Corruption will always be with us, but we must keep it at our ankles and never allow it to rise to our necks.”
But the drive apparently made little progress, and the military was forced to take over operations at the port of Havana in September to handle increased imports and stop theft by port workers and truckers.
“In this battle againstvice, nobody will be spared,” Fidel Castro said in a recent speech, apparently taking over the campaign fromhis brother. “Either we defeat all these deviations and make our revolution strong, or the revolution dies.”
He blamed the “new rich” for Cuba’s social ills, without defining who they were, except that they had access to hard currency.
The Cuban leader said social workers were organising cells in neighbourhoods to fight corruption and illegalities, much as his movement did in the 1950s during the revolution.
“What you have here is a classic Chinese-style, anti-rightist campaign of Mao’s days,” a foreign banker said.
Young people have also fanned out to bakeries, checking how many rolls are needed to meet a neighbourhood quota, then adjusting wheat and other deliveries accordingly. Neighbourhood pharmacies, dollar shops and eating places are rumoured to be next on the list.
Busloads of young people, armed with clipboards and energy-saving light bulbs, have appeared in some neighbourhoods as part of an energy-saving drive that includes stiff increases in prices. They hand out the bulbs while taking a census of the electrical appliances in each home, which they then characterise as well off, normal or poor – raising fears in the former that they are being classified as the “new rich”.