In the commentary below Dr. Ramon de la Cruz Ochoa, a Cuban authority on the penal system, takes up the question of corruption in Cuba in response to a commentary by a retired Cuban psychiatrist, Dr Fernando Barral, titled "A sociological approximation to the problem of corruption in Cuba". I decided to translate de la Cruz Ochoa's response because of its brevity and the fact that the author is authoritative.
Comments on the contribution of Dr Fernando Barral on corruption in Cuba
By Dr. Ramon de la Cruz Ochoa, President, Cuban Society of Penal Sciences of the Cuban Union of Jurists
Temas magazine website, June 25, 2010
Translation: Marce Cameron
The contribution of Dr Fernando Barral has the merit of calling attention to a theme as important as that of corruption. However, I disagree with some of his statements and I will try to elaborate in a very summary way.
1. There is no doubt that in Cuba, very little is publicised regarding concrete cases of corruption, but this does not mean that this topic is off the political agenda of the country. We cannot forget the words of the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, on November 17, 2005 at Havana University, when he said: "This country could self-destruct, they [referring to the imperialists] cannot destroy it; we ourselves could destroy it and it would be our fault. We invite all the people to participate in a great battle [...] the battle against theft of any kind, in any place". It's not possible to speak in a clearer or more dramatic way against corruption. Although the word corruption wasn't used, we all understood perfectly well what he was saying. It was a very dramatic warning.
2. It's not correct to say that corruption is only known about "by word of mouth" or via indirect sources. We Cuban revolutionaries know that it is a grave reality that confronts our country, that it is a very widespread phenomenon in our society and that it's not only a problem of corrupt functionaries and leaders.
3. It is known that there are deficiencies in the mechanisms of accountability, fundamentally in the internal functioning of every enterprise, every institution. We cannot overlook the creation and institutional strengthening of the Comptroller General of the Republic, nor the work being done for some time by the Attorney General and the organs of the Ministry of the Interior. In recent months the Popular Tribunals have even created courtrooms that specialise in economic crimes, such as those that exist in many countries and that are recommended in studies.
4. To say that functionaries "enjoy great discretional powers over monetary and material resources" is to completely ignore the regulations that govern our economy. What happened in the 1980s [presumably a reference to the "Rectification of Errors and Negative Tendencies" launched by the Cuban Communist Party in 1986] and Cases 1 and 2 [the 1989 trials of high-ranking military officers on drug-trafficking and corruption charges] do not support this claim. Also, twenty years have transpired since then, in which much has been done in this area.
5. To say that the jail terms in Cuba [for crimes of corruption] are benign is totally inaccurate.
6. It's true that corruption is legally defined in some countries, although in most of them it's a doctrinal and criminological definition, not one relating to penal laws. The relevant Cuban legislation — especially that contained in the Penal Code — is very broad, and many think it excessive and overly comprehensive. Legal experts recognise that the Penal Law is an indispensable instrument to combat corruption, but not by any means the most important.
7. Excessive punishment and justice without guarantees — as some seem to want — has nothing to do with rationality in the use of penal law. The history of humanity has taught us that its abusive and excessive use is perverse and ends up harming the whole society.
8. I disagree with Dr. Barral's definition of "occupational delinquency", unless it is a very personal interpretation of so-called "white collar crimes", but this is the subject of another debate.
9. It is undeniable that corruption arouses irritation among the people, but above all certain kinds of corruption [i.e. large-scale or involving high officials]. In the face of other kinds of corruption, in daily life, those that tend to be more socially harmful, there is an absence of social reaction and this is very serious.
10. It would appear that Dr Barral opposes individual material incentives and other economic mechanisms. He appeals to the words of Che Guevara, said in another historical context and for other realities. In Cuba, labour must be incentivised according to the results and the quality of work. It is necessary to create a sense of belonging [i.e. a sense of individual and collective responsibility for social property and productivity]. I think the immense majority of the Cuban people agree with this, wishing only that it becomes reality as soon as possible.
11. The role of ethics is very important — I would say decisive — to combat corruption, but neither can one ignore the influence that socioeconomic factors have on the observance of ethical values.
12. In his recommendations, the author talks about political measures and the participation of the masses to combat corruption. However, it should be pointed out that in the base committees of the Cuban Communist Party the issue of corruption is debated systematically. Certainly, on occasion these discussions are formal and superficial and do not go to the heart of problems; but there is also the political will to face up to it.
13. To say that the corrupt do not go to prison is to ignore reality. Though Dr. Barral may not be aware of it, while acts of corruption are not publicised as much as they should be, those who visit and know the prisons, the training institutions of the Ministry of the Interior, the Attorney General's office and the Tribunals through our professions know that this assertion bears no relation to reality.
14. The author does not talk about the [post-Soviet] Special Period and its impact on the growth of corruption, nor does he mention monetary duality as a propitiating factor. The increase in corruption always has structural causes that he doesn't mention, and neither does he talk about the problems of our economic model which, as President Raul Castro has said, needs a systemic update, not partial, and many of us think this is urgent. Neither does he talk about administrative and legislative measures which, on occasion, promote corruption, the most obvious of which are the housing regulations [that sustain a black market, and associated corrupt practices, in the buying and selling of homes].
In summary, I consider Dr. Barral's contribution to be useful, but — with all due respect — it needs updating and lacks rigour.