Reports from Cuba: Corruption in Cuba: More organized and international

By Yoe Suarez in Havana via Diario de Cuba:

Corruption in Cuba: More Organized and International

The Attorney General of the Republic, Darío Delgado Cura. (EFE)

There are, basically, two forms of economic crime in Cuba. One is “the struggle,” socially abided as it facilitates the attainment, by informal means, of vital, staple products on which the State imposes surcharges. The other is white-collar crime, perpetrated at times by officials or public employees who take advantage of their positions to achieve benefits.

The head of Cuba’s Corruption and Illegalities Commission, Biliardo Amaro, recognizes the latter in an area that, he believes, may get worse with the increase in business abroad: corruption in the area of international contracting.

“Since the 90s, and intensifying since 2000”, the official revealed during a speech at the Havana Convention Center, “the trend in these events in our country has seen a permanent quantitative increase, with a greater sophistication in its organization, commission, collectivization and even internationalization.”

The tendency has been so pronounced, in fact, that Amaro asked the Attorney General of the Republic, Darío Delgado, to “organize a system to confront the growing phenomenon of corruption in the rest of the provinces across the country.”

Fidel Castro, even as president, publicly acknowledged the existence of the phenomenon: “More than a few let their corruption show, and many knew or suspected it, because they saw their standard of living, and sometimes it was silly stuff: a new car, a new paint job, he added this, or put some nice extras on it, out of vanity, 20 times we’ve heard it here and there, and you have to take action,” he said in 2005.

Raúl Castro, in 2013, before the Cuban Parliament, promised to punish such demonstrations, which “undermine the very foundations of our social system, as without the creation of a culture of order, discipline and standards in society, any results will be ephemeral.”

Days later the office headed by Amaro, attached to the Office of the Attorney General of the Republic (FGR), was created. “Under the current conditions,” he recognized in a talk on criminal proceedings associated with the issue, “it is necessary to raise the level to go after transnational crime, including that derived from contractual actions.”

Modus operandi

Business dollars are transferred to personal bank accounts abroad, and from there they are distributed, little by little, as family remittances or “help” from friends to households in Cuba. Some want to secure their futures, for “the post-Revolution era.” Or they issue specialized terms favoring businesses that conceal other activities, and a handful of money appears before him. Or they falsify documents about processes for negotiation, contracting and commercial execution, in accord with orders handed down from above.

These were some of the main tactics identified by the FGR in relation to international contracting processes. Some, equally recurrent, were associated with the delivery and taking of bribes, whether systematic or occasional, in cash or in kind; and covering them up in various ways. Others include “precipitated contracting, concealing the favoring of certain suppliers, and the appropriation or diversion of material resources.” There was talk of “breaking the blockade,” “the new scenarios,” and “taking advantage of the opportunities due to closer ties to US organizations.” All this is set down in a list attached to The Control of Criminal Proceedings Associated with Corruption Arising from International Contracting, a document presented at the 2018 Encuentro Internacional de Ciencias Penales (International Criminal Sciences Congress).

Hiring and favoring associates, to the detriment of other providers whose offers would have been more beneficial for the country, and the issuance of undue, excessive or unnecessary payments to entities, also characterize current trends.

There are also pacts with insolvent companies and individuals, without any real capacity to complete that agreed to, and reiterated cover-ups of fraud in the negotiation, contracting and execution of commercial operations.

The establishment of businesses or investments by and with Cubans living abroad, and their links as front men in acts of corruption involving international contracting, as well as the masking of goods obtained on behalf of third parties not directly linked to the illegal activity, round out the top ten.

The prosecutor’s peephole is radiographic: he scrutinizes the lifestyles of the defendants, their real estate, cars, household appliances, and any other assets, whether in their names, or that of their relatives or substitutes, the places that they frequent, approximate daily expenses that they incur, businesses in which they invest in Cuba or abroad, and bank accounts inside or outside the country.

The conviction will depend on that investigative work.


“Corruption will never end,” said the director of the Panamanian Legislative Observatory, Julia Elena Sáenz, at the same lectern where Amaro spoke. “What we can do is reduce the levels of it.”

But,  Amaro explained, on the island “there is currently a set of situations that undercut the effective resolution of these problems.”

In direct reference to the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), he asked for access to “the background information” that the military possesses so that, from the outset, they can effectively pursue criminal proceedings. However, the prosecutor pointed out that: “under no circumstances can his agency lose its regulatory role” and “its performance cannot be contingent upon the previous information obtained.” He called for “distinguishing between the fusion of interests that is created between its constitutional obligations and the interests of the MININT due to the defendants’ betrayal of the trust placed in them.”

Internally there exist “undefined elements and barriers that contribute to there not always being a proper classification of the offense,” said Amaro, “most depending on personal judgment and that do not always, out of ignorance, make it possible to achieve the necessary degree of effectiveness.”

He deemed it necessary to train prosecutors in Cuba or abroad in relation to international contracting. Academic institutions can help, such as the University of Havana and others that directly execute or control the activity, like the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, the General Comptroller of the Republic, the Central Bank of Cuba, and the Central Criminalistics Laboratory.

In his opinion, “the complexities of these facts, and the insufficient preparation and experience of the prosecutors responsible for dealing with them hinder the quality of control and produce delays in the processing of investigations and criminal proceedings to achieve clarifications and consequent responses.”

Cuba has seen several set of criminal laws in place, from the Spanish Penal Code of 1870 to the Social Defense system of 1936, which covered classes of criminal activities associated with prohibited negotiations, violations by civil servants, and crimes against public administrations. After 1959 the first socialist Penal Code, however, abolished these criminal offenses. They were not incorporated again until 1987, with Decree Law 175.

“However, it is not possible to find a modality that could be considered similar to the formulation of the current crime of illicit negotiation,” stated Manuel Alberto Leyva, a professor at the University of Holguín (UHO).

Also heading up the Law Department of the Social and Legal Sciences School at said teaching institution, he says that the current formulation regarding illicit negotiations “is inadequate to govern the different negotiation processes taking place in the country.”

According to Leyva, new modalities addressing the commission of this crime must be integrated, and the current definition of a public official, too extensive, must be reformulated in order to achieve the real and objective prosecution of those who most affect public administration.

The limited perception of this danger is also an impediment in this regard, as Cuban society considers “crimes that affect the State to be alien to it. If in our country the fundamental means of production are in the hands of the State, there exists the belief that what belongs to the State belongs to everyone, and what belongs to everyone, belongs to no one.”

The specialist Miguel Limia agreed with this in his study An Ethical Approach to the Phenomenon of Corruption, (2010): “Since the 1980s, socialist ownership in its state and cooperative form has failed to engender a sense of collective ownership by workers in a massive and sustained manner, or to guarantee their growing and interested participation in the management process.”