Iván García, 26 MAY 2017 — Ideology is no longer the most important consideration if you want to get an administrative position in Cuba’s chaotic business and commercial network. They only ask you to do two things: fake support for the autocracy and show loyalty to government business.
If you have both these qualities, they will remove any common offences from your work record. Nor is it a problem if you frequently beat your wife or drink more rum than you should.
Human qualities are no longer a priority if you want to have a job in a company management team or join the ranks of the Communist Party.
Let’s call him Armando. He has always worked in internal trade. “It’s all been run down. Starting with the beginning of the Revolution. In the food and internal trade sector, the biggest wastes of space have occupied key positions. The employment culture is asphyxiating, like being in a prison. Money, extortion, nepotism and witchcraft are more important that professional qualifications and personal qualities”.
After letting his life go down the drain, what with getting into trouble, involving knives, robberies, public disorder, Armando decided to get himself back on track when his son was born. “I spent most of my youth and adolescence in the clink. With a family to support, I have to look at things differently. I have no family in the States who could get me out of here. I had to learn how to play the system. With the help of a friend, after paying him 300 chavitos (CUC), I got a bodega [ration store] for my wife and managed to include myself in the staff as an assistant to the storekeeper”.
After a year and a half, his wife started the process of joining the party. “She knows nothing about politics, but in Cuba having a red card opens doors for you. My next goal is to ’buy’ a bodega just for me.”
According to Armando, for 400 CUC you can get a bodega with lots of customers. “The more people buy things in your store, the more options you have to make money. In six months or a year, depending on your contacts with truck drivers and people running warehouses, you can recoup your investment”.
Although the neighbourhood bodegas have seen a reduction in the distribution of goods being issued through the ration books, various storekeepers have said that, in spite of that, they are still making money.
“It’s not like thirty years ago, when we had 25 different products delivered to the bodegas. You don’t get rich, but you can support your family. You can do two things: cheat on weighing, and buy foreign made things and sell them on to owners of private businesses or direct to customers”, admits a storekeeper with forty years’ experience.
If there is a robbery in a state-owned food centre or bodega, the boss or storekeeper has to meet the loss. “A little while ago, they stole several boxes of cigars and bags of coffee. I didn’t even report it. I paid about 4 thousand pesos for the loss and coughed up nearly another 200 CUC have new bars fitted and improvements to the security of the premises”, said a storekeeper
An official dealing with these things emphasises that, “When a robbery occurs, the first suspect is the storekeeper. It’s an unwritten law of business. If you get robbed, you should pay up and shut up, because police investigations usually uncover more serious problems”.
Naturally, in high-turnover food stores and markets you pay weekly bribes to the municipal managers. The manager of a state pizzeria explains: “The amounts vary with sales level. The more you sell, the more you have to send upstairs. At weekends I send an envelope with 1,500 Cuban pesos and 40 CUC to the municipal director, as I sell in both currencies”.
This hidden support network, of mafia-like construction, at the same time as it offers excellent profit on the back of State merchandise, also generates a de facto commitment to the government.
“It’s what happens in any important government activity. Whether it’s tourism, commerce, or import-export. The money comes from embezzlement, irregular financial dealings and corrupt practices. One way or another, the present system feeds us. It all comes together, as a kind of marriage of convenience. I let you do your thing, as long as you let me do mine”, is a sociologist’s opinion.
Raúl Castro has tried to sort things out, and designated Gladys Bejerano as Controller General of the Republic. “Successes have been partial. They get rid of one focus of corruption but leave others or change the way they work. If you were to arrange a thorough clean up of the network of government-run businesses, the system would break down. Because, like the bloodsuckers, they feed off other peoples’ blood”, explains an ex-director of food services.
Essentially, what is left of socialism in Cuba is a pact. In its attempt to survive, Castroism violates Marxist principles and, in place of loyalty, accepts that Catholics, Santeria priests and masons can enter the Communist Party.
In the business sector there is a different idea. Embezzlement in return for applause. In that way, not much is being stolen – kind of.
Translated by GH