Corruption Made in Cuba / Ernesto Morales Licea

The news, in keeping with tradition, was common knowledge long before the establishment gave the order to publish it. On November 6, when it was already an open secret, the Gramna province newspaper La Demajagua published an “Official Note” that seemed like it didn’t want to be read, hidden away as it was on a page otherwise devoted to praising the production of rice, and honoring state agencies.

What did this handicapped little note say, with nothing to call attention to it on the second page of the paper? Merely something as inconsequential as that the governor of Granma province, President of the Provincial Assembly of People’s Power, had been “liberated from his duties for grave errors in the performance of his duties and in his personal life.” His name: Jesús Infante López, logically super-well-known in these precincts for having held the post for a considerable number of years.

As the note more than said by remaining silent, the vox populi again did the work for which the journalists are paid, filtering out the half-truths, truths sprinkled with fictions, and confirmed facts according to the upper echelons.

Jesús Infante, former governor of Granma province

Apparently the mayor of my city had earmarked some money to build vacation homes in the Cuban capital, and in his personal life a son linked to the consumption (or perhaps trafficking in, it’s not clear) of drugs in Havana clouded his judgment.

I cannot confirm the accuracy or completeness of this information: when the secrecy of power relegates the citizens to a plane of almost complete disinformation, and where there is no transparency in the relationships between the directors and the directed, the exercise of journalism is converted, at times, into mere speculation.

What is known is that no official media has denied this popular version, and we all know what silence implies.

I do not think, however, that what just happened with Jesús Infante in Granma comes as any surprise to anyone at this point. On second thought, I wouldn’t have given it more than a half-hidden corner in the daily La Demajagua either.

Because while the demotion (a more correct term, legally speaking, than the ridiculous “liberated”) of political and government officials is not something all that usual in this country, common knowledge of administrative abuses, and the galloping corruption within the circles of power, strengthens our collective consciousness every day, so this was no cause for surprise.

And if the public demotion of high officials has not been a frequent event — although this has changed drastically in recent times — this is due to a power structure where the citizens have no access to those who act in their names, and where neither the press nor independent organizations can assess what these politicians do when they step away from their pose of revolutionary honesty and enter the privacy of their own homes.

Rogelio Acevedo, former head of Civil Aviation in Cuba

This recent local case swells the list of the previously unmasked corrupt, whose excesses were never made clear to the people: the head of Civil Aeronautics, Rogelio Acevedo, sponsor of commercial flights that filled his pockets with hard currency; Carlitos Valenciaga, ex-patron of a female harem located at the former Lourdes base, where, among porn videos and revolutionary campaigns, computer science was also studied; and a long list of cases usually swept under the rug, which includes a large number of small-time Party leaders and provincial authorities.

Without going too far, in the city where I live we were recently taken by surprise by the proliferation of brand new cement and glass, when the senior military leaders decided to construct their modest dwellings in privileged areas.

Without mincing any words: they are true mansions, masked with external austerity and possessing, inside, the human and the divine, lacking not even solar panels for hot water, garden areas and spacious garages. Understand: this is the life style of those who demand frugality and sacrifice from their poorly-fed workers, in a country where before we talk about hot water we need to understand that, for many, running water is a luxury.

All these cases, from those sparking the most media interest like that of “Lage-Perez Roque,” to the most timid, like that of my neighbor Infante, confirm an absolute truth: the corruption that exists in the leadership of this country is of incalculable proportions. This time the adjective “incalculable” is not just a figure of speech: it is accurate. The guarantees to access the accounts of financial dealings of those who govern us are invalid, impossible, Utopian, and only occur when another, more powerful, higher level becomes annoyed by the bonanza of a subaltern and decides to put an end to his golden ride.

Against this background, my question is not who will be the next to be cast into the furnace, but rather: how many of the ones who demand dignity and cleanliness as a standard of this process, who punish and demand strict compliance, how many of the leaders we see launching tirades against the private businessman or the neighborhood thief who lives off ill-gotten gains, how many of them will take their secrets of embezzlement and waste to the grave?

How many of those whom we now see on banners, and whose words are quotes on billboards to illuminate us with their privileged lights, will be laughing at us from the next world for having been able to live at our expense without our ever making them pay for it?

My concern arises from a simple analysis, very simple: casting a glance at the ages of those thrown in the fire we can see for ourselves that it never approaches the gray hairs and the ancestral medals. In every case, it’s the new pines (more or less new) in the art of making Revolution. The historic generation, the true owners of this beautiful land, have never been touched even with the petal of a flower.

The main problem continues to be the sickly meekness that paralyzes the veins of today’s Cubans. I think a single visit to the homes of the leaders in this town would be enough, a single tap on the door of those austere ones who harangue us, for the whole make-believe house to come crashing down.

But are the Cuban politicians the only ones who steal? Who fill their coffers at the expense of the people they fleece? Of course not. Are the Cuban officials the only ones who play favorites, steal, and divert resources that in theory belong to the masses they govern? No again. It is enough to look at the news that a truly free press, and consequently half the world, publishes on their covers.

What is unique to the Cuban class, the native, is on the one hand the hard-nose discourse of a socialist paradise full of selfless leaders, of brave countrymen, and on the other hand the impossibility of the ordinary citizen being able to broker his own slice of the economic pie.

I, who came of age watching the Foreign Minister Robertico Robaina tying himself in knots to confirm that he wasn’t a Yankee; who was taught that as a student I should revere my Minister of Education Luis Ignacio Gomez despite his Hitler mustache that always left a bad taste; I, who one day heard Carlos Lage’s express order prohibiting my countrymen from accessing Yahoo or Hotmail, and who, in my brief passage through institutional journalism was in a couple of meetings with the recently purged Jesús Infante, listening to him talk about revolutionary strength and commitment, I think that with my few years I can dare to say, like the poet León Felipe: I don’t know many things, it’s true, I just say what I have seen. But I have slept with all the stories. And I already know all the stories.

November 21, 2010