14ymedio, Havana, 20 December 2023 — Corruption in grocery stores and soup kitchens, corruption in sports and educational institutions, corruption in the state sector and in small businesses. The numbers do not add up and Cuban officials were unable to avoid the word (it had been taboo among government leaders for decades) during presentations to Cuba’s parliament, the National Assembly of People’s Power, on Tuesday.
The day’s agenda included reports on the state of domestic trade and foreign investments, on the Ministry of the Interior’s eradication of marijuana crops in the eastern provinces, on measures being taken to mitigate the educational crisis and the exodus of athletes, and a closing speech — in his usual scolding tone — by National Assembly president Esteban Lazo.
The vice-minister of Foreign Trade and Investment, Ana Teresita Gonzalez, offered the day’s most optimistic figures. She reported that some 343 businesses from forty countries were interested in investing in the island and that their applications had been approved by the government. Of those businesses, 181 are “international economic association contracts,” 106 are public-private partnerships and 56 will operate completely under foreign management.
Gonzalez indicated that, despite the fact that most of these companies are in the tourism, mining and agriculture sectors, the ministry is “dissatisfied”
Gonzalez was filling in for her boss, Ricardo Cabrisas, who has been noticeably absent during these sessions. She indicated that, despite the fact that most of these companies are in the tourism, mining and agriculture sectors, the ministry is “dissatisfied” at not being able to import all the products it wanted and had to make do with the basics: beer, soft drinks, water, flour and meat.
The other parliamentary committees did not have much to celebrate either. The battered industrial, construction and energy sectors had to acknowledge that, despite government audits, there were multiple shortcomings. These included shortages of cement, steel, electric cables, plumbing fixtures and millwork; a lack of financing and oversight; and breach of contract by some of parties involved in the process.
National Assembly delegates claimed the solution is to increase financing and provide additional subsidies to those who are economically disadvantaged provided Lazo and a group of key ministers agree to directly oversee the process. The delegates present were immediately met with an angry rebuke from Ramiro Valdés, with Cubadebate providing its customary photo of him making angry gestures.
But it is in the retail and food service sectors where corruption is the main course. Under the watchful eye of Prime Minister Manuel Marrero, Interior Commerce Minister Betsy Diaz Velazquez and Lazo himself, the parliamentarians addressed the topic of deficiencies in the family care system and island’s precarious soup kitchens.
According to official statistics, there are 1,445 such establishments in Cuba on which, as Diaz pointed out, some 59,687 rely every day for basic rationed goods, food donations and food modules. Faced with the massive theft of resources and food (Marrero euphemistically attributed the problem to “poor management”), administrators have had to introduce digital inventory controls. Lazo asked that attention also be given to another issue common to soup kitchens: systematic popular control of programs which offer resources to economically vulnerable people to evaluate their effectiveness
The quality of service in the banking and financial system was found to be lacking.
In a presentation to a parliamentary sub-commitee, the president of the Central Bank of Cuba, Joaquin Alonso, was not too enthusiastic about recent efforts to digitize the banking system. The policy known as bancarización, which took effect in August, is intended to address the country’s shortage of foreign reserves, as has been reported on national television on numerous occasions.
“The quality of service in the banking and financial system has been found to be lacking,” he stated. “This finding is based on public perceptions of the banking services offered by our institutions.” The outlook, in his opinion, is alarming.
He concluded, “Some, though not all, of the most common complaints involve long lines, organizational inefficiencies in some offices, misinformation from poorly trained staff, slow and cumbersome procedures, failures in communication and technological systems, and service disruptions during power outages.”
The directors of the Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation reported an unprecedented wave of “crime, corruption and illegalities” in the sector, to say nothing of the recent stampede of athletes leaving the country. They believe athletes must be protected from the temptation of “big money” from international events.
The day ended with a report on drugs and crime provided by the Ministry of the Interior. Colonel Juan Carlos Poey alluded to the rise in fentanyl consumption in the region and pointed out that Cuba is no exception. He added, however, that the most widely produced drug in the country – especially in Granma, Holguín, Guantánamo, Las Tunas and Santiago provinces – is marijuana.
Crimes were also committed in Cuban prisons, where 165 “incidents” were recorded. There were also thirty-two “findings” (of objects that the prisoners should not have had in their cells) which were linked to thirty-one relatives of inmates. On the international front, he added that Interpol has issued red notices for twelve Cubans. “This means that, when a country finds any of them, it will detain them and we will have them extradited. We have identified 301 Cuban criminal organizations operating overseas in fifteen countries” he stated.
At the end of his speech Poey predicted that, given the “adverse situation” in the country, it is very likely that “crime will evolve into a higher level of organization,” more complex than gangs or small trafficking networks. Luckily, he added, by the time that happens, the police will already know what to do.
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