The Battle Continues Between the “Appropriate” and the Corrupt / Miriam Celaya

Margelis works in a company belonging to the Gastronomic Enterprise in Centro Habana and is a member of a rationalization committee that includes those who are in charge of the dismissal of some of their colleagues. The task is just as thankless as it is extremely complex for several reasons: in recent times, the individual acting as director of the company was ousted when they discovered millions of pesos missing, which led to his placement under precautionary measures “while the case is investigated” and replaced him with a punctilious uniform, who, showing admirable zeal in debugging field leaders in the municipality, has removed more than one manager and other leaders, and has kept on whipping those who still have not fallen under his purifying rage.

Further complicating matters, it is known that in these culinary centers there are long-standing corrupt goings-on that manifest themselves in different ways: defrauding customers — preferably foreign tourists — which translates into illegal sales of counterfeit products such as cigars and rum; they are places for offering the services of prostitutes and others; wages are not paid to workers by the administrator. Under the pretext of assigning such wages towards the maintenance and renovation of the facilities, such wages are appropriated by the administrator with the prior consent of the employees, who sign the roster, taking into account that they will earn more by cheating customers than by collecting the pay that is legally due to them.

Add to this that there are dining facilities (bars, restaurants and cafes in the above mentioned network) in which the administration has disproportionately inflated the employee roster in order to be able to appropriate more wages every two weeks. Since it is such a profitable activity, lots of candidates fill positions as bartender-waiters who will report net earnings of 80 to 100 CUC in each work shift, which in turn produces more income to managers, who sell each of those openings for 200 CUC plus get a share of the ill-gotten gains of his employees, turning a blind eye to illegal activities going on at the establishments with their full consent. It is, therefore, a closed cycle of corruption in a society completely foul from the bottom up, caught in a system that, when the individual initiatives of Cubans are cancelled, the effect of the loss of value corrupting every place increases exponentially.

These days, Margelis must decide, along with the other commissioners, which ones of these thieving associates (who, along with her, and just like her, cheat customers and bribe the bosses) meet the appropriateness requirement to remain as part of the gang and who will be abandoned to their fate when they are laid off. She lives mired between anxiety and distress, because she knows that in her environment — as if it were a Sicilian mafia — relative job security is based on a silent system of loyalties, and betrayal is punished harshly.

Nobody is safe, neither Tyrian nor Trojan, and while the funnel of the wreck keeps widening, almost no one understands that there is no use trying to ward off the effects of failure if the causes of so many evils are not eradicated. Purges and dismissals will not make the economy function, just like they will not end the thievery from the State, the smuggling and corruption, nor will the desperate and insufficient government measures turn this obsolete machinery productive. The only thing that can really break the cycle of corruption and loss of values from which Cuban society suffers today is the disappearance of the system that engendered them.

Translated by Norma Whiting

October 26, 2010