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June 2006
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Corruption Crack-Down Aims High

Corruption Crack-Down Aims High
Dalia Acosta

HAVANA, Jun 21 (IPS) – The “war on corruption” declared by President
Fidel Castro late last year has shaken the uppermost reaches of the
Cuban Communist Party (PCC), with a 12-year prison sentence recently
handed down to a former member of the country’s top government body.

Juan Carlos Robinson, 49, a key PCC Central Committee member for 20
years, was tried on charges of influence peddling, according to a
statement from the ruling Politburo, published Wednesday in the official
Granma newspaper.

“It was demonstrated that Robinson Agramonte, in the open process of his
ideological weakening and with abuse of his position, forgot his high
responsibilities and the integrity demanded of a revolutionary cadre and
used his influence to obtain benefits,” read the Granma text.

On Apr. 28, Granma had reported Robinson’s expulsion from the PCC,
Cuba’s only political party.

According to the official report, Robinson had received several
criticisms, warnings and orders to clean up his act, but “instead of
taking heed,” his “arrogance, abuse of authority, indiscretions and
undermined ethical principles” became even more flagrant. Local
observers say that the Cuban government is making an example of Robinson
and his sentence, to further its agenda to eliminate different
tendencies that could weaken the socialist system, including “from within.”

On Nov. 17, Castro publicly warned of the possibility that the system
could “self-destruct,” citing this threat as the impulse driving the
“battle against corruption” and other vices, such as theft, diversion of
funds and abuse of power in state-owned corporations. “Either we defeat
the problem, or we die,” he warned then.

The plan of attack included deploying thousands of social workers to
prevent pilfering at gas stations, sending party representatives to
inspect hundreds of work centres and firing several state corporation

This is not the first time Cuba has launched this kind of offensive. In
July 1996, the socialist government implemented a Code of Ethics for
state leaders, and declared its commitment to persevering in the “long
and difficult” battle against corruption at all levels.

The code, which is still in effect, prohibits public employees from
using their position for personal gain, to benefit family or friends or
as a basis for negotiating favours, while calling for honesty, modesty
and restraint and condemning arbitrariness, vanity and substandard
professional conduct.

High-profile cases involving top officials have included that of former
Cuban Civil Aeronautics Institute President Luis Orlando Domínguez,
jailed in 1987 for maintaining an excessively high standard of living
given the country’s economic situation.

And in mid-1989, a trial of military officers accused of ties to drug
trafficking culminated with the death penalty for General Arnaldo Ochoa,
Colonel Antonio de la Guardia, Captain Jorge Martínez and Major Armando

In a parallel incident, known as the “Ochoa Case,” Diocles Torralba,
former vice president and transport minister, was found guilty on
corruption and other charges.

In 1992, Carlos Aldana, head of the Communist Party Ideological
Department, was sacked and sent to work outside Havana for taking
advantage of his position for personal gain.

In 1995, authorities were alerted to shady dealings in some joint
ventures that incorporated foreign capital, which were followed by
similar incidents in various economic sectors, such as tourism. In 2001,
then-Fisheries Minister Orlando Rodríguez was fired for his lack of
control over corrupt subordinates.

The ousting of ex-Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina in 1999 and his
subsequent “dishonourable” expulsion from the Communist Party made major
waves. Robaina was accused in 2002 of covering up information,
maintaining close, unauthorised relations with foreign politicians and
accepting gifts from businessmen in exchange for favours.

Cuban law punishes the crime of bribery with eight to 20 years in
prison. The legislation also outlines punishments for influence
peddling, embezzlement and diversion of funds.

Current Minister of Foreign Affairs Felipe Pérez Roque has said the
future of Cuba’s socialist system in the so-called “post-Castro era”
depends on the commitment of those in power “to restraint, dedication to
work and renouncement of privileges.”

Cubans must rest assured that, the higher the level of government at
which errors, betrayal and corruption are discovered, the more severely
they will be dealt with, Pérez Roque said last October.

Robinson’s sentencing came on the heels of a flurry of dismissals and
appointments. Since January, new party secretaries have been named in
five of Cuba’s 14 provinces, and the ministers of auditing and control,
light industry and higher education have all been replaced.

In some cases, the sackings have been attributed to the former
ministers’ job performance. But in general terms they are viewed as part
of a methodical renovation that was to have taken place during the 6th
Communist Party Congress, which had been originally scheduled for 2002.

Top Party officials have not publicly explained the reason why the
congress was not held within the stipulated five years. The party
congress is traditionally the forum in which the country’s main
political and social-economic development strategies are set. (END/2006)

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