HAVANA, July 3, 2013 (IPS) – As two separate trials of foreign businessmen continued amid extreme discretion, the Cuban government passed new anti-corruption measures, apparently indicating the RaÃºl Castro government’s desire to avoid loose ends with this thorny problem.
Castro, who is in his second and last five-year presidential term, said “the shameful matter of acts of indiscipline and illegalities” would be addressed “in-depth” during the parliament meeting set for Saturday, July 6. More than once, the president has said that such actions are a threat to the foundations of the country’s social system.
People posting comments on Café 108, the interactive section of the IPS Cuba bureau’s website, expressed scepticism about the possibility of short-term results in the crackdown on corruption, a problem that some described as a “product of the crisis” or a phenomenon “present in everyday life for Cubans.”
It is “damaging to the country, a bad example for the coming generations, insufficiently fought, tolerated, insufficiently reported by the media, not criticised at all among the populace, permitted in the family, a way of life for meeting household needs, and a breeding ground for the enemy,” wrote one participant, who signed as “Naue,” and also noted what had happened to essayist Esteban Morales after he published articles on the issue.
For about a year, between 2010 and 2011, Morales was removed from the ranks of the Communist Party of Cuba after writing about the magnitude of corruption as a problem, saying that it was much more dangerous “than the so-called internal dissidence.”
In a recent interview that circulated on the Internet, Morales said that the problem was being tackled, but still insufficiently.
In his opinion, the public should be urged to act. “Innovation is needed for combating corruption, because none of the methods used until now have managed to eliminate the problem. And I think innovation could lie in organising the masses, not the bureaucrats, for this battle,” he told IPS.
While other analysts agree that legal measures alone are not enough for addressing this delicate matter, changes and steps taken in that area are part of a broader effort toward institutionalisation in Cuba undertaken by Castro, who began by creating the Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic in 2009.
In June, Cubas Central Bank began enforcing a number of general regulations for detecting and preventing illegal movements of capital, money laundering and the financing of terrorism, and changes to the penal code and procedural law were introduced. These regulations followed the creation in March of a state oversight agency tasked with uprooting administrative corruption.
Economists consulted by IPS said bank regulations would not discourage foreign investors.
However, a Latin American executive doing business in Cuba warned that operations with foreign clients would become more complicated due to the larger amount of information that will have to be requested by Cuban banks, which are also obligated to establish verification procedures.
The executive, who is associated with the banking sector, said these rules were not new to him, given that regulations in the sector were passed some time ago in his country. And Pável Vidal, an academic and specialist in financial matters, told IPS that the regulations “are in line with the new times.”
“At an international level, banks are tending to use more caution and control for all types of transactions,” he said. Among other measures, financial institutions must verify a client’s identity with reliable data from independent sources, continuously monitor the commercial relationship, and prevent the “opening of coded or numbered accounts.”
In another decision this year, the Council of State, presided over by Castro, announced a decision to create a state oversight commission, whose principal mission will be “the presentation, analysis and study of significant cases where illegality, suspected criminal actions and corruption are manifest.”
The new body, charged with “intensifying the study of the causes and conditions that give rise to acts of corruption,” and with curbing and eliminating the problem, replaces and confers the rank of state agency on a government commission with the same purpose that existed since 2008 as a government advisory body.
The commission’s president is Gladys Bejerano, who has been Comptroller General of the Republic since that office was created to increase internal control and “to directly confront any manifestation of corruption.” Bejerano has gained a reputation for vigorously fulfilling her duties.
In the context of what the official media calls the “perfecting of Cuba’s criminal justice system,” in October a number of changes to the penal code and criminal procedural law will go into effect, with the goal of updating current regulations and bringing them into harmony with other changes taking place in the country’s social and economic life.
At the same time, the Supreme Court instructed that “particular attention” was to be paid to cases involving foreign suspects or Cubans who are permanent residents of other countries; that the former should be guaranteed consular access as an “essential requirement” for their defence; and that they should not be tried without the proper diplomatic steps being taken.
In May, foreign businessmen were tried on corruption-related charges in two separate trials. Neither the trials, held behind closed doors in Havana, nor the sentences handed down were reported in the state media. There were no official announcements about the matter, either, even though international news agencies reported on the cases.
The foreign press reported that Canadian businessman Sarkis Yacoubian, originally from Armenia and owner of the import company Tri-Star Caribbean, and Lebanese citizen Krikor Bayassalian were sentenced in late June to nine and four years in prison, respectively.
Meanwhile, Amado Fakhre and Stephen Purvis, executives of the British investment firm Coral Capital Group Ltd, who were found guilty on lesser charges, were released on time served after they were arrested in 2011, according to diplomatic sources quoted in foreign media reports.
Between 2011 and 2012, numerous Cuban citizens, a French businessman, and two Chileans (tried in absentia) were sentenced in Havana on corruption-related charges.