Cuba government minister reports on corruption in international deals and gas

Cuban government officials must fight “a grand battle” against corruption in areas such as business deals with foreigners and the distribution of gasoline, according to an official news media report Monday.

Rodrigo Malmierca, Minister of Foreign Commerce and Investment, gave a cabinet meeting Friday a report on the “irregularities detected in the functioning of businesses with foreign capital and international contracts,” the state-run Web page CubaDebate reported.

“He declared that among the principal causes … that make these acts possible, the foremost are the lack of rigor, control and exigency all along the deals, as well as the conduct and attitudes of the officials implicated,” CubaDebate added.

The Web report did not detail the cases, but the Cuban government has been rocked in recent years by a long string of corruption scandals involving top figures, from a former armed forces general to a couple of deputy ministers and even the boyfriend of a daughter of Cuban leader Raúl Castro.

Two Canadians and a British citizen have been detained for investigation on complaints that they paid bribes to Cuban officials who gave them advance knowledge of government contracts and favored their bids.

Malmierca told the Council of Ministers cabinet meeting that audits carried out by the General Comptroller’s Office “merit study to make sure that lessons are learned and the same errors are avoided in the future,” according to the web page’s report.

Minister of the Economy Adel Yzquierdo also reported to the cabinet that corruption and theft are rampant in the fuel sector, especially gasoline stolen from government stocks and sold on the black market.

“The high demand and profits in this illegal business creates a permanent siege of employees in this sector by unscrupulous people who later sell the fuel for up to 60 percent less than the official price,” CubaDebate reported.

Havana has been rife with widespread but unconfirmed reports in recent days about the arrests of several top officials at CUPET, the state monopoly on gas stations and one of the main sources of black market gasoline.

Yzquierdo noted that new technology is required to measure, store and distribute the fuel, as well as to calibrate the measuring equipment — a key way in which gasoline is stolen.

CubaDebate reported that the cabinet agreed that on the economic front, “the grand battle today is against our own deficiencies and limitations in all the sectors.”

Minister of Industries Salvador Pardo Cruz reported, for example, that between 2001 and 2010 the government spent about $680 million importing products that before then had been made on the island, according to the Web page’s report.

Malmierca also reported that Cuba’s service sector has become the biggest source of hard currency for the island. CubaDebate gave no further details, but Malmierca apparently referred to tourism and the tens of thousands of Cuban medical personnel working for foreign governments.

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