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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Handling corruption in Cuba

In April 1986, some years before Gorbachev's perestroika process, Cuba launched a rectification programme. In many ways, this represented a return to some of the themes developed in the 1960s by Che Guevara, and a critique of the Soviet style top-down and narrow, material-incentive approach to economic development. The Soviet approach had become increasingly entrenched in Cuba in the 1970s, to the detriment of the more people driven and moral-based traditions of Cuban socialism. Without the 1986 rectification programme, Cuba's capacity to survive the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1989-91 (some 85 percent of its international market was lost overnight), would certainly have been less. The following are extracts from Cuba, Talking about the Revolution, conversations with Juan Antonio Blanco by Medea Benjamin, Ocean Press, 1994.

Medea Benjamin: How did the rectification process address the long-standing controversy of material versus moral incentives?

Juan Antonio Blanco: As part of this process we began to rectify the essence of the economic mechanisms we had been using. We realised that we could not develop an alternative society based on solidarity and feelings of love for your neighbour while using capitalist economic incentives, which foster a dog-eat-dog mentality. So we recaptured the use of moral incentives, which had been set aside for nearly 15 years. We did not discard material incentives, we understood that material incentives were also important to motivate people. But little by little we began to recover the idea that the revolution was not only a matter of a more just distribution of wealth, but also a spiritual project to release people's creativity and give them a greater degree of participation in society.

MB: One of the issues that came up in this rectification campaign was the issue of corruption. Throughout the revolution's history there has been a flourishing black market where people sell goods stolen from state enterprises or hoard scarce goods and re-sell them. Rectification not only highlighted these problems of corruption among private citizens but also corruption among high government officials.

JAB: Yes. Once we began the rectification process, we realised that there were top and middle-level figures - ministers and others - who had become corrupt during this period when we were copying the Eastern institutions. So a number of government officials were charged and tried for corruption.

When we faced this reality of corruption, we also had to look into another, more disagreeable reality, and that is that people are not born corrupt, they get corrupted. They were revolutionaries before but had gone through a process of corrup-tion, because our own institutions had allowed them to go through that process. We were shocked by this. We realised that our system failed to prevent this level of corruption because it did not provide for sufficient popular control.

This really hit home in 1989, when we discovered that a number of important officials of the Army and the Ministry of the Interior were involved in drug smuggling. One of them, General Ochoa, was a hero of the revolution. Of course, he lost that position when we learned that he was connected with drug dealers. To a certain degree, this was precisely the reverse of what happened with Oliver North in the United States, when it was learned that he had all these dealings with the Contras and drug dealers. Oliver North became a celebrity; Ochoa faced a firing squad.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.