This 2006 confidential memo discusses the Cuban government's use of some 30,000 young social workers to fight corruption.
06HAVANA8769 2006-04-24 15:03 2011-01-22 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL US Interests Section Havana
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 HAVANA 008769
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/24/2016
TAGS: PGOV SOCI ECON CU
SUBJECT: CASTRO'S YOUTHFUL RECRUITS WAGE WAR ON CORRUPTION
REF: A. HAVANA 8017
¶B. 05 HAVANA 23177
Classified By: MICHAEL E. PARMLY FOR REASONS 1.4 b/d
¶1. (C) Summary: One of Castro's top concerns this year is the battle against corruption. In a campaign that began five months ago, hundreds of state workers have been fired or transferred. Thousands of "social workers" (unemployed youth) were enlisted to man the gas pumps and oversee the books at hotels. The military took over the Port of Havana. GOC agents continue to carry out "hit and run" raids on markets, bakeries and restaurants. The administration of state farms has reportedly been tightened and consolidated. The anti-corruption campaign is geared to stem graft at all levels, but the wielding of social workers in the effort appears to have a corollary social goal: The inculcation of Cuba's alienated, underemployed youth with revolutionary ideals.
Anti-Corruption: One of Castro's Top Three Pastimes
¶2. (C) Castro has busied himself with three major campaigns this year: The "Energy Revolution" to end blackouts (ref A); the propaganda response to U.S. policy and so-called "terrorism"; and the battle against
corruption. Of the three, the anti-corruption campaign has had the most tangible effects on the Cuban public.
¶3. (C) Castro enlisted 20,000 "social workers" from Havana and the provinces to implement his anti-corruption campaign, initiated five months ago following major speeches in October and November addressing the topic. The campaign first took the form of a rumored "13
measures" followed by a murky operation called "The Rich Folks of Today" (ref B). While the general public has not been informed of Castro's exact targets, the GOC has cracked down on the gas stations, ports, markets, bakeries, hotels, and state farms. Details of the operations filter through the rumor mill - some are confirmed, others are hearsay.
¶4. (C) In October, hundreds of youthful "social workers" were bussed to the capital and sent to take over the city's gas stations at 4:00 a.m. (the regular gas station employees were sent home on full salary). The social workers have been there ever since, manning the pumps and handling gas receipts. Social workers were expected to man the pumps for 45 days, but five months and several rotations later they are still there.
¶5. (C) The fate of the regular gas station employees is unknown, though they are among hundreds of state employees dismissed or transferred during the anti-corruption campaign. One former attendant is now a cashier at an adjoining "Rapido" fast food operation, but her father is
a colonel and she has presumably benefited from his leverage. Other former attendants have probably been moved into less attractive jobs or manual labor (like cutting grass along the roadways).
¶6. (C) The social workers say the four-month operation is finally coming to an end and they will be sent home May 1 "to await the next mission." The GOC is rumored to be hiring a new crop of permanent employees, but are doubtless vetting them closely. Meanwhile, locals and foreigners have commented that revenues at the pumps doubled immediately upon the dismissal of the regular employees and replacement by social workers.
¶7. (C) Another major but more obscure operation has been the military takeover of the ports between October and November of 2005. A general was placed in charge of the Port of Havana to end the theft of imported goods. This operation was also supposed to be in effect for 45 days but has apparently been extended. An American visitor in Cuba told P/E officer that his friend, a container inspector, used to do so well he could afford to invite his foreign friends to dinner in hard currency restaurants
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(a rare reversal of the usual dynamic). The inspector reportedly complained, however, that the port takeover had deprived him of his usual means of support (thieving) for the past five months, imposing serious financial hardship as a result. According to the American, the port inspector was looking forward to a possible transfer to a port in Venezuela, where oversight might be more lax.
¶8. (C) In addition to these more deliberate efforts, the GOC has increased "hit-and-run" raids on state operations. Farmer's markets have been a prime target, with GOC operatives rounding up vendors to check their licenses and verify that only farmers were selling produce (as opposed to paid middlemen). Reuters journalist Marc Frank told P/E Officer the GOC also conducted a recent raid on 40 hard currency "Sylvain" bakeries. Employees were rounded up and sent outside while GOC inspectors looked for stolen goods. According to Frank (who enjoys good contacts inside the GOC), every single bakery harbored stashes of sugar or flour for sale on the black market.
Hotels, Private Restaurants, State Farms
¶9. (C) Dutch consultant Genevieve van der Vlugt told P/E Officer that social workers had replaced general managers at every hotel in Old Havana run by Habaguanex (Eusebio Leal's chain of luxury tourist accommodations). This had thrown a wrench in the daily workings of the hotels, since "now everyone has to behave like saints and hide their
cell phones." (Not only are Cubans prohibited from buying cell phones, but hotel employees living righteously off their state salary should not be able to afford one.)
¶10. (C) Another foreigner commented to P/E Officer that social workers had been taking over the accounting of "all major industries" (not just hotels), but this rumor has not been confirmed. Similarly, the GOC is said to be tightening up the administration of its large state farms, or Basic Units of Cooperative Production (UBPCs), but again, the restructuring has not been confirmed.
¶11. (C) Finally, Havana paladars (private restaurants) were subject to raids by inspectors in November. Some observers predicted a general shutdown of paladars, but they are so far still in operation (if beleaguered by the steep hike in electricity bills) (refs A, B).
The Brawn Behind the Operation
¶12. (C) Castro's social workers are not trained professionals, but rather youth who are not otherwise occupied with school or jobs (i.e., dropouts). P/E Officer's Cuban neighbor complained the social workers
earned 300 pesos a month (12 USD), exceeding her husband's military pension. (Note: the sum is a pittance, but still considered a decent salary for Cubans without access to hard currency. End note.)
¶13. (C) The social workers' youth and inexperience is painfully obvious to all who interact with them, and Castro has since buttressed his original 20,000 recruits with an additional 10,000 social workers from Carlitos Lage's Federation of University Students (FEU). These "University Brigades of Social Workers" (Brigadas Universitarias de Trabajadores Sociales) have gained prominence of late and can be seen around town, at GOC functions and in the media sporting their red "BUTS" t-shirts. USINT has not been able to clarify the division of roles between the two classes of social workers, nor are we able to confirm the total number of social workers involved in the campaign.
¶14. (C) Juxtaposing youth with age, Raul Castro recently introduced "Duos" into the anti-corruption mix (two-person teams of several thousand retired military and regime faithful tasked with sniffing out illegal practices). According to secondhand descriptions of a newly-circulated video featuring Raul Castro, one pair of "Duos" uncovered 2,000 tons of missing product from a wholesale food operation; a theft that went undetected despite 14 visits by regular GOC inspectors. In the video, Raul Castro reportedly questions his GOC audience (apparently without
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irony), "How can you explain this?"
¶15. (C) The anti-corruption campaign is geared to end pilferage from top to bottom, but the incorporation of Cuban youth also implies social aims. Not only will the campaign help mop up unemployment, it will supposedly encourage Cuban youth to invest in revolutionary ideals. The incorporation of university students could also be intended to smooth out class divisions by forcing the elite to mix with the popular classes.
¶16. (C) Castro has given fewer public speeches of late, and has not touched on the issue of corruption for several months. But the ubiquitous social workers and release of the Raul video indicates anti-corruption is still very much in fashion with the Castro leadership. Corruption has become the modern bane of the Revolution, and unlike
his simultaneous campaign against "U.S. terrorism," in corruption Castro faces a real enemy.