Corruption at the highest levels of government — not the meddling of a small band of dissidents — is the greatest threat to Cuba's communist system, a leading academic said in a highly unusual opinion posted Thursday on a state Web site.
The article by Esteban Morales — a historian who has written extensively on race and relations with the United States — crossed a number of red lines in tightly controlled Cuba, including openly discussing corruption rumors surrounding the dismissal of a top government aviation official who had fought alongside Ernesto "Che" Guevara and the Castros in the 1950s.
|In this photo released by Miraflores Press Office, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, left, speaks with Cuba's President Raul Castro upon arrival to Jose Marti airport in Havana, early Thursday, April 15, 2010|
Morales said some top Cuban officials are preparing to divide the spoils if Cuba's political system disintegrates, like the shadowy oligarchs that emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s.
"In reality, corruption is much more dangerous than so-called internal dissent," Morales wrote in the piece, which appeared on the Web site of the state National Artists and Writers Union of Cuba. "The latter is isolated ... but corruption is truly counterrevolutionary because it comes from within the government and the state apparatus, which are the ones that really control the country's resources."
Members of the artists union have been surprisingly critical of the government in the past, but often with little effect. Criticism can also appear in government newspapers, but rarely on such hot-button issues as corruption among senior officials.
Morales is a prominent intellectual who only Monday appeared on a state television program defending the government on another topic. The frank assessment on the Web site went far further than what is normally tolerated.
Morales never singled out Fidel or Raul Castro for blame, but he said cronyism is rampant in the system that has developed 51 years after their revolution won power and said some officials are waiting for a chance to grab the country's resources.
"It has become evident that there are people in government and state positions who are preparing a financial assault for when the revolution falls," Morales wrote. "Others likely have everything ready to produce the transfer of state property into private hands, like what happened in the former Soviet Union."
Meanwhile, the government early Friday announced preliminary results of an autopsy on Roberto Baudrand, a top Chilean executive who was found dead in his Havana apartment on Monday after being detained by Cuban authorities investigating his company, which is owned by a businessman who was a close friend of Fidel Castro. The autopsy revealed that Baudrand died of a lack of oxygen, and that unnamed drugs and alcohol were found in his blood, the government said in a statement sent to foreign journalists.
It did not say whether the death was considered a suicide, but noted that the investigation would continue.
Chile's diplomats have pushed Cuban officials for information on the businessman's death.
Baudrand, 59, was general manager of Alimentos Rio Zaza SA and served as liaison in Cuba for Max Marambio, the former head bodyguard of Chilean socialist President Salvador Allende, who was toppled in a 1973 military coup. The company makes "Tropical Island" brand juices and other food products sold in hard-currency stores catering to foreigners and tourists. The company is joint-owned by Cuba's government and Marambio, but has been shuttered for months as part of an investigation.
In his scathing opinion piece, Morales brought up another prominent case — the abrupt March 9 firing of veteran revolutionary Rogelio Acevedo, who had overseen the country's airlines and airports since the 1980s. The government gave no reason for his dismissal, but the island has been awash with speculation that he has been placed under house arrest for corruption.
Exile Web sites have reported that a large amount of cash was found hidden at Acevedo's house and that he is suspected of operating a private airline, among other things. The government has not commented on the allegations.
"There must be some truth to these reports, because this is a small country where everyone knows each other," Morales wrote of the speculation over Acevedo. He said the government owed people a fuller account because the same sort of corruption is happening in other state-run institutions.
"Whether it be to vindicate or condemn Acevedo, the people must be told what happened," he said.
While complaints of low-level corruption are not uncommon in state media, allegations of wide-scale, top-level malfeasance are very unusual and the fall of party officials has usually been seen as an anomaly rather than a symptom of broader rot.
When Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque and Vice President Carlos Lage were dismissed last year, Fidel Castro wrote that "the honey of power ... awoke in them ambitions that led to an undignified role."
Officials gave few public details of what they had done wrong, though Communist Party members said they were shown a video showing both making disparaging comments about the government and Miami journalist Maria Elvira Salazar released photos showing them partying with a Spanish business representative.
Morales appeared to refer to that case Thursday, when he complained of "favoritism, cronyism, certain acts of corruption" that led to information being passed to Spanish intelligence.