Castro rails against 'new rich' who steal from state

Castro rails against 'new rich' who steal from state
November 19th, 2005  

Topic: Castro rails against 'new rich' who steal from state

Castro rails against 'new rich' who steal from state

Fidel Castro railed against workers he said have become the “new rich” by stealing fuel and other goods and launched a new anti-corruption campaign in a far-ranging speech that stretched into the early hours of today.

“How many ways there are to steal in this country!” Castro exclaimed in an extemporaneous five-hour address. The Cuban president also dismissed reports that he suffers from Parkinson’s disease, stretching out a steady arm as proof. “Look at the Parkinson’s!” he exclaimed sarcastically.

Cuban doctors who work in international teams travelling worldwide to assist disaster victims “earn 5 or 20% of the thieves who sell gasoline to the new rich,” said Castro.

“We have to vanquish these deviations ... or we die.”

The Cuban president’s declarations come as his communist government further squeezes the already tiny private sector, increasing controls over farmers markets, private restaurants and a dwindling number of self-employed tradespeople and artisans.

Castro, who turns 80 next August, also scoffed at reports that some US officials believe he suffers from Parkinson’s disease, a non-fatal but debilitating degenerative ailment. Now almost 47 years in power, Castro said he feels “better than ever” and would ask the ruling Communist Party to replace him if he felt too ill to govern.

Dressed in his trademark olive green military uniform, Castro told students celebrating his studies at the University of Havana 60 years ago that he counted on the nation’s youth to help fight corruption.

He said the disadvantaged young people recruited several years to become social workers would play a key role. Many of those 28,000 youths are now replacing state employees in jobs considered especially vulnerable to theft and corruption because of the goods involved, such as at gasoline stations and stores.

State-run neighbourhood watch and other government support groups will help by forming “cells” in the anti-corruption fight, Castro said.

In the battle against the “new rich,” the party’s provincial weekly Tribuna de Havana reported this week that 36 produce trucks bound for farmers markets were recently seized because growers were selling goods for personal profit before fulfilling state quotas.

Havana’s Cuatro Caminos farmers market this week was typically well-stocked with salad greens, tropical fruits, dried legumes and Cuban root vegetables such as yucca.

But sellers said government inspectors were checking prices and produce daily. They said numerous produce trucks attempting deliveries from neighbouring provinces were seized in recent days.

Tribuna also reported on a recent municipal meeting where leaders discussed “dealing with a lack of discipline, illegalities and manifestations of corruption” in areas such as the state-controlled housing sector. Residents are said to use bribes to gain preferential treatment for a limited number of homes.

Also common is theft of government construction materials for private use or sale, along with unlicensed sales of homemade food and other goods. Stolen state goods, ranging from sausage and milk to envelopes and other office supplies, are also commonly sold on the black market.

Castro has used the term “new rich” several times in recent weeks to accuse owners of private restaurants and other self-employed workers of “irregularities” such as persuading state workers to steal state goods so they can buy them.

Pilfering of state goods is so common that many Cubans don’t consider it theft, calling it another form of “resolver” – a street expression meaning “to resolve” one’s daily needs.

The communist government in the 1990s allowed “free” farmers markets to reopen, licensed a limited number of self-employed workers and authorised private restaurants during a severe economic crisis caused by the Soviet Union’s collapse.

The produce markets operated for a time in the 1980s, but were closed amid complaints that middle men were growing rich and prices were too high.

Cuba’s leaders always viewed the modest economic reforms of the last decade as temporary measures needed to feed the country during hard times.

Last year, they reasserted more centralised authority over the economy, which is already about 95% government-controlled. The US dollar, used as common tender for 11 years, was removed from circulation and replaced with a Cuban currency.

Though new figures on self-employed workers are unavailable, their ranks fell from about 200,000 in this nation of 11.2 million people in 1995 to around 150,000 in 2001. More than a year ago, the government stopped licensing new self-employed workers in many categories.