Date: Mon, 08 Jun 1998 14:39:38 -0700
Cuban union lashes emerging capitalist "fetishes"
By Andrew Cawthorne, Reuters, 2 June 1998
HAVANA, June 1 (Reuters) - New social problems such as prostitution and vagrancy on the streets, and corruption and nepotism in the workplace, are a growing cancer, Cuba's official labor union warned on Monday.
A discussion document by the powerful state-run Confederation of Cuban Workers (CTC) urged islanders to unite in rooting out the "cancer," "lethal venom" and "capitalist fetishes" that had emerged in recent years.
The document, published in state media for debate in grassroots workers' groups, reflects the communist government's view that Cuban society is now being contaminated with problems largely avoided until the early 1990s.
Cubans are increasingly concerned by public problems such as crime, wealth inequalities, bribery, and the sex trade, although these are still at a relatively low level compared to most other Latin American countries.
The CTC laid the blame for Cuba's social problems primarily on the cautious capitalist reforms the island was "obliged" to take to avoid economic collapse in the face of the breakup of the Soviet Union and the ongoing U.S. trade embargo.
Those reforms included legalizing the possession of hard currency, opening the island up to tourism and allowing foreign investors to participate in certain sectors of the economy.
Seven years of economic recession and the measures taken to relieve it had "brought as a consequence a certain level of relaxing of social conduct and the weakening of some ethical values that we can never give up," the CTC document said.
"The country's political and ideological panorama has thus become much more complicated."
Diplomats and analysts here agree that Cuba's recent economic changes have contributed to a rise in social problems. But they add that Cubans' frustration at low incomes and living standards is also an important factor.
An average state salary is around 200 Cuban pesos ($11) a month, whereas a prostitute in Havana can earn five times that from one foreign client.
The CTC highlighted new wealth inequalities emerging in Cuba as a result of the availability of dollars.
"Also rising is evidence of individualistic egotism, the cult of capitalist fetishes and the mentality of the small property owner," it said.
The document condemned "the distinct forms of robbery and deviation of funds, cases of corruption by low- and mid-level officials." It spoke of "the contact that our society has made with daily realities of capitalism such as bribery, commission-taking, influence-trafficking, nepotism and favoritism."
The CTC did not mention specific cases but warned that "these phenomena can do much harm to the nation and represent an enormous strategic danger for the future."
In recent years, Cuban state media have reported a number of medium-level corruption cases within the official bureaucracy, and the penal code has been modified to include new offenses relating to corruption and prostitution.
Fidel Castro's government is, however, highly sensitive to reporting of these problems, often accusing foreign journalists of exaggerating them for sensationalist effect, and arguing that levels in Cuba are far below those in the West.
Before Castro's 1959 revolution, Cuba had a dubious reputation as the "bordello of the Caribbean," a favorite haven for Americans who enjoyed its bars, women and gambling. But the Cuban leader shut down the brothels and gambling after coming to power in an effective bid to clean up the island.
The CTC asserted that despite the current social problems, Cuba's socialist system stood firm "thanks to the heroic resistance of the entire people." And the document pledged faith in the "inspiring ethical tradition which is the backbone of being Cuban."