March 06, 2009
'Bribery' and 'corruption' are often used interchangeably, but the distinction is important in Cuba. We have returned this evening from a week-long independent research trip to Havana and found some surprises there.
We spoke with representatives of the Cuban and American governments, executives from European companies and with ordinary citizens. This totally centralized and controlling government seems to tolerate little of what we think of as "traditional" commercial bribery. While people spoke with great candor and at length about the frustrating and restrictive employment practices, extraordinarily slow bureaucratic processes and the thriving and pervasive black market, everyone we spoke to agreed that cash-for-contract bribery is virtually unheard of, especially at the highest levels. (Things get a bit hazy further down the chain of command and much hazier still with government employees of government joint ventures.)
But if there is less bribery than elsewhere in the region, corruption is rampant.All working Cubans are employees of the state. (Consider the FCPA implications of that!) Whether they're waiters at a Cuban hotel or receptionists at a company like DHL, they are typically selected, vetted, assigned and paid by the Cuban government. Their salary is roughly US$20 per month.
It isn't possible to live on that in Cuba. Everyone - everyone - is an entrepreneur. They may sell their services, working as translators, drivers or tour guides after hours. We heard about one heart surgeon who decorates cakes on the weekends. They may grow or prepare food for sale at community markets. They may legally or illegally rent rooms in their houses or run small 'paladares' - small restaurants - in their homes. Less benignly, they may participate in the rampant pilferage from factories and elsewhere and sell what they can on the black market. Bartenders substitute low quality rum for the good stuff, which they sell on the side. Cigar rollers palm any excess for the same purpose.
Cuba is an extraordinarily challenging place to live and everyone has - of necessity - 'an angle'. But lawyers and businessmen operating there place bribery well down that list of challenges.The results of our research will be written-up more fully in the next edition of Ethisphere.