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Transparency in Cuba and Latin America 

The reality of corruption in Cuba is a phenomenon that has become more complex recently due to the expansion of private property in a context of strict control exercised by a small political elite.

A few days ago, Transparency International (TI) organization published its most recent Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) ranking, which corresponds to measurements made during 2023. TI’s analysis focuses on the corruption phenomenon and how it affects the normal functioning of state institutions. The most recent report pays special attention to the judicial system. The CPI ranks 180 countries and territories according to their perceived levels of corruption in the public sector, based on criteria obtained from a variety of sources, including experts and business people. It is based on 13 independent data points and uses a scale from zero to 100, where the first of these values equates to a very corrupt country and the second to a very clean one.

According to the information presented by TI, more than two-thirds of the 180 countries analyzed scored below 50, indicating that they have serious corruption problems. The global average stagnated at 43 points, while the vast majority of countries made no progress or declined in status over the past decade. More than twenty countries fell to their lowest scores since the ranking was issued.

Even the top-ranked country in Latin America, Uruguay, dropped in 2022. But something that I also find remarkable is that Cuba, the state with the most autocratic and closed political regime in Latin America, appears at a higher level than some of the democracies in the region. Cuba ranked 76th with 42 points, despite dropping in the overall ranking concerning 2022. However, Colombia is in 87th place with 40 points, Argentina in 98th place with 37, Brazil in 104th place with 36, the Dominican Republic in 108th place with 35, and Ecuador in 115th place with 34. Based on this, it is worth asking what criteria the TI organization considered to rate Cuba higher than several Latin American democracies. 

It is not obvious that the latter countries may have serious corruption problems affecting the public sector in general and the judiciary in particular. But the CPI does not capture some aspects of reality so that the longest-lived autocracy in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the third oldest of its kind in the world — I am referring to states with single-party autocratic regimes, for which Cuba is only surpassed in durability by China and North Korea — has fewer corruption problems than democratic states. The analysis of the correspondence between some of the criteria exposed by TI on its official web page and the Cuban reality is useful to demonstrate my point.

For example, TI mentions that there is a global trend toward weakening judicial systems, which reduces the accountability of public officials and, in turn, allows corruption to flourish. According to TI, both authoritarian and democratic leaders undermine justice. This results in impunity for those who commit corrupt acts and encourages them by eliminating consequences for offenders. Corrupt acts such as bribery and abuse of power have infiltrated judicial institutions around the world. This results in vulnerable people having restricted access to justice, while economic and political elites take over entire justice systems, at the expense of the common good.

Based on this assertion, it is possible to argue that in the Cuban context, structural deficiencies condition the transparency and accountability of judicial bodies. In the first place, several international organizations attached to the universal system for the protection of human rights have pointed out to the Cuban state the lack of independence of the judiciary.

The election of professional and lay judges of the Supreme People’s Court is a power of the National Assembly of People’s Power (ANPP), as provided for in Article 109 (section h) of the 2019 Constitution. This body is largely controlled by the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), the only legal one under the provisions of Article 5 of the Constitution. The vast majority of the 470 deputies of the ANPP are militants of that political force, among which the members of the party elite stand out. Hence, the election of the members of the highest instance of the judiciary is co-opted by those who lead the PCC, a phenomenon that also occurs at the local level, which allows for the impunity of several acts of corruption of its highest-level officials.

On the other hand, TI recognizes that justice and effective rule of law are essential to prevent and stop corruption at both the national and international levels. Both are cornerstones of democracy and embody notions of fairness and accountability. The impunity generated by corruption implies a situation of injustice and a failure of the rule of law. Similarly, the aforementioned organization recognizes that authoritarianism in some countries contributes to this trend, even in democratic countries.

In these contexts, the mechanisms for controlling governments have been weakened. The undermining of justice systems and restrictions on civic freedoms have been implemented by states with governments across the political spectrum. Thus, according to TI, countries with strong rule of law and well-functioning democratic institutions tend to score better on the CPI. Democratic states tend to far outperform authoritarian regimes when corruption is controlled.

If TI recognizes that democracy and the rule of law are key in the fight against corruption and that their impact on the CPI is so important, then how is it possible that Cuba has better scores than some Latin American democracies, however weak they may be? Cross-checking the CPI data with those of other indexes confirms that something is wrong with the weight given to democracy and the rule of law in the rating of the Cuban state. Thus, the indicators of the Varieties of Democracy project of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, show that Cuba has been a closed autocracy since 1972. This result is also confirmed by Freedom House’s indicators.

Finally, TI argues that in many countries, perpetrators of grand corruption often benefit from impunity due to deficiencies in the administration of justice systems. Judicial institutions are susceptible to capture by political, economic, or special interest groups. In the most extreme cases, patronage and clientelism networks use their influence to create impunity for the benefit of their members by manipulating legal processes.

In the Cuban context, this is very common. In addition to the aforementioned scarce judicial independence, there is the close collaboration of the courts with the Prosecutor’s Office and the bodies of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), which was demonstrated by a video published by a Cuban independent press media. The material shows how these institutions coordinate the administration of justice in Cuba, which prevents the proper prosecution of acts of corruption by the political elite.

Based on these elements, it seems to me that it is quite clear that the CPI does not capture the reality of corruption in Cuba, a phenomenon made more complex recently by the expansion of private property in the context of strict control exercised by a small political elite. The latter has absolute discretionary power over the private businesses that are approved or not, whether national or foreign capital is involved. Such an order of things must be considered as the same essence as the nature of the Cuban state, which does not assume transparency and accountability as informing principles of its organization and operation while rejecting democracy as a political regime.

*Translated by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva from the original in Spanish.


Otros artículos del autor

Coordinador del Observatorio Legislativo de Cuba. Licenciado en Derecho por la Universidad de La Habana y Magíser en Derecho Constitucional por la misma universidad.


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