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Corruption in Cuba

A judge, then an independent lawyer, and currently in prison, Julio Ferrer Tamayo talks about the corruption of the Cuban judicial system

Before becoming an independent lawyer, Julio Ferrer Tamayo had a long career as a judge and attorney within the Cuban judicial system. During those years (1988-2004) Ferrer witnessed the lack of adherence to the law, and repeatedly corrupt practices affecting the administration of justice in the country.

La Habana

Before becoming an independent lawyer, Julio Ferrer Tamayo had a long career as a judge and attorney within the Cuban judicial system. During those years (1988-2004) Ferrer witnessed the lack of adherence to the law, and repeatedly corrupt practices affecting the administration of justice in the country.

Thus began Tamayo Ferrer's disenchantment with the Castro regime, until in 2005 he was expelled from Bufetes Colectivos, the only entity from which citizens are allowed to contract legal services.

Ever since Tamayo Ferrer has been constantly butting heads with the authorities over their irregularities. The lawyer agreed to share his experiences and opinions about corruption in Cuban society, especially its judicial system, a scourge that prevents fair and impartial access to justice, and that in the future will hamper the Island's transition towards a State governed by the rule of law.

Over the course of your career as a lawyer, how many instances of corruption have you faced, and of what types?

The most common form I have faced has been institutionalized corruption, coming from the top down. While working in the Court System the authorities repeatedly pressured subordinates to violate the law, invoking all manner of justifications, like "the good of the Revolution" or "the good of society," invariably in the interest of some supposed social benefit, when the real beneficiary was a certain individual, who could be the son of a senior leader, or a certain civil servant they wanted to protect.

Any manifestation of corruption does damage. What, in your opinion, is the worst or the most widespread in Cuba?

I think the worst thing is, as I said before, institutionalized corruption. There is another kind: when an official working at an institution commits a corrupt act for certain personal reasons, or in the pursuit of profit, whether to benefit himself or someone else.This is easier to combat and eliminate. Institutionalized corruption, on the other hand, is especially harmful, because in these cases the highest authorities of a body are the ones issuing instructions to violate the law or to protect someone illicitly.

Can you cite any specific examples?

A good example is straight from my own life. I have suffered it, personally. The first time I was accused of a crime I did not commit, and for which I was imprisoned for 8 months, from 2005 to 2006, was a result of instructions from the highest levels of the Justice administration; Arnel Proenza Rizo, of the Western Regional Military Tribunal, acknowledged in private (and I was able to find out) that the president of the Supreme Court had issued orders to sanction me, at all costs.

I filed a complaint at that time with the National Assembly, and have yet to receive any response.

My case is not an isolated one. This is common practice in Cuba's justice administration. Legal proceedings are subject to instructions issued by high-ranking officials, and judges' decisions depend on those orders, not on legislation.

What is your assessment of the current state of corruption in the country?

I believe that corruption in the country has been on the rise, and become an everyday phenomenon in Cubans' lives.

And my assertion is supported by what the authorities themselves responsible for detecting and combating the scourge have reported; in June of this year both the Minister of Finance and Prices, Lina Pedraza, and the Comptroller General, Gladys Bejerano, at a Council of Ministers meeting, recognized the tax evasion perpetrated during the first half of the year, this being divulged to the regime's official press. Figures of 102 million Cuban pesos were cited, and thousands in convertible currency.

The Comptroller noted the difficulties they encountered in their work with the authorities and administrative staff, who often obstruct audit and internal control work precisely because they are corrupt themselves. 

What do you think are the main causes of judicial corruption in Cuba?

Many people believe that one of the main causes of corruption in the country is economic hardship, but I think that, more than economic hardship (an element that it is impossible to ignore and omit) this phenomenon is widespread due to the indolence of officials in terms of solving the problems raised by citizens.

The other cause is the impunity enjoyed by the authorities, and state officials' frequent lack of respect for socialist legality.

How do you think corruption could be fought and penalized, in its broadest sense? 

The current Criminal Code sets down several crimes whose prosecution would combat the phenomenon of corruption, including bribery, illicit enrichment and embezzlement, among others. In 2009 the Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic was created with the aim of combating this phenomenon through Law 107, which supports the creation of this body and provides a definition of administrative corruption, widespread in the state sector.

But this law has a fundamental loophole: it exempts the highest officials of the Central State Administration – like the Attorney General of the Republic, the Supreme Court, and the Council of State and Ministers – from criminal responsibility.

By excluding these officials from its purview, a severe state of impunity is generated, and corruption commences at the highest levels.

How do you evaluate the damage done by corruption to the Cuban judicial system?

It is extremely pernicious and devastating to the survival of the system at a critical time like this. Fidel Castro himself recognized it in 2005, when he recognized that "corruption could destroy the Revolution," while Raúl Castro has likened it to a "counterrevolution."

Corruption is toxic, and undermines institutions, even the strongest ones.

Judicial corruption merits special consideration, and I don´t say that just because I'm lawyer, but because I believe that a country in which there is no respect for the law cannot advance in any way. If the first ones to violate the Constitution and laws in Cuba are the judicial authorities themselves, it is very difficult for other citizens to respect and comply with legislation.

I believe that the most difficult thing for Cubans to receive is effective and law-based justice. If a society does not uphold respect for the law by all, it cannot flourish, and this creates an ideal breeding ground for corruption.

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