Why Cuba Is Ripe for Corruption

John Dorschner
3 min readMay 6, 2024

By John Dorschner

A fascinating story in The Miami Herald about corruption in Cuba got me thinking about stories I wrote more than two decades ago — and I thought: “Of course!”

It’s inevitable. I saw the same process in Romania in 2001 — and thought it would be repeated in Cuba, though I misjudged the specifics.

The Herald story Anti-corruption campaign targeting officials, private sector fuels uncertainty in Cuba, by the great Nora Gamez Torres, announced that the government had fired the governor of Cienfuegos province and some others in a “campaign that seems to be targeting public officials who illegally profited from close links with the island’s fledgling private businesses.

“The private sector is also a target… as the government tries to enforce tax rules… Because the private businesses need the permission of local governments to operate, the system seems ripe for abuse, a Cuban entrepreneur who asked not to be identified said.”

In 2001, I saw this for myself when I was a senior Fulbright fellow in Timisoara, Romania, teaching journalism and researching what happened when a Communist dictatorship ended — and how that apply to Cuba in the future.

And guess what was the key lubricant in the transition that started in 1989 when state security forces declared (after the fall of the Berlin wall) that they were freedom-loving capitalists and executed dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife.

The key is that the bloated Communist bureaucracy did not go away. Private businesses became legal, but to start one required 40 to 50 government documents, each of which had to be approved by a low-level bureaucrat grumbling about his low pay and reduction in status.

Foreign entrepreneurs rushed into the country — to team with local people who explained to them that virtually every document required a bribe in order to be approved.

Corruption, among many other things, is grossly inefficient. When I went to Romania, a dozen years after the fall of Communism, the economy was only 76 percent of what it had been under the dictator — an utterly astonishing figure considering how inefficient his economy was.

When I wrote about my Romanian observations in the Herald, many experts predicted that Cuba too faced a difficult, albeit inevitable, transition. Antonio Jorge, an FIU economist, was one of several who told me that he thought Cuba’s bloated government had to be on its last legs. “They can’t keep going on like this.”

He said that 22 and a half years ago.

What I — and many others — didn’t foresee was this nightmarish half-step situation that Cuba is in now. The country needs private business because government operations are so inefficient — but the Communist Party is still in power. Its bureaucrats still go to work every day, shaking their revolutionary fingers at the entrepreneurs who, if left to their own devices, would be making a lot more than the Party members.

Corruption is the necessary lubricant to keep this present system going day to day. Party leaders can try to stamp it out. They can make it harder for businesses to operate. They can punish government workers caught taking bribes. But in this screwy attempted convergence between a Marxist-Leninist centralized economy and ambitious private businesses, continued corruption will be the ever-present solution sought by the opposing sides.



John Dorschner

A Miami journalist for a half-century dedicated to peace, equality and environmental protection. Author of Verdict on Trial, available on Amazon.