MIAMI — Corruption in Cuba is so widespread, from the street to a defense minister, that the island has become "a nation on the take,'' according to a dispatch from U.S. diplomats in Havana.
"Because most Cubans work for the state, the entire system -- from petty officials to Castro's closest advisors -- is rife with corrupt practices,'' the 2006 cable says.
"Corruption and thievery have become one and the same. Corrupt practices also include bribery, misuse of state resources and accounting shenanigans,'' the dispatch noted before adding, "Cuba has become a state on the take.''
Some Cuban government officials and supporters have warned in the past year that the spreading crookedness is a serious threat to the survival of the communist system, and one even called it the most dangerous "counterrevolution.''
Civil Aviation Institute President Rogelio Acevedo was fired last year amid an investigation into massive fraud at the state-owned airline Cubana de Aviacion. And Pedro Alvarez, former head of the state agency that handled billions of dollars in agricultural imports, was reported to have defected recently rather than face state corruption investigators.
The dispatch, made available by WikiLeaks and first published by Spain's El Pais newspaper, gave a broad view of the corruption phenomenon but provided few hard examples.
It was signed by Michael Parmley, then head of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana, though it was not clear whether he wrote it.
Not everyone in Cuba is corrupt, the dispatch noted. Accidentally offering a bribe to "a clean official -- or worse, a strident revolutionary -- could result in disaster.''
But corruption was widespread and expanding in 2006, despite a crackdown by Cuban ruler Fidel Castro, because of the "economic desperation combined with totalitarian control,'' according to the report.
Bribes are common in getting around the controls, the cable noted, adding that several hundred dollars are usually required to grease the wheels on an illegal state deal.
Bribes also get good jobs, with a position at a gasoline station worth thousands of dollars -- because of the access to gasoline that can be sold on the black market -- and a tourism job with access to hard currency tips going for hundreds.
Police officers pull over drivers and ask for money for their ``sick child,'' and construction materials are regularly siphoned off government channels and sold on the black market.
A Cuban man told a U.S. diplomat that the government "can't build anything because it is simply impossible to collect enough supplies in one place,'' according to the cable.
And a Cuban woman reported she had a tooth capped at a black market dental clinic staffed by health ministry dentists and outfitted with equipment stolen from the state, it added.
Some state shops are run by ``mafias,'' the dispatch stated, noting that one manager of a bread distribution center put so many friends in key jobs that he eventually controlled an entire chain of state bakeries.
Even the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, which are supposed to watch out for crimes, distribute items such as TV sets based on the recipients' revolutionary credentials and their ability to pay bribes.
The corruption is not just a street-level phenomenon, the cable explained, but extends to managers of state enterprises and to middle- and high-ranking officials of the government.
A Swiss businessman told a U.S. diplomat that Cuban managers take kickbacks for awarding large contracts to foreign companies and then deposit the money in banks abroad, according to the cable.
"Just like everywhere in the world, a million-dollar contract gets you $100,000 in the bank,'' the dispatch quoted the businessman as saying.
Above the state enterprise managers "stand Castro's cadres of régíme faithfuls, some of whom are widely rumored to be corrupt,'' according to the cable. It listed one example as Army Gen. Julio Casas Reguerio, who succeeded Raul Castro as minister of defense when he replaced brother Fidel at the head of the government, but gave no details.
Another example was Otto Rivero, leader of a group close to Fidel and known as the "Battle of Ideas.'' The dispatch noted that group members were rumored to be "making off with food and television sets'' set aside for the propaganda campaign on behalf of five Cuban spies in U.S. jails.
The dispatch also mentioned a tourism minister fired in 2004 -- Ibraham Ferradaz. He was the second consecutive tourism chief dismissed amid reports of corruption.
Cuba's official media seldom reports on corruption scandals and senior officials caught with their hands on the till seldom go to jail. They are usually fired and ordered to stay home in what's known as "Plan Pajama.''