Corruption has been a chronic problem for the Cuban nation. At crucial historical junctures, corruption became inextricably linked with political, economic, and social developments to set, in a perverse way, the future of the country. The documentary evidence we examine shows the corruption burden a newly independent Cuba inherited from centuries of colonial rule at the dawn of the twentieth century. It also shows how since the early days of the Republic, the promise of democratic governance was undermined by the unethical practices embraced by Cuba’s rulers and many of its citizens. Such was the harm produced that it would not be far-fetched to claim that the country’s history of corruption was one of the reasons Fidel Castro’s 1959 Revolution was able to upset the existing political order with relative ease.
As often happens, a revolution born with the pledge to make corruption a thing of the past failed to live up to its commitments. By the time Fidel Castro declared Cuba a socialist state in 1961, new corruption modalities were emerging along the lines described by Milovan Djilas and other writers about the ruling elites of communist countries. As political power and control of the economy became increasingly concentrated in the hands of the totalitarian state, inevitable consumer-good shortages and inefficiencies in resource allocation led to black-market activities and the unsavory transactions they produce.
After three decades of socialist rule and with the promise of material prosperity dashed by the collapse of the socialist world in the early 1990s, petty corruption became ubiquitous, and more and more Cubans became adept at trading on the black market whatever they could steal from the state. As socialist Cuba opened its economy to the outside world as a survival strategy, absent former Soviet subsidies, many among the political and military elite turned into socialist managers and entrepreneurs and began to fathom new ways to protect and in many cases enhance their privileges