Workplace Theft Can Do What 50 Years of Embargo Can’t

Cuba is a country with great potential.  Its people are a great asset, they are indeed the backbone supporting the regime.  However during my business trips to Cuba I found out something hidden from most visitors. After several interviews with production floor staff the seeding sub-culture of dishonesty that has developed in this unforgiving economic system was revealed.  Theft is not seen a wrong doing, but it’s understood as a means of survival in a system where precariousness and need are the norm. Truly surreal, especially for a security practitioner.  How is this possible you may ask, as I did?  Pay your employees as low as $10 a month and pretend to give them food subsidies for even less and you start to get the idea. 

Pressure and opportunity, two of the basic elements in the theft and fraud triangle, which leads people to steal from their employers, are front and center here.  The basic control measures do not apply as well here, that’s because a progressive employer that wants to provide a salary more in line with the cost of living and provide other incentives is barred from doing so.  The regime’s claims that they provide everything they need, only serve to add insult to injury.  So background checks and security awareness, theft control measures only go so far, because the subculture permeates everything.  Many international firms operating joint ventures with the Cuban government are left to write-off the losses as “cost of doing business.”

The following article describes the insidiousness of this issue:

 Workplace theft saps Cuba’s state-run economy

Published on Friday, June 26, 2009

By Tom Brown

HAVANA, Cuba (Reuters) — In a cramped apartment just behind the renowned Partagas cigar factory in central Havana, the factory worker displayed his wares.

Shiny wooden boxes of Cohiba, Montecristo and Partagas cigars — considered among the finest in the world — emerged from a duffel bag as the worker, who gave his name as Jose but asked not to be identified further, offered them at a steep discount to those on sale in the Partagas store.

“This isn’t stealing. We do it to survive,” said Jose, who explained that his wage in the factory amounted to less than $20 a month. Without slipping cigars out of the state-run business and selling them to tourists, he and his family would not get by, Jose said.

Cuba’s communist authorities take a dim view of such “survival” tactics, which have existed for years in some form or other in a society whose citizens often wryly joke “if it’s not illegal, it’s prohibited.”

A popular Sunday night drama on state television highlights the crimes and punishment — including long jail terms — meted out to Cubans responsible for “counterrevolutionary” acts such as black market sales of goods, such as beef, cigars and rum.

“I could get in a lot of trouble just for talking to you … I could go to prison,” said the Partagas worker.

He and three fellow workers reaped just 20 percent of the revenues from the “bolsa negra” or black market deals, Jose said. Plant managers and foremen keep the other 80 percent and split it among themselves and police or Interior Ministry officials who turn a blind eye to the illicit sales, he said….



Military Coup to President Manuel Zelaya ahead of scheduled constitutional referendum

As predicted, the conditions were ripe for a military coup in Honduras.  President Zelaya has been taken out of the country to Costa Rica. 

Here is the current situation:

  • Up to know the situation appears to be a controlled crisis
  • Heavy military presence on the streets of Tegucigalpa, and war planes hovering above the city.
  • Power was cut earlier this morning, therefore they are unable to track developments in the media 
  • There is a possibility that mobile communications will also be suspended
  • Congress will be meeting at noon time to seek a quick resolution to the crisis.  Possibility that the leader of congress, Roberto Micheletti, will be sworn as new president.
  • Protest is expected to developed as deposed President Zelaya’s supporters become aware of the coup.  Violent clashes are possible in Tegucigalpa.

The situation is unlikely to deteriorate any further as there appear to be a consensus from the power structure in Honduras (except the executive branch) for this action.

Travel Advice

  • Account for personnel in the country.
  • Consider implementing business continuity plans.
  • Consider implementing crisis management plans.
  • In-country personnel are advised to keep a low profile until the situation becomes clearer.


Honduras’ Political Crisis

In Honduras, President Zelaya’s overzealous attempt to force an unpopular poll on Sunday has destabilized his already fragile government with most of the political establishment opposing this attempt to prolong his stay in power.

President’s Zelaya’s lack of tact when dealing with dissenters to his plan has provoke a political crisis, which has come close to disgorge into a coup.  There is heavy military presence on the streets of Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula and other cities. 

The political instability may impact Honduras’ already weak economy. The risk to mayor companies is high. Many multinationals are on the planning stage of their evacuation of expat staff plan. According to reports over the last few days people have emptied store shelves stocking up on food and other product ahead of possible unrest.  To make matter worse, an already constrained police force has been relegated to distribute ballots for this Sunday’s poll.  Lack of police presence on the streets and shrinking stocks available on stores increases the risk of looting and hijacking, among other criminal activities.

Travel Advice

  • Avoid demonstrations and rallies due to a credible risk of unrest; do not stop to watch or photograph them.
  • Monitor the local media to keep abreast of developments ahead of the referendum.
  • Avoid sensitive locations where protest activity is likely to occur at times of heightened political tension

WSJ: Honduras Crisis Opens Regional Rift


Industrial Espionage Prevention

The following article from The NYT highlights Apple’s hyper-vigilant approach to R&D information protection.  Besides using effective protection strategy and even the old cloak-and-dagger operation, security awareness appears to be ingrained in the fabric of Apple’s culture.

Apple Obsessed With Secrecy on Products and Top Executives
New York Times (06/23/09) P. B1; Stone, Brad; Vance, Ashlee

Apple has implemented a number of security measures in an effort to tightly control information about its products. For example, the company requires employees who work on top-secret projects to pass through a number of security doors and enter a numeric code to get into their offices. In addition, Apple has installed security cameras in areas where employees are working on important projects. According to an employee who worked in such an area, workers in some product-testing rooms must cover up devices in black cloaks when they are working on them and turn on red warning lights when removing the cloaks. The red lights were installed to alert workers in the area to be more careful than they otherwise would be, the employee said. Another step Apple has taken to prevent the release of information about its products involves providing employees with incorrect details about a product in order to track down the source of news reports that contain the false information. Employees are sometimes fired for leaking information. According to Regis McKenna, a Silicon Valley marketing veteran who used to advise Apple on its media strategy, the culture of secrecy began to take shape in the wake of Apple’s launch of the first Macintosh. Apple was concerned because competitors knew about the Mac before it was introduced.


Venezuela´s Foreign Exchange Policies

Venezuela’s foreign exchange policies are chocking company’s ability to source raw materials and from abroad. Both national and multinationals are affected alike.  The stifling of international trade will eventually have dire consequences for Venezuela’s economy and its ability sustain its social policy. 

Economic woes

The fall in the oil price has precipitated a reduction in the inflows of dollars into Venezuela and forced the government to seriously limit the availability of official dollars. This has resulted in reductions in Venezuelans’ access to currency as well as the quantities and goods that can be imported with dollars at the official rate (with preference given to food imports to allay discontent over continued shortages).

Building the security culture

Why do most employees ignore Clean Desk policy?

Despite the increasing need for most organizations to protect confidential information through policy and enforcement, employees continue to disregard the call.  Excuses abound; many claim that corporate downsizing has left a burgeoning work load, which allows little time to secure electronic or print information when they leave the office or cubicle.  Others don’t see leaving sales figures on their desk as a blatant risk when they’re surrounded by trusted co-workers.  Security Awareness con go along way to build a security culture and instill in employees a sense of duty, but it along would not move the staff to full compliance. 

Perhaps we can to work-out a strategy with HR and line managers to make employees accountable for clean desk policy through their performance objectives. Another idea is to reward the employees with the cleanest desk and advertise them as the “picture of success”; a powerful device use in some sales organizations. Everyone loses when confidential information is leaked out to your competitors, through oversight and accountability we gain more muscle to fight against information loss.

Iran Protests

The protest in Iran is front and center this week. Media coverage has increased steadily, but the nascent story broke through social media as a young and anxious society first levered technology to express their discontent with poll results.

We stand outside looking in, but wondering the geopolitical effects the widening protest will have in Iran.