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….



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