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Friday, 4 May, 2001, 04:02 GMT 05:02 UK
Cuba's anti-corruption ministry
Cuban President Fidel Castro
Castro began an anti-corruption drive six years ago
By Daniel Schweimler in Havana

The Cuban Government has set up a ministry to root out corruption and improve efficiency in its economy.

An official statement said the new Ministry for Auditing and Control's aim would be to elevate and guarantee honesty and discipline in the administration of state resources.

It is the biggest step so far in a campaign begun six years ago by President Fidel Castro to reduce corruption and black market activity in the country's tightly controlled state-run economy.

Harsh penalties

One of the main reasons Mr Castro was swept into power more than 40 years ago was because of the enormous public discontent with the massive corruption under the Batista regime and most previous Cuban presidents.

Today's Cuban leaders do not lead ostentatious lifestyles and are keen the Cuban public sees them as honest and clean-living.

When corruption among senior officials does come to light, it is dealt with harshly.

The country's fishing minister was recently removed from his post for receiving what were officially called unacceptable gifts. Nothing has been heard from him since.

Lure of the dollar

Cubans have been legally allowed to hold US dollars since 1995, and the dollar now operates in Cuba in a kind of two-tier economy alongside the Cuban peso. The peso buys basic food items, the dollar buys almost everything else, from electrical goods and cars to clothes and meals in the better restaurants.

Cuban officials fear that some Cubans, especially those who deal with foreign companies, may be tempted by the lure of the dollar.

Foreign businessmen operating in Cuba, however, say levels of corruption are far lower than in most other countries in Latin America - in a recent speech, President Castro challenged critics to try to find a foreign bank account being held by any Cuban leader.

He had earlier warned that corruption played a big role in the collapse of the former Soviet Union. He imposed a strict ethics code for officials, new laws against white-collar crime and measures to improve accounting practices.

The setting up of the new ministry is another warning from the Cuban Government that corruption will not be tolerated.

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See also:

19 Mar 01 | Americas
Cuba issues double trade challenge
27 Apr 00 | Americas
What's life really like in Cuba?
01 Jan 99 | Americas
Castro: The great survivor
29 Mar 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Cuba
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