The Real Cost of Bureaucracy in Cuba

The Real Cost of Bureaucracy in Cuba

procedures are complex and protracted, but can be helped along

with a bribe.

By Calixto R. Martínez Árias – Latin America

19 Sep 12

For Cubans, getting anything done can be a real nightmare because of the

amount of paperwork required. It can also be an expensive process

because of the bribes taken by state officials.

People who have been caught in the spider's web of bureaucracy say it is

usual to pay a sweetener to cut through the arduous and seemingly

endless process of obtaining the right approvals.

The Municipal Housing Department in the capital Havana is a prime

example of the obstructions and corrupt practices that people face.

Completing the procedures needed to get a building licence, buy a house

or just change one's address can take years.

Government Decree 217/97 from 1997 requires anyone wishing to live in

the capital Havana to obtain permission from the Municipal Architecture

and Urban Planning Department, a sub-department of Housing. Ostensibly

the permit is to certify that the accommodation in question "meets

minimum housing standards", but in fact the regulation was created to

limit the number of people migrating to Havana from the provinces.

An official document displayed in the identity cards office in the

city's Arroyo Naranjo quarter states that people from other provinces

applying to change their address are subject to Decree 217/97, which

only allows the Municipal Housing Department to approve a provisional

change in address for a six-month period. During that time, the

authorities will evaluate whether a permanent change should be permitted.

This applies even to spouses; the only exceptions are the parents,

children, siblings and grandchildren of the owners of the home where

they are seeking to live.

An officer from the Santiago de las Vegas department said the

decree means that any citizen found to be living outside their place of

residence is acting illegally, and will be sent back to their place of

origin and fine up to 300 pesos, equivalent to 11 US dollars.

"If they reoffend, they can be punished with up to three years in

for the crime of disobedience," he added.

These regulations can, however, be bent by anyone with the money to pay

a bribe.

A young man who requested anonymity described how he and his wife moved

to Havana from Guantánamo province. They had to pay 100 "convertible

pesos" each – at over 100 dollars, worth more than ten months' average

wages in Cuba – to obtain approval for a change in address.

"If we hadn't done it like that, we wouldn't have been able to complete

the change of address," he said. "If you try to find all the documents

that they ask for, you'll never finish. It will prove more expensive,

anyway. Also, neither of us has any family here."

The young man explained how the deceit worked.

"The housing people look for someone here in Havana who has the same

name and surname as your mother or father, and then they make the change

[of address] citing that property," he said.

The Universal Declaration of and the International Covenant

on Civil and Political Rights –signed although not ratified by Cuba in

2008 – both guarantee the right to free movement within a country's borders.

Applications for licences to build a new structure or modify an existing

one present similar challenges.

Article 15 of Cuba's General Housing Law says a building permit from the

relevant municipal housing department is needed for "the construction,

remodelling and extension of individual homes and apartments, undertaken

as a private initiative of their owners".

Jorge Osorio, a Havana man in his sixties, described how the permission

process really worked.

"Since I began building my house, everything has been done illegally

with bribes paid over. It would have been impossible to finish it or

make it legal any other way," he said.

Calixto R. Martínez Árias is a freelance in Cuba.

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