How Prevalent are the Crime Rates in Cuba

Assessing the Crime Rate in Cuba

Submitted by: Dr. Lincoln B. Sloas

In September, we celebrate Hispanic heritage month. In this issue, we explore the crime rates in Cuba. It is here we now turn.

The Cuban government does not publish crime statistics, so authorities can only make educated guesses about the amount of crime in Cuba. Cuba also doesn’t give its citizens much information about local crime – the state-run newspapers do not have a crime section, and very few of the murders that occur get reported. According to the U.N., the murder rate is 4.6 per 100,000 people, which is one of the lowest in the Caribbean and South America. We do know that Cuba has relatively few guns, and violent crime is fairly uncommon.

Be mindful of Cuban laws and regulations during your stay. If you are an American, be aware that the authorities will regard you with a more suspicious eye. And no matter who you are, keep in mind that Cuban police can put you in custody for any reason. Communist government aside, once you get acquainted with the people and culture of Cuba on a deeper, more personal level, you will find that the nation's citizens boast a lively and almost unbreakable spirit — despite their difficulties.

As for staying healthy during your visit, be aware that although Cuba's medical facilities are more than adequate, the embargoes that occur as a byproduct of the nation's communist government can lead to supply shortages.

The Black Market and Poverty

Cuba has a communist government that purports to distribute wealth evenly among its citizens. Most Cubans receive around 20 Cuban pesos per month, which is not enough to cover the cost of living. It’s common for Cuban citizens to make extra money by illegal means — by stealing from the government, stealing from tourists, or selling contraband goods on the black market.

In 2015, 18 government officials were put in jail because of their involvement in a black market for eggs. President Raúl Castro himself has spoken out against the high level of corruption in the Cuban government, and started a campaign in 2009 to weed out officials who had found illegal ways to make extra money.For many natives, the black market serves as way to make ends meet, and a place to buy items that the limited government salary makes unaffordable.

Petty Theft and Pick-pocketing

Only buy cigars that come with a certificate of authenticity. If you buy counterfeits, you will be fined by Cuban customs when you leave the country. Other common scams include currency exchange. Do not exchange money with someone you meet on the street — you can be fairly certain that they’re going to give you a bad exchange rate or worse, give you counterfeit money. ATMs are readily available in Cuban cities.

Pick-pocketing and opportunistic thefts are common in Cuba, while armed robberies are far less common. If you leave something unattended, especially in a busy city like Havana, chances are good that it will be taken. Havana Vieja, the old part of Havana, is one of the most popular areas for tourists to visit, and the high concentration of tourists attracts pick-pockets.

Jinteros and Jinteras – Hustling and Prostitution

Jintero means “jockey” in English, but the word more accurately translates to “hustler.” It’s common for a foreign visitor to strike up a conversation with a Cuban who seems chummy and happy to offer suggestions about where to stay and what to eat. It starts out as a normal conversation and gradually becomes uncomfortable, as the jintero puts more pressure on you to take their suggestion. These types of low-level conmen receive a kickback from the hotel or the restaurant for bringing in business. You aren’t necessarily being robbed, but you are being manipulated.

Jinteras are the female counterparts to male hustlers.The transaction is not always explicit. Cuban women will expect their dates to pay for an evening out on the town, and many are eager to find foreign boyfriends who might help them immigrate. These women are not prostitutes, but the same type of opportunists that you would find in any relatively poor country. That being said, some women will explicitly ask tourists to pay them for sexual favors. If you are a male traveling alone you will most likely be approached outside of nightclubs and tourist hotels.

Castro has taken a hard line against prostitution. In 1998 he claimed to have rounded up and jailed thousands of prostitutes and over a hundred pimps, and he has put in place an aggressive campaign to send prostitutes through reform programs. The police occasionally raid nightclubs to limit this type of behavior, and a foreign client could easily find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Women arrested for prostitution can serve a jail sentence of up to two years.

Cuba’s Law Enforcement

Cuba’s socialist government demands strict fealty from its citizens. In the 1960s, Cuba’s government created the motto: “In a fortress under siege, all dissent is treason.”

Do not try to start a conversation about Castro’s politics with the locals. Cubans are used to being heavily monitored by their government, and might get the wrong idea about your intentions. Visitors are also subject to intense scrutiny.

If someone from the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) overhears you criticizing the Cuban government, you could swiftly find yourself in trouble with the authorities.

There is a large police presence in Cuba, and a large network of informants that guarantees that the government can keep a close eye on the population. After the violence of the 1950s revolution, the Cuban government formed the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) to get a handle on the crime wave that had followed the government’s upheaval. The CDR acts as a neighborhood watch. As many Cubans still remember, representatives from the CDR used to be posted on every city block. To this day, the CDR serves as network of informers that keeps tabs on everyone in the city, and provides the police with records of residents’ activities and associations.

But as of late, participants in the CDR have become noticeably less active. There aren’t as many lookouts nowadays, and the government has been trying to muster its citizens to revive CDR’s glory days.

Lincoln B. Sloas, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida Atlantic University. His research interests include community corrections with an emphasis on how individuals navigate substance use treatment services and problem-solving courts.

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