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Irina Echarry: I enjoy reading, going to the movies and spending time with my friends. Many of the people I love are dead, or are no longer in Cuba. I will do my best to transmit my thoughts, ideas or worries via these pages so you can get to know me. I will give an idea of my age, since it helps explain certain things. I’m over thirty-five, and I think that’s enough information. I don’t have any children yet, or nieces or nephews. There are days when I transform myself into a child with no age at all in order to see life from another angle. It helps me break the monotony and survive in this strange world.

A Cuba Crime Report

April 18, 2014 | Print Print |

Irina Echarry

Walkway on Monte St.  Photo: Juan Suarez

Walkway on Monte St. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — On the last Saturday of March, an official government announcement took the habitual listeners of Havana’s Radio Reloj radio program by surprise. It was a petition by authorities asking the public the help clear up a crime that had taken place in Old Havana two days before.

The next day, on Sunday, Havana woke up to hear the news that “a multi-task force of the Ministry of the Interior, working with the Forensics Institute and thanks to the decisive support of the people, cleared up the facts and detained the perpetrator in a mere 24 hours.”

A 23-year-old man (without a criminal record) had killed three people in their sleep with a blunt object: a man (43), a woman (64) and a child (10).

It was strange to hear these announcements on Cuban news, as crime reports disappeared from our newspapers and magazines many years ago. I don’t believe the media should publicize every murder, theft or assault that happens in the course of a day. Far from giving the media more transparency, this would give our boring press yet another dose of monotony. What’s more, reporting on such incidents repeatedly would make them seem less important.

I also do not agree they should be kept from the public. The rising insecurity of our streets is evident and we have the right to know what dangers we are exposed to. It should be possible for us to consult reports published by the National Statistics and Information Bureau (ONEI) to see what the country’s crime indices are (provided the information is accurate, of course).

Getting past the surprise that the publication of the news caused, I must say that the note had a completely misguided approach to the incident. The Ministry of the Interior clarified that the murderer “maintained close relations” with the victim and went on to stress that “during interrogations, the perpetrator confessed he was driven by passion in his actions.”

In a male chauvinist and economically stifled society, where honest work doesn’t give people enough to live on, where young people are increasingly alienated, apathetic and devoid of hope for the future, such crimes are not uncommon.

In marginal neighborhoods, word-of-mouth news of deaths or serious injuries resulting from arguments and quarrels are heard every day. I can’t think of a time I’ve visited Reparto Electrico, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Havana, without having gotten wind of an assault or vendetta. One finds the same situation in rough neighborhoods like La Guinera, Mantilla, Parraga and San Miguel del Padron. Nearly any disco or place of “entertainment” in Havana can become the site of someone’s violent end.

Not long ago, the images of the corpse of a young woman from Cuba’s province of Artemisa traveled around emails and USB memories. She had been murdered by her ex-boyfriend – her body hanged from a fence near the town church. I’ve known of three such cases in Alamar in less than a year. One was a teenage girl who was stabbed to death by her boyfriend. He had hidden the body in a building’s water tank. The police made inquiries around the neighborhood for several days and found the perpetrator.

The last Monday of March, also in Old Havana (at the intersection of Compostela and Muralla streets, to be more specific), a woman was murdered by a man. The same Sunday authorities announced the crime of passion, another man stabbed a woman with a sharp object several times near a store on Monte street.

The motives are generally always the same: jealousy or spite over being left, in short, what’s referred to as “crimes of passion.” However, none of these tragedies have been reported over the radio or published in printed or digital newspapers – they’re not even officially acknowledged by the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) in their statistics.

Did they really need to mention such details? Bearing in mind we’re not talking about an episode of a soap opera, I don’t think the motive was important. I don’t want to think that the fact a man maintains “close relations” with another man is an aggravating circumstance for the Ministry of the Interior.

The emphasis the official note placed on that detail and the concluding phrase, telling us that “crimes like these will never go unpunished and perpetrators shall be persecuted with the full force of revolutionary law,” have prompted homophobic and discriminatory statements, and, above all, have made us think that Cuba’s Military Units for Aid in Production (UMAP), labor camps to which homosexuals were once sent, could come back at any moment.

The Cuban people, whether we like to admit it or not, do not respect diversity. It doesn’t matter what our educational level or our social milieu are: most people reject homosexuality and homosexuals suffer from our intentional or unwitting attitude towards them. It is no secret that, despite the fact the Cuba’s LGBTI community has greater social visibility, homosexuals continue to be the object of police repression, social humiliation, mockery and rejection within the family.

What good, then, are our official or alternative campaigns against homophobia, defending the right to have sex-change operations, launching health campaigns that insist AIDS is not a “gay disease”, securing certain spaces such as the “tolerance zone” (Mi Cayito beach, the Fraternidad park in Old Havana, the street across Havana’s Capitolio, and others), struggling with family and friends so they will not judge people on the basis of their sexual orientation and treat them simply as human beings?

We’ve worked so hard and then a simple piece of news associates violence and crimes of passion with homosexuality, such that people begin to express all manner of discriminatory things. Those few printed lines took us back a number of years.

I am waiting anxiously for May 17, International Day against Homophobia, to arrive. Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) will likely make a statement then. They have said nothing to date.


What's your opinion?

  • ronbobel777

    at least there are few if any killings by guns which is a national disgrace in the US and also in most Latin American countries. Murder rate in Cuba much lower overall.

    • Griffin

      You are mistaken. The homicide rate in Cuba is 5.0 per 100,000. That’s slightly higher than the US murder rate of 4.8 per 100,000.

      That’s still far lower than Venezuela at 45 per 100,000 and Honduras at a horrific 91.6.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_intentional_homicide_rate#By_region

      • ronbobel777

        At least there are no guns on the streets and murder rate the lowest in latin america.

        • Griffin

          One of the advantages of a police state is that, like everything else, the State hold the monopoly on guns and violence.

          • ronbobel777

            cuba hardly a police state. one party system like china. more police on the street in US cities than in havana.

          • Moses Patterson

            Depends on which US city. A ‘police state’ should not be taken literally to mean a large number of police. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary ‘police state’ means ‘a country in which the activities of the people are strictly controlled by the government with the help of a police force’. Cuba to a T.

          • ronbobel777

            sounds like you are talking about our ally saudi arabia. cuba has restrictions and is not a democracy but it is a safe place to visit and there are no drugs or casinos or strip clubs. they are doing their best to control prostitution but like any developing country it is always a problem. they dont live on it as do many in thailand, philippines, las vegas and other tourist spots. hopefully cuba can evolve to a more democratic system and ending the embargo would allow more contact and push them in that direction. we have trade and allow travel to china and vietnam so why notcuba?

          • Griffin

            Yes, Saudi Arabia and Cuba are both police states. North Korea and a few other countries fit the bill, too.

            While not a huge problem, there are indeed illegal drugs in Cuba. People abuse prescription drugs, marijuana is grown in the hills and sold in the cities. Cocaine has a small presence among the affluent and well connected. And then there is the world’s most popular drug, alcohol, both legal and the “train spark” moonshine, widely consumed in Cuba. Alcoholism is a big public health problem in Cuba.

            The US used to have embargoes on China & Vietnam, but in the 1980s they negotiated an end to the restrictions. Perhaps one day, the US & Cuba will sit down and honestly negotiate an end to the embargo. However, I do not see the logic of the argument that ending the embargo will push Cuba toward democracy. That hasn’t worked for China or Vietnam has it? Why would it work in Cuba?

            My expectation is there will be no move toward democratization in Cuba so long as the Castros are alive. Once the old guard are gone from the scene, the next generation of rulers might open up a bit. The US would respond with a further relaxation of the embargo (much of it is already gone, as you know). And so on. It might take a couple of changes in leadership post-Raul to arrive at that point, as the old guard will try as best they can to hold on to power.

          • Carlyle MacDuff

            Raul has designated Diaz-Canel as his successor. As discussed in other blogs Cuba is searching for another sugar-daddy to replace Madura’s Venezuela – due for an election in four years time coincidentally the anticipated time of Raul’s retirement. Rail respects Diaz-Canel for being “idealogically firm” but in dictatorships only one person can be at the top as demonstrated by power struggles in the USSR. Will Murillo Jorge and Bruno Rodriguez Carillo meekly accept Diaz-Canel when the time comes and when the flow of cheap oil will probably cease?
            My wife and I have been stopped on the streets of Havana three times by the Police and even when in a taxi going to the airport and on another occasion security at the major Hotel at Sana Clara evicted my wife when we went there for lunch- reason? we are racially mixed. Fortunately we don’t live anywhere near Havana. That IS a police state. So much for the Constitution of Cuba (Fidel’s baby) which not only says that all are equal but also says that Cubans have the right to enter hotels. Yet in April 2012 Raul announced that Cubans could now visit hotels. The French had a revolution for liberty, the Americans because “taxation without representation is tyranny”. In Cuba it was to obtain “El poder”.

          • Griffin

            My suspicion is that Diaz-Canal is a placeholder for the true dauphin, Alejandro Castro Espín . As the head of the MININT, Castro the Younger is in the best position to consolidate his grip on power when his father retires. If Diaz-Canal is still around it will be as a figure head.

            In the late 1950′s Cuba had a rebellion, not a revolution, to overthrow the dictator Batista. The promise was to return to the liberal democracy of the 1940 constitution. It was only after the Castro’s had obtained power that the actual Revolution began, and by that point the people had no say in where it was going.

          • Moses Patterson

            Saudi Arabia may fit the description of a police state as well. We favor certain countries over others because it is in the best interest of the US to do so. Sounds hypocritical? Possibly, but it is simply foreign policy in the real world. Cuba, with no natural resources to exploit, no real value as a market to US businesses and no special role in global geopolitics is easy to ignore. Saudi Arabia, China and others who, despite their human rights abuses, do have a greater value to US priorities, are given a partial pass. That’s the real world.