November 24, 1998

       Crime wave worries church and government in Cuba
                  HAVANA (Reuters) -- The head of Cuba's Catholic Church on Tuesday
                  urged residents to respond to a surge in crime by embracing moral values
                  while a state newspaper blamed Cuba's "enemies" for the problem.

                  Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the archbishop of Havana, wrote in a church
                  newsletter that Cuban society had been shocked by recent "crimes full of
                  cruelty" including murders in Havana.

                  Ortega said these violent crimes were accompanied by rising robberies,
                  prostitution and drug use.

                  "At this moment in our national life, it is imperative that we Cubans learn to
                  confront this fatal wave (of crimes) with renewed arguments based on
                  personal, family and social values," Ortega wrote in the "Here is the Church"

                  The state newspaper Trabajadores adopted a different focus, accusing
                  Cuba's enemies of exaggerating the problem to damage the communist-ruled
                  nation's image and of encouraging crime as a way of fomenting a "counter

                  "Our enemies will always try to stimulate disorder, indiscipline, crime and
                  corruption, because, bereft of any other ways of attracting support, they
                  have no alternative but to look to anti-social elements as the sole social base
                  potentially available for counter revolution," the newspaper said.

                  In the last few months, Cuba's capital Havana has been abuzz with reports
                  and rumors of brutal murders, violent rapes and a wave of robberies.

                  Cuba's tightly-controlled state media, anxious to present the best possible
                  image of the island's socialist system, rarely report crimes. So the apparent
                  surge has shocked residents of an island that is still relatively free of violent
                  crime compared with other Caribbean and Latin American states.

                  Authorities have responded with a crackdown, deploying black-bereted
                  Special Brigade police on streets, rounding up prostitutes, pimps and
                  hustlers and organizing neighbors into vigilante groups known as "Popular
                  Detachments of Revolutionary Vigilance."

                  Ortega wrote that it would be too easy and wrong to respond to increased
                  criminal violence with anger and repression. "In this way we will always be
                  putting the blame on someone else, and we will not be exposing ourselves to
                  the test of a collective examination of conscience," he said.

                  Cuba's authorities have said they will be "implacable" with criminals and
                  "enemies of the people and the revolution." But they have been reluctant to
                  make public detailed statistics on crime and have appeared to play down the

                  Trabajadores, the official workers' weekly, said without giving details that
                  Cuba's murder rate was "five, ten and even 20 times" less than other
                  countries in the hemisphere.

                  In an editorial, it added that a large part of the blame for crime in Cuba must
                  be placed on the effects of the "war, economic and otherwise" waged by
                  "imperialism" against the island. This was a clear reference to the United
                  States, which maintains a long-running economic embargo against Cuba.

                  Trabajadores said there was also a direct link between what it termed
                  "negative tendencies," a euphemism for crime, and the introduction of
                  so-called "market elements" into the Cuban economy. Cuban leaders
                  acknowledge that the government's cautious economic reforms have
                  produced unprecedented income inequalities in society.

                   Copyright 1998 Reuters.