HAVANA (Reuters) - A Cuban official urged Cubans Sunday to join
neighborhood vigilante groups to combat an increase in crimes like robbery,
prostitution and drug-use, which has accompanied the island's opening to
"Impunity encourages crime. Revolutionary intransigence puts a stop to
Juan Contino, the national coordinator of Cuba's pro-government
neighborhood block committees, the Committees for the Defense of the
Revolution (CDRs), told a congress of CDR delegates meeting in Havana.
Cuban President Fidel Castro took part in the congress. Contino, cited
the Cuban news agency Prensa Latina, called on citizens to join and
cooperate with so-called "popular revolutionary vigilance detachments,"
local vigilante groups formed by mostly unarmed CDR members who guard
their neighborhoods against criminals, especially during the night.
"If it is hard to ask a compatriot to do guard duty during the early hours
the morning, it is even worse to get up and find out that the school, the state
grocer, the kindergarten, a neighbor or even oneself has been robbed,"
He added that law-breakers and criminals served the interests of the
enemies of Cuba's one-party communist system.
"Revolutionary vigilance" was part of the original mandate of the CDRs
they were created by Castro in 1960 to counter attempts to undermine and
subvert the young Cuban Revolution.
But since 1990, when the collapse of the former Soviet bloc plunged the
island into economic crisis, Cubans have witnessed a decline in levels of
security on their streets and a sharp increase in crime, especially robberies of
Contino, who is also a member of Cuba's ruling Council of State, blamed
economic recession and Cuba's fast-growing exposure to foreign tourism for
what he called the reappearanceof crimes he said had once been eradicated
from Cuban society by the 1959 Cuban Revolution.
He specifically cited drug use, prostitution and violent robbery.
Foreign tourists have not escaped the upsurge in crime in Cuba. Muggings
and bag-snatchings are increasingly common in cities like Havana and
although murder is still relatively rare, crimes involving violence have
Earlier this month, two Italian tourists were found shot dead at a beach
resort near Havana.
The use of hard drugs like heroin is still rare in Cuba, but visitors and
say they increasingly see some young Cubans smoking marijuana.
The "popular revolutionary vigilance detachments" were set up in 1996 to
reinforce the traditional responsibilities of the CDRs and to support the
police. Officials said there were now more than 4,000 of these vigilante
groups around the country.
Critics of Cuba's CDRs, which group more than 90 percent of the island's
adult population, say they are used by the communist authorities as a
nationwide internal security network to maintain political control and weed
out and persecute dissidents and opponents of the government.
But during the congress, Contino and other officials said the recent national
emergency caused by Hurricane Georges, showed the usefulness of the
CDRs. The national grass-roots network made it easier for the authorities to
keep the population informed, carry out mass evacuations and mobilise
citizens to clear up hurricane damage.
Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.