28 September 1998
Cubans urged to join fight against rising crime


                  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
                  foreign tourism.

                  "Impunity encourages crime. Revolutionary intransigence puts a stop to it,"
                  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 by
                  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 of
                  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,"
                  Contino said.

                  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 when
                  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
                  all kinds.

                  Contino, who is also a member of Cuba's ruling Council of State, blamed the
                  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 locals
                  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.