The Miami Herald
October 20, 1998
Increase in violent crime has Cubans in state of alert

             By GERARDO REYES
             El Nuevo Herald

             HAVANA -- A Colombian doctor walking at night along the seaside Malecon is
             set upon by two men who demand his tennis shoes. The doctor does not resist, but
             as soon as he surrenders his sneakers, the men beat him with iron bars and break
             his jaw.

             What happened in July to Jose Rua Casas, a 36-year-old neurosurgeon from
             Bogota, is just one of the incidents of violence that are happening in Cuba with
             increasing frequency.

             The rise in -- and diversification of -- violence has reached such proportions in
             recent years that the weekly Juventud Rebelde recently described street crime as
             one of the most serious challenges to the revolution.

             ``Delinquency serves as the best fifth column to those who are betting on the failure
             of Cuba's political and economic models,'' the magazine said.

             Although Cuba is one of the safest countries in Latin America, comparatively
             speaking, it's not entirely free from murder and theft. Some examples:

               Two Italian tourists were shot to death in mid-September near a tourist center.

               Last week, the national secretary of the Evangelical League of Cuba was
             strangled at her home, after being beaten and raped.

               In 1997, about 45,000 head of cattle were stolen.

               Last month, police arrested 36 people involved in the theft of 3,000 bags of rice
             and 600 cases of powdered milk.

             Official statistics on crime in Cuba are hard to locate and often outdated.
             However, they are revealing.

             According to a study by the Forensic Medicine Institute, homicides have increased
             in recent years. In Havana province, 15 of every 100,000 residents were
             murdered in 1994.

             Violent deaths account for 10 percent of all deaths every year and rose from 623
             in 1980 to 1,085 in 1991. Some Cuban sociologists blame the decline on the
             standard of living, on social bias and on the deterioration of the health-care system.

             ``Desperation is to blame,'' said Hector, a 34-year-old refrigeration technician in
             Havana, who asked that his surname not be printed. ``Young people are losing
             their fear of the police. Necessity is stronger than fear.''

             Prostitution has become another source of crime, because growing numbers of
             streetwalkers are turning to pimps for protection. Violence over ``turf'' and women
             is never far behind.

             In an effort to counteract the wave of crime, the Cuban government has launched
             an ideological offensive to restore revolutionary values. It's also conducting
             repressive operations ``to set an example.''

             On the ideological front, the government has revived institutions such as the
             Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution, a paramilitary group created
             in 1993 ``to unconditionally defend the revolution.''

             The association, which includes some 300,000 army veterans and soldiers on
             active duty, recently announced that it would open its ranks to the children of
             military men and women, so they could join a national campaign of vigilance
             against crime.

             Other elements of the war on crime are the Committees for the Defense of the
             Revolution, ideological sentinels who can be found in practically every city block.
             During the committees' quadrennial congress last month, the urban watchdogs
             declared total war on robbery, prostitution and petty crime.

             Addressing the congress, President Fidel Castro described the street guardians as
             ``the most powerful force we have for this battle.''


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