By GERARDO REYES
El Nuevo Herald
HAVANA -- A Colombian doctor walking at night along the seaside Malecon
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
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
The rise in -- and diversification of -- violence has reached such proportions
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
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Official statistics on crime in Cuba are hard to locate and often outdated.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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Other elements of the war on crime are the Committees for the Defense of
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
``the most powerful force we have for this battle.''
Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald