Los Angeles Times
Thursday, January 7, 1999

Fidel Castro Declares War On Cuba's Rising Crime

                      By ANDREW CAWTHORNE, Reuters

                      HAVANA--President Fidel Castro, who has kept a tight rein on
                      Cuba's isolated society during 40 years in power, has vowed to get
                      tough on rising crime on the island, particularly prostitution, drugs and
                      human smuggling. But in a marathon speech, broadcast into early Thursday,
                      Castro pinned most blame for the recent crime surge on foreign influences
                      associated with Cuba's opening to tourism and business from abroad this decade.
                      "Crime is one of the factors that have grown in these times, as new forms of
                      delinquency have arisen that we are not accustomed to," Castro told a
                      5,000-strong audience at a ceremony for the 40th anniversary of his
                      Revolutionary National Police force in Havana's Karl Marx theater.
                      "The fundamental task, of enormous economic and political
                      importance, is to combat and defeat crime," added a stern- looking
                      Castro, dressed in military uniform, to applause.
                      The communist leader's five-hour speech -- given Tuesday behind
                      closed doors but broadcast on state-run television from Wednesday
                      night -- was Castro's first detailed public analysis of a crime
                      phenomenon that has shocked Cubans this year.
                      Although still at relatively low levels compared with other Latin
                      American and Caribbean nations, the crime rise -- including murder,
                      rape and robbery -- has startled a society that has been
                      tightly-controlled since Castro's 1959 revolution.
                      Leaders of the ruling Communist Party have been railing against
                      crime all year, while the Roman Catholic Church has called for a
                      renewal of moral values in Cuban society.
                      On the streets, authorities have responded with a crackdown --
                      putting more police on the streets, rounding up prostitutes, pimps
                      and hustlers, closing discotheques, and forming neighborhood
                      vigilante groups known as "Popular Detachments of Revolutionary
                      Castro, 72, acknowledged the "growing tendency" of prostitution in
                      He said 6,714 prostitutes were rounded up in Havana in the first 11
                      months of 1998. Some 190 pimps were also caught, of whom 56
                      percent were jailed and the rest fined, he said, adding: "That seems
                      a lot of fines ... stronger measures are needed."
                      Castro and his government are proud of cleaning up Cuba in the
                      years after the revolution and are clearly stung by perceptions the
                      situation is again getting out of hand. Before the revolution, Cuba
                      was sometimes disparagingly referred to as "the bordello of the
                      Caribbean," famed for its women and casinos.
                      While largely wiped out in the intervening decades, prostitution and
                      other problems reemerged in the 1990s as Cuba opened up once
                      more to foreign tourists and its superpower ally, the Soviet Union,
                      collapsed, leaving islanders increasingly desperate for ways to make
                      Castro also acknowledged that Cuba was increasingly being used
                      as a transit point for regional drug-traffickers, leading to a nascent
                      internal market. "It's hurtful, isn't it? It hurts me a lot," he said.
                      The Cuban leader said 216 foreigners had been arrested on drug
                      crimes in the last three years, of whom 165 were still in jail. The
                      number of drug hauls in the first 11 months of 1998 was 269 --
                      nearly double the previous year -- with total seizures of 3.52 tons of
                      marijuana, cocaine and hashish, he added.
                      Drugs were a "mortal venom for our youth and our people," Castro
                      said, adding the problem had been fuelled by the availability of
                      dollars since the 1993 legalization of possession of the U.S.
                      currency for Cubans.
                      Castro also condemned the "repugnant" crime of human smuggling
                      via speedboats, which over the last year has become the chief
                      method for Cubans this year fleeing the island illegally for the United
                      States. But he said vigilance was increasing and in the first 11
                      months of 1998, authorities blocked 90 such planned smuggling
                      attempts, involving 660 people.