La Bola en la Calle: Crime in Cuba

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“He killed it! And I love this venue,” the young Cuban American says leaving the Jardines de la Tropical where Carlos Varela has just played a rare Havana concert.

“Yeah, way better than when we saw him in Miami,” his friend responds.

“Totally. And it’s so obvious we’re in Cuba: look at all the rejas.”

Gems like these are why I’m such an avid eavesdropper: whatever differences there are between here and there, the one warranting comment is the Cuban mania for throwing up gates and bars around their homes.

If you’ve been to Havana, Santiago de Cuba or anywhere in between, you’ve seen this obsession Cubans have with enclosing their homes with iron bars. They’re cages, literally and figuratively, and are poignantly ironic as a result – so many people carp on about ‘freedom’ here, while locking themselves away in jails of their own construction.

Home robberies do occur, there’s no doubt, and the Puentes Grandes section of town where Varela played fairly beckons ne’er-do-wells: it’s dark, isolated, and provides many easy escape routes. But the disconnect between the real and perceived threat is aggravated by various factors including press coverage (there is none); the Cuban penchant for, and reliance upon, gossip for information (loosely related to the first factor); and our human tendency to place an inordinate amount of importance on Stuff.

Our first home here – a charmless microbrigada box in the industrial outskirts of town – had a small balcony, for which I was thankful, except it was enclosed in a cage. For me, there was no stronger metaphor for a bird with clipped wings and will than looking out from that barred balcony. I tried not to think about it too often, but ended up not using the balcony much at all. That cage mitigated any levity my soul derived from the semi-outdoor space it provided.

But after a decade of watching people struggle to amass money to put up bars (see note 1) and as much time puzzling over the rich and contradictory Cuban psyche, I feel driven to write about theft, safety, paranoia, and protection of stuff here and why I think the Cuban perception is skewed.

There’s no evidence: Have you ever seen crime statistics for Cuba? Me neither. I’m sure they’re collected – after all, the data-laden ONE (Oficina Nacional de Estadísticas) amasses stats on everything from new HIV cases and teacher:student ratios, tomato harvests and tourist visits – but crime is neither reported on nor published. Is crime up? Maybe, if you believe the bola en la calle, AKA what’s being said in the street. But then you’d be violating one of my top Cuba rules: if you haven’t seen or experienced something here firsthand, it’s best to assume it’s false or fabricated (or at the very least exaggerated) until proven otherwise. Indeed, if I believed everything I heard here, I’d be writing about cooking oil made from cremated bodies; JFK’s bastard Cuban son; condom cheese; and the government’s plan to spend nearly $400,000 converting all license plates from American- to European-style. Rumors, nada más, which will remain so until evidence confirms or disproves them.

What my experience tells me is that house theft is not nearly as common as Cubans believe. In over a decade here, I know three people who’ve had their homes robbed. In each instance, no one was hurt, thankfully, though all were home at the time. In only one of these cases was the perpetrator caught; in none of the cases was property recovered. Three robberies in 10 years hardly argue for a generalized wave of house break-ins (see note 2) requiring enclosing your home in bars.

Paranoia, it’s epidemic: In reply to my query about government policies regarding this and that, a dear friend explained: “half of the paranoia is based on experiences of concrete, unrelenting and strategic attacks on the country from without and within. The other half is straight up paranoia.” The Webster Collegiate Dictionary defines paranoia as ‘a tendency on the part of an individual or group towards excessive or irrational suspiciousness and distrustfulness of others.’

Based on my experience with everything here from bureaucracy to busy body neighbors, I’m on board with my friend’s assessment: there are some very real, tangible threats to protect against and there are the imagined ones. Something else my experience tells me is that paranoia is contagious. From day one, all of my neighbors, both in the aforementioned barrio on Havana’s outskirts and now in Playa, have urged me to padlock my front door gate, locking myself inside, especially at night while I’m sleeping.

But I’ve never done it: in my mind, the way Cubans smoke, fire is a much bigger threat than robbery (see note 3), and I’d rather be burgled than trapped inside a blazing building. Recently, a friend slept over after a party and locked up the house after I’d gone to bed. I was amused, but not surprised, to find upon waking that he’d padlocked the front door. What wasn’t funny (and gave me great pause) was, the following night, for the first time in a decade, I padlocked that gate, thinking ‘an ounce of prevention….’ Yet, when that prevention is based on rumor and paranoia, is it really worth it? And how about when the preventive measure generates another danger, in this case rendering my house a fire trap? Needless to say, that was the first and last time I padlocked my front door but it taught me an important lesson: paranoia is a disease, easy to catch.

Friends impose this same paranoia regarding my preferred mode of transport: constantly, I’m urged to be extremely careful on my bike, to the point of not riding at night, ever, because I risk being jumped and the bike ripped from between my legs. While I recognize that someone desperate (or stupid; see next point) enough might attempt this, I’ve never heard of this happening here. Have you? The more people tell me this, the more I think it’s an apocryphal holdover from the Special Period.

I’m was born and raised in New York: My friends from Centro Habana scoff when I tell them this, rejecting it out of hand as any kind of mitigating factor vis-à-vis crime against my person or property. ‘This is Havana, it’s different,’ they invariably say. My first inclination is to say: ‘hell yeah, it’s different!’ and then explain the armor and mechanisms one is forced to develop waiting for a New York City subway on an abandoned platform deep underground circa 1986 when wild-eyed crack hos, male and female, roamed and robbed violently, desperate for money for more rock cocaine.

You needed mad city skills in my New York of yore, I want to explain, but refrain. I don’t tell my Centro Habana friends about walking in the street – never on the sidewalk – in dark, decrepit neighborhoods to improve your visibility and sightlines and lessen the possibility of being jumped or cornered, nor about turning rings inward or forsaking jewelry altogether to decrease your chances of being marked. Although I don’t offer tips like ‘never leave a backpack in a locked car,’ sometimes I wish I had: my stepson made this rookie mistake in Madrid last week and was robbed blind of his laptop, passport, plane ticket and more. Likewise, I don’t explain the very real difference between walking streets where you know people are armed with guns and those where someone may have a knife – but probably not.

I also don’t share my experience of 18 months of self-defense classes where I learned tactics for what to do when jumped, pinned or attacked, at gun or knife-point, or with bare hands. With their belief in la bola, combined with paranoia and lack of firsthand knowledge of what constitutes real and constant threats, what would be the point? Besides, it reeks of mala brujería to talk about it: I don’t want to jinx myself and have to put those skills to the test.


Cubans have an unrealistic measure of what crime looks like outside their door, down the block, across town and overseas (see note 4). The question is: does it really matter? Isn’t this just a chronicle of life in contemporary Cuba? Possibly, except I’m worried about what relying on la bola about crime will mean as we move forward with current economic reforms. As inequalities deepen – and they are, as I type this – and crime begins to climb, as it tends to do when the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, won’t it be helpful for citizens to know exactly what their playing field looks like?


1. Even more than renovated kitchens and bathrooms, the first home improvement Cubans make is erecting rejas on windows and doors.

2. Ojo: Note that here I am referring only to home robberies and how they correlate with barred windows and doors, not opportunistic theft of bicycles, chain and purse snatching, etc.

3. One friend of mine has fallen asleep not once, but twice, while smoking, torching his mattress in the process. Despite having escaped unscathed, he continues to smoke and nod off; I have the burnt furniture to prove it.

4. This intrigues me even more still since part of the reason for this skewed perception is lack of press coverage of crime here. But you see the same exact fear and paranoia in the US due to too much press coverage and the generalized media strategy of ‘if it bleeds, it leads.’



Filed under Americans in cuba, Cuban customs, Cuban economy, Cuban idiosyncracies, Cuban phrases, cuban words without translation, Expat life, Living Abroad, Travel to Cuba

53 responses to “La Bola en la Calle: Crime in Cuba

  1. Candysita

    My family says if you put bars around your house, people will think you have something of value to steal.

    Good point! There’s a “bars=wealth” dynamic happening here, as well as a “keeping up with the Joneses” tweak

    • Ole

      If it is not welded to the floor, it will be stolen in Cuba. no matter if the thief has use of it or not- just the fact that it is there to be taken will suffice. Pity for the owner never enters into the mind of a Cuban thief.

      Hay, Cuba!

  2. Although Cuba and Puerto Rico are worlds apart politically, there are many similarities (and differences) in this aspect.

    Rejas in PR are everywhere too! Many visitors from the States make a comment about them.
    Statistically, crime here and homicide rates are nothing to laugh at. There is a very real problem that mostly stems from the drug trade, drug consumption, and homelessness. Hearing about or witnessing stuff that happens down the street from me can be a little unnerving. I feel that being a small island, however, the problem seems more concentrated and ever-present, unlike in the States where the problems are more dispersed. I’m from Philadelphia where stuff happens all the time, and yet here in PR, it seems people are constantly talking about the problems even though statistically they’re much worse in Philly where the same preoccupation doesn’t seem to exist at the same level. Maybe it’s also the Puerto Rican penchant for chisme and exaggeration that has something to do with this as well.

    I agree, it will definitely be interesting to see what kind of changes the economic reforms bring in this aspect.

    • Thanks for pointing out the drugs-violence connection. There is definitely causality there, I think.

    • Ole

      Economic reforms? Change? Are you loco? Zip, Zilch, Nada will be the respite from the thieves because of any change the Castros let happen in Cuba. Only fewer to steal from as the decent folks leave. Pretty soon it will be robbers robbing other robbers.

      A thief will steal from his left pocket to put it into his right pocket. Just to stay in practice.

      • Ole, I think the loco is YOU: if you read the post carefully (and sober?) you’ll notice that I predict no respite from thieves; on the contrary, I think we’ll see an increase in crime. So we’re actually (for once) in agreement there.

        I do not agree with you and am frankly offended by your implication that only “decent people” emigrate. Thanks for slandering all my loved ones here, asere!

  3. Dan

    maybe it is informative, maybe not, but people around Taos in Northern New Mexico love bars and gates and locks as well, I believe that theft and break-ins are a bigger problem but it could be that same old paranoia- or is it an architectural feature?

  4. John

    A few years ago we had stuff stolen from our house in the oriente. Reported to police who in matter of days arrested someone. Returned most but not all of the goods stolen. Court case and sentenced to several years gaol.
    In Oz i wouldn’t have even bothered to report the theft.

    • Thanks for the comment John. Nice to know the cops in Oriente (now there’s a maligned group!) aren’t just kicking back “drinking cafecitos at the Unidad”

  5. Ole

    You are a typically naive Yuma. i had two satellite discs stolen- which were Totally useless without the Box- before i put the third in a welded box.

    My car was broken into 3 times, once in the garage, and my lug nuts were loosened once in preparation to stealing my mag wheels.

    The Citizenry in Cuba live behind locked rejas and triple locked doors while the Thieves rule the night, and the PNR drink cafecitos at the Unidad. While knowing full well Who the thieves are.

    • Ole: you are getting insulting again and we’ve been down this road before. I’ve warned you once and I repeat: if you don’t cease and desist with your personal invective against me, I will start to click your comments straight into the trash.

      Furthermore, you traffic in vagaries and accusations. What exactly did you find naïve about this post? Get specific (respectfully) or get lost.

  6. Burglar bars are the norm in Jamaica – so I hardly notice them when I am in Cuba, but do notice when they are not there in England and elsewhere. Here there main purpose is not to protect against theft, but rather murder.Not sure that they do much good in that regard, but it does help people sleep better at night. Growing up, apart from burglar bars on almost every window (the exception being the large plate glass window in the drawing room), we had a burglar bar gate that locked off the bedroom section from the rest of the house. I did sometimes think how would we ever get out alive if there was a fire, but the risk of being murdered in our sleep seemed much higher – especially as someone in our quiet neighbourhood in our quiet town of Mandeville was murdered one night. .

    • Hi there. Scary stuff! I very much appreciate the jamaican perspective since comparing Cuba and Jamaica is more relevant than most other comparisons given their location, both are islands, both rely on tourism, etc. thanks for writing in.

  7. Cheby

    Traveling to Cuba many times I must say I feel it is possibly the safest I feel anywhere. There will always be crimes of opportunity in every country and I would surely suspect such in tourist areas in Cuba.
    What surprises me in my interactions with locals is how they (in my opinion) are overly cautious with their locked gates, barred windows ,firm grasp on their back packs , locking doors when going next door in broad daylight etc. in what I see as low risk non tourist small town areas where everyone knows everyone and something out of the ordinary is quickly noticed. None of my small town Cuban friends has had a situation of theft but like urban legends they know someone who knew someone that did. To your point raised with no official statistics the “bola en la calle “somehow become the facts. I realize that swift and strict sentences are dealt to criminals but to me there are other deterrents that have been equally effective. One thought I have is that although there are a lot of “single parent” situations there is a strong overall family unit support system of uncles aunts grandparents cousins etc that are in more regular contact with young people than where I’m from (Atlantic Canada) . I would think that with such contact if a person were to be benefiting from goods or money that seemed out of the persons reach ,eyebrows would quickly rise and tough love would kick in somewhere in the extended family. To summarize my thoughts, I think the crime is very low (if not considering benefits a person may receive from their or their friends workplace as a crime) . I attribute it to some very strong moral values and the “It takes a village to raise a child” belief. Thanks for your blog Conner I visit it daily. Cheby

    • Hey Cheby. Thanks for your thoughts. I agree, but the consensus here is that the moral base is eroding. Very unfortunate – I try to lead by example whenever possible.

  8. William

    You know, here in Mexico we use the protectores not to keep people out but to stop children from falling into the street . Im sure in Cuba they have the same purpose.

    • Hola William,

      Actually, I have to disagree with you here: in Cuba, 95% of homes don’t have windows (including mine). Instead, we have ‘persianas’ – wooden louvres without glass or screens. Balconies usually have high walls. To keep kids in, Cubans favor fences; its not uncommon to see entire roofs fenced in. Also, #5 cause of death here is accidents (higher when you parse the data for kids/teens), for which falls from heights account for a large percent.

  9. 007

    condom cheese jajaja

  10. Houdini

    I am of Irish heritage, County Tyrone, NI. If you want to see the stark level of inhumantiy that we can fall to just take a gander at the link below and see what real fear will do. Compared to the Irish, the Cubans are a little less violent, no? By the way, I have been is these places and Cuba.

    Click to access Castles.LR.pdf

    • A bit of a non sequitur Houdini. No one said anything about the Irish or the violence of cubans en si. However, your point about fear does relate somewhat – fear, tangible or imagined, is a very, very powerful motivator.

      • Houdini

        I wanted you to look at the photos of the police stations completely covered in wire cages. That was the center point. Humans are capable of living in cages, voluntarily. The cages in Cuba are much less formitable. Most importantly, what kind of society requires such manifestations of fear? It has little to do with Ireland or Cuba directly, and everything to do with the human race.

      • Ok, gotcha now! And I say, as you echo:

        “people carp on about ‘freedom’ here, while locking themselves away in jails of their own construction.”

        “our human tendency to place an inordinate amount of importance on Stuff.”

  11. dany

    Sorry, can’t agree with you on that one, at least, not with all of that. True, I only lived in Cuba for the first 33 years of my life 😉 but I definitely was witness to the shift in Cuban society and it definitely was in the 90s, when bars started being put on balconies, porches, patios, windows, when men stopped giving up their seats on buses for women and you could rely on anyone defending you from a cuban “frotteur” aka “jamoneros”. My husband and I lived in Marianao and yes, our small apartment was robbed three times, his bike once, our propane gas tank twice. 2 girls, both children of family friends, were raped in Havana, a friend of mine, assaulted walking down Avenida de Presidentes. I was almost raped sleeping on my dorm at the Pedagogico, luckily I woke up when I felt him putting his hand over my mouth, I started screaming and the other girls came out of their rooms and the man ran out of there, taking with him all of my clothes and belongings, good that he decided to steal first and rape second.
    Of course, compared to other parts of the world Cuba is relatively safe, not to say quite safe, but how do we know that? We go with our experiences, and our experiences tell us that we cannot have an open window like we did in the 70s and 80s.
    I do, however, agree with you on what you say about NY, or any other city and crime in Havana at least. Tie that to the cuban mania of “sabelotodo” .

    • Hi Dany

      Thanks for writing in and sharing your experiences. Truly awful – Im so sorry you were attacked in this way. And to hear of your friends’ trauma as well. A friend of mine has just opened a private spa here and along with pilates, facials, massages, and nutrition/diet consults, they’re offering defense classes for women. Something Ive been heavily involved in and promoted for years. Attacks on women are everywhere and classes like these help prepare us to counteract all types of violence: structural, physical, emotional, financial, etc. As a personal side: Ive only been physically attacked twice in my life: the second time was on Calle 23, corner 26, Vedado. He ran off like a crying baby when I was done with him!

      • Dany

        thanks Conner, if you could email me that info about defense classes it would be great for my sisters in Cuba, I’m usually worried about my little sister (not so little,she’s 30!) because she loves going to concerts and coming home late. Thanks in advance.

      • Dear Dany

        Id be happy to! Im also someone who goes to concerts and cycles home alone at 4am with frequency…

        Let me catch up on some work (apagon here from 730am to 5pm, so Im a bit behind) and Ill drop you a note. The spa is in divisa and they haven’t started the classes yet, but I really hope they’re accessible; Ill follow up with my friend when I get a massage to see if I can get more info

      • Quepasa

        Lucy for you Conner. I guess he didn’t have a knife. I myself have been robbed in Havana. Nothing too violent , but the snatch and run was scary enough.
        And Conner, I can not agree in you description of Cuba when it comes to robbery and violence. I have seen and know too many cases of murder, knife-stabbing, extremely violent attacks, robbery and theft, to agree with you. Most of this is among Cubans, yes, but I find the “rejas” and extreme cautions necessary. Cuba does not have the drive-by shooting that we find other places, but that is for the simple reasons that there are very little guns. May good help Cuba the day the guns arrive. !! 😦

      • Hola. This is puzzling to me – Ive been here continuously for over a decade and have not had the same experience you describe – and I don’t run in any kind of sheltered crowd, on the contrary. Jesus Maria, Cayo Hueso, Pogolotti – I hang out in these so called marginal barrios and haven’t seen it. Meanwhile crimes of passion (something I didn’t mention in the post but really IS where most of the violence happens here in my experience), often fueled by rum, are pretty widespread from what I can divine.

        Are you talking about the last 10 years or a different time period/context when all this violent crime was happening? Would you be comfortable providing specifics about the violence you’ve seen?

        The guy didn’t have a knife, luckily, but Ive been trained to defend myself against weapons as well. I don’t want to ever test that training, mind you, but if I had to, I would. Not over a bag or wallet, but over my body/life? You better believe it!

  12. Cort Greene

    I can say without a doubt that there are more gated communities and homes with bars for the rich in Miami and Doral ( even Ronald Reagan High School looks like a jail in Doral) and tons of more crime than in all of 10 Cuba’s!

    Corruption is King in South Florida in everything…

  13. Quepasa

    Hi Conner ! I spend most of my time in Santiago, and what I am talking about is mainly from the last 7 year period there. Sadly I have personally experienced people that I knew being killed. One during carnival, another in a misunderstanding/revenge situation, both with knife/machete. Then two guys knife-fighting 1 meter away from me, one barely survived. A very close friend of mine stabbed with scissors, 2 weeks in hospital . Cousin of a friend got smashed his head with stones in a quarrel. And I could go on and on. Most of these cases are rather young people, 20 – 30 years old, but just as heartbreaking. Then we have the crime of passion. There I could tell some really tragic stories, but I guess this is enough.

    Things get stolen from ungraded houses, even through windows. Rejas are really necessary.

    There is a lot of violence in the streets among Cubans, and foreigners do not usually get attacked, but I know cases ( people I know) where they have been robbed at knife-point.

    I do not want to ruin the image of Cuba as a safe place, it usually is, for tourists.

  14. Cort Greene

    Hope you are safe and doing well, understand there are problems from the storm in Santiago de Cuba and Holguin.
    Rojo Rojito

    • Thanks Cort.

      The Oriente is still recovering. We’re mobilizing aid for the health system now. Unfortunately, Sandy is now headed for NY/NJ where my entire family lives (close to shore).

  15. Cort Greene

    Sorry ot tell you Jersey Shore hit hard and the Boardwalk in AC gone…About a million without power on the shore alone.

    But for your readers who want to help in Cuba!

    Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba (MEDICC)
    Phone: 805-233-7574 |

    October 30, 2012

    Hurricane Relief for Santiago, Cuba: Help Now!

    As the US eastern seaboard counts severe losses and begins recovery from Hurricane Sandy, Cubans are digging out from the same storm— with far fewer resources at their disposal. To restore power, 72 crews of linesmen work day and night. In the fields, farmers salvage the crops they can. Trucks and trains haul food, 4,000 tons of cement and some 84,000 sheets of roofing eastward to Santiago. The province-including Cuba’s second largest city of the same name and the country’s highest mountain range-was the hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy in the pre-dawn hours of October 25th. Today, people struggle to pick up their homes and lives amidst the ruins.

    This hurricane was unique: it was the first in recent Cuban history to plow directly into such a populated area-nearly 500,000 in Santiago’s city limits, another 600,000 on its outskirts and on mountain slopes turned treacherous in the storm. And its winds ripped through eastern Cuba for a full five hours before heading north.

    Santiago, whose people are described as the most hospitable, warm and generous of all Cubans are rebuilding a flattened city–its homes, hospitals and schools wrecked by the storm.

    You can help the people of this beautiful city recover, your donations giving them the extra courage it takes to face such a disaster.

    MEDICC and Global Links, with the aid of the Pan American Health Organization, are now sending medical supplies and equipment, chlorine tablets, hospital furnishings and critical medical books to Santiago and other provinces directly hit by the storm.

    Help us help the people of Santiago…we pledge to make your gift count. We’ll update you on the lives your donation touches, as hospitals and medical schools recover with your support.

    Donate NOW online! at

    Or make your check payable to MEDICC and send to:

    MEDICC, P.O. Box 361449, Decatur, GA 30036 (simply note> SANTIAGO)

    Or hold an event, whatever the size, to gather donations from friends, members of your organization, co-workers and the general public. Contact us at: if you would like a speaker.

  16. Southamericansky

    Good on you Connergo for putting Ole in his (obviously mAle) place.
    His ethnocentricity is absurd and quite offensive.

  17. Southamericansky

    Is Ole Cuban? If so maybe “ethnocentric” is the wrong word. Whatever, its still b/s.

    • Ole is in south florida somewhere and married to a Cuban. He’s very opinionated and sometimes insulting (as you’ll see reading his comments). That’s all I know – or need to.

  18. Southamericansky

    I think this question is on topic because to injure oneself is a kind of crime. I have read that suicide there is quite high. Any ideas on why that might be?
    Still not as high as Scandanavia though and many other countries like some parts of the former Soviet Union.

    • Historically, Cuba has always had one of the world’s highest suicide rates. I think it is due to 1) being an island and 2) broken hearts. To learn more, I recommend the outstanding tome To Die in Cuba: Suicide and Society by Louis Perez.

  19. Ro

    Hi, latecomer comment here…I find myself arguing sometimes with people about how real the threat of crime is in Havana, compared to other big cities, with our arguments mostly based on “la bola” and our own personal experiences. The thing is, making that comparison is not really valid, because a socialist revolution took place in CUba, involving a struggle to create new, solidarity-based human relations, which in theory should lead to less crime overall. I think Dany hit it on the head when she said the fear of crime got worse in the 90s — the “Special Period” is what a lot of Cubans point to as the beginning of a breakdown in values, based on the concrete economic situation and the non-solidarity-based response to it by some: me first, no matter what.
    Side note: I’ve heard stories about the police immediately (or quickly) catching thieves and getting stolen goods back. That would make great copy for the press! (and counter some of those Cuban cop stereotypes…)

  20. Pingback: La Bola en la Calle: Crime in Cuba | connergo's Blog

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  22. Lilly

    I came to this blog by chance while looking for pictures of Trinidad,luckily I found this very interesting discussion about crime in Cuba.We are regular visitor to that island,have been there ten times already and will visit again sometime this year.In the last 4/5 years we have noticed a change in the attitude of the general population,there is a palpable tension in the air and the general friendliness/curiosity so typical of Cubans in the earlier years has turned to resentment /animosity.There are twice the amount of people hanging around tourists nowdays,to the point that my husband and I cannot have a private conversation with each other,sometimes there would be two,maybe three people soliciting or “jineteando” at one time and the approach is generally becoming more aggressive,we have witnessed a murder only 5 metres away from us,a Cuban man stabbed a girl to death in front of us and others,we were expecting to be called to testify but were hushed away by the police,our casa was only close in Linea/Malecon,so was the crime,but the owner of the casa didn’t find out,to this day she has not heard about it,That’s why you probably don’t know much about crime,they keep it a secret.We have seen a French man bashed near Calle 23(a back street)bleeding and disoriented,of course he was robbed too,my husband had his chain snatched from his neck,our group had cameras stolen (at a private family party!!!) in another occasion two boys in our group had their suitcases stolen from their room as soon as they arrived at their casa(they entered through the window)they had to be repatriated as their documents were inside the suitcases….so,Cuba is becoming less safe now,we are very aware of what and who is around us when we walk ,even old ladies in the street now say to me: cuidado con la cartera señora!A few years back a Viazul bus to Trinidad had a big accident on the way to that town,many people died,mostly foreigners and a couple of cubans living overseas,and yet,nobody new about it,we only found out because we took the bus the day after and the driver stopped on the spot where it happened to examine some evidence,things were scattered everywhere and there were still some curious people hanging around….having said that,we still love Cuba and will keep going there many times in the future (we are dancers),we love our Cuban friends and even have a Cuban “family”but we are not going to lull ourselves in the false believe that is very safe and allow to let our gard down,lots of travel agencies proclaime that cuba is almost crime free,causing visitors to walk the streets in an unsafe manner
    See ya..

  23. Felicia

    I lived in Cuba 10 years, BEFORE the economic collapse and special period. In terms of crime, it was a different time. Sure there was some petty crimes, some crimes of passion, “white collar” crimes. But nothing like the changes when times got hard. Statistics always point to how crime goes up when economic times go bad – in any country – and Cuba is no exception.
    One big difference in Cuba, even now, is that people will come to your aid unlike many place where people don’t want to get involved. I’ve seen a whole bunch of strangers chase down a purse snatcher.

    • Absolutely. Economic hard times leads to a spike in crime and things changed substantively during/post-Special Period. I just hope we’re not going through another of these transitions whereby another phenomenon is occurring which leads to a spike in crime: deepening divsions between haves and have nots. And you’re right about Cubans getting involved during opportunistic crime (not during gender violence, though – also not unique to here). Thanks for commenting.

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  26. Manuel

    With a population of roughly 11.25 million the prison population in Cuba amounts to 57,337, as published in Granma (May 2012). In comparison, Guatemala has 16,336 inmates in a population of 15.5 million; Ecuador 21,080 in a population of 14.15 million; and Mexico 246,226 in a population of 117.05 million (source: International Centre for Prison Studies, A partner of the University of Essex, Yet Guatemala has one of the highest violent crime rates in Latin America and crime is among the most urgent concerns facing Mexico. The fact is that a large percentage of offenses in Cuba are “delitos contra la economía” (crimes against the economy), meaning crimes against the State’s economy.

    A research carried out in 2000 indicated that the 1981-1984 period was characterized by increased repression and severe sanctions especially against crimes against the economy and property with levels reaching between 65% and 70% of known crimes. In 1984 crimes against property began climbing and from 1987 they experienced an exponential growth. The proportion of events against property reaches 80% of reported crimes and two-thirds of the known. This high incidence of economic crime and property has to do with the functional problems of the Cuban economic model in force until then. (Cf. Dr. Ramón de la Cruz Ochoa: “El delito, la criminología y el derecho penal en Cuba después de 1959”. Revista Electrónica de Ciencia Penal y Criminología, The author is President of the Cuban Society of Penal Sciences of the Cuban Union of Jurists)

    • thanks for the data. A couple of observations:

      – given Guatemala’s experience/evidence-base: prison doesn’t curb violence/crime
      – Mexico should be working harder to get criminals behind bars – theirs are often running (in) the streets
      – Source for the types of crimes in cuba – that would be interesting (as would a link to that Granma article you mention)
      – “Research carried out in 2000” – how (ie methodology); this author is the CURRENT president of that section of the Union of Jurists?

      • Manuel

        Dear Connergo,
        the point I wanted to make is simply: the significant growth of Cubans prisons and convicts is essentially linked to the economic model.

        As per the number of inmates, the information appeared in Granma, on Tuesday May 22, 2012, and was subsequently quoted in several media:
        BBC Mundo: “Cuba sabe por primera vez cuántos presos tiene” (;
        La Pupila Insomne, “Granma informa sobre las prisiones y los reclusos en Cuba” (;
        Cuba Debate: “Sistema penitenciario cubano protege derechos de los reclusos”,, etc.

        Regrettably, Granma archives’ web ( is not accessible, at least where I live.

        Being a journalist myself I am not in the position to challenge the methodology of Dr. de la Cruz Ochoa, who is reputedly a leading figure in this field. As recent as 2013, Dr. de la Cruz Ochoa was honoured at the IX Edition of the Havana Summer School on Contemporary Judicial Themes and still titled as president of the Cuban Society of Criminal Sciences (Sociedad Cubana de Ciencias). ( He is also Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Havana.

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