August 24, 2000
HAVANA, August 22 (Jesús Zúñiga) In spite of all but nonexistent official statistics on the subject, Cubans have the nagging feeling that crime is on the increase in the island; everyday they either hear about another victim or become one themselves.
Arístides went to a discotheque to celebrate that in two days he would be 17. On the way home, he was jumped by a gang of youths who wanted his Nike shoes and his New York Yankees cap. A blow with a steel bar fractured his skull. In his case, life had a price: 150 dollars, the cost of the shoes and cap.
Two men walked into a small dollar store in a business district of central Havana at 8:30 at night. One was armed with a gun, the other with a knife; they ordered people in the store not to move and took 2,000 dollars from the register. They assured everyone present: "None of this belongs to any of you," and walked out with the money and a six-pack of Bucanero beer.
House break-ins are also on the upswing, as evidenced by the coming back into fashion of metal bars on the windows. The bars offer some measure of protection, but also call attention to themselves. Not a day goes by without a story of an incredible break-in to a house locked tighter than a fortress.
Sometimes the occupants are surprised during the break-in and then it turns into murder.
Corruption and swindles are also common. Jobs in the tourist sector or foreign firms cost a princely sum. The going rate for a clerks job in a dollar store is between 400 and 600 dollars.
Theres a whole army of bunco artists whose most lucrative game is selling boxes of counterfeit cigars, works of art or whatever the tourists are in the mood for. Peasants with money in the city are also frequent victims.
Doris García, 39, is a psychologist. She holds that difficult economic conditions for the 60 percent of the population without access to dollars has made them resort to violence. This situation has racial overtones, says García. "For every three white families that do not live comfortably there are more than ten black families subsisting under precarious conditions.
This has meant that its mostly blacks zeroing-in on people with the buying power to acquire quality goods, and for the most part, that means whites."
Tourists get their bags or cameras snatched, but are usually spared the beatings ordinary Cubans get under similar circumstances.
In spite of a growing police presence on the streets, the number of cases solved are few, and investigators find that those apprehended are often multiple offenders. Meanwhile, the situation breeds a general feeling of insecurity in the population.
Versión original en español
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