Cuba, the ‘safest country in the world’ is getting less and less secure

Evermore frequently, independent media sources have published articles about robberies, murders and street fights

A woman waits to receive her monthly food rations, in a small state-run mark in Santiago, Cuba on March 20.
A woman waits to receive her monthly food rations, in a small state-run mark in Santiago, Cuba on March 20.Alexandre Meneghini (REUTERS)

Dozens of young people line up near Santa Catalina Avenue in Havana. They are there to attend the activities that have been announced in celebration of the June 8 summer opening of La Finca de los Monos, a technology-based attraction on the site of the island’s first zoo. In videos shared by social media users, a commotion stirs up. People run around. They shout. Several come to blows. A group of women pull each other’s hair. What promised to be a fun Saturday has become an out-and-out brawl. Young men can be seen walking around with machetes and other blades. There are wounded people lying on the ground. At some point, police officers arrive. There are rumors of several dead and wounded individuals. The government denies responsibility and that anyone has died. The tumultuous fight at the Finca de los Monos, which was even covered by Cuban state press, despite its typical policy to stay silent on such matters, has revived the debate over the rise of violent crime in Cuba.

More and more frequently, independent media sources are publishing headlines about robberies, murders, street fights. One article tells of a young man from the eastern town of Campechuela whose ravaged body was found by his own family members and friends faced with the “ineptitude” of the police, according to reports on Facebook. Another story tells of two young men who planned the murder of a Camagüey man in order to rob his electric tricycle. The life sentence of a Cuban citizen for the murder of a farmer to steal his cattle. Another article reports that one person lost their life, and several were injured during a concert by singer Jerry La Bandera. The list goes on.

Amid the current economic crisis, the worst in the country’s history, according to a recent EL PAÍS interview with Cuban economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago, there is a perception of rising rates of violence. “It’s very difficult to access statistics, to have a statistical reference to say if crime has risen. Right now, it’s undeniable that the perception is not only that criminality is on the rise, but also the nature of the violence,” says defense lawyer Nelson González, who has worked in the Cuban judicial system for more than 30 years. “Some people would say that there has always been violent robbery, murders, aggravated murders and every other manifestation of violent crime, but nowadays, one sees more of this kind of crime. The country is in a state of collapse. Value systems are falling apart, we are facing an economic crisis that impacts all areas of life.”

Among the achievements of which the Cuban Revolution has always boasted was social security. On one occasion, in an official statement celebrating the 45th anniversary of the country’s interior minister (MININT), Fidel Castro said that “Cuba is the safest country in the world,” a claim he repeated no small number of times in the future. Various world rankings continue to place Cuba among the most secure countries. The Numbeo platform says that the island has the lowest crime index in the region, along with Panama and Canada.

At the beginning of the year, the Spanish political scientist Arantxa Tirado posted on X that Cuba was “the safest country in the Western hemisphere,” in response to El Salvador President Nayib Bukele’s claim that his country held the title. Tirado’s comment garnered reactions from Cuban social media users, who spoke of a generalized feeling of insecurity that, perhaps for the first time, is being experienced around the country.

The results of a digital poll carried out by the platform Cubadata, which measures citizen insecurity on the island, showed that 61% of respondents say they had been victim of some kind of violence or crime in Cuba in 2022. Of this group, only 14.6% said they had reported it to the police.

Still, the Cuban government’s position has not just been to silence such claims, but also to contradict any assertion that there has been a rise in violence. A few days ago, official Miguel Díaz-Canel said that in Cuba, “there are no kidnappings or murders.” Last March, a representative of the public prosecutor’s office said there was no rise in criminality, but that the gradual widening of internet access for Cubans increases “the visibility” of the kind of crime that previously stayed in the shadows, and that online platforms are “spaces that also distort things that have happened.”

The government has often made public statements disavowing any notion that violence is on the rise in the country, and blames independent media sources or alleged campaigns orchestrated by opponents of the revolution for spreading this kind of news item. Beatriz de la Peña La O, head of the department of investigation of the directorate of criminal proceedings, said in an official communication that only 9% of the crimes committed in Cuba are violent. She further specified that only 1% are murders and 3% are aggravated murders, of which 89% are related to personal issues and 11% have economic motives. These figures are impossible to verify due to the lack of transparency with which the Cuban government stores and publishes such data. “In numbers, in quantity, in process, there is no rise in murders,” said the official, who also linked internet access to the perception of a rise in violence.

Faced with a lack of state-run spaces in which to visibilize this kind of offense, and an oftentimes inefficient response from the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) and the Interior Ministry, Cubans have created groups on social media to report crimes. Independently of the state, organizations that work on gender-based issues have compiled a registry of femicide victims, which authorities often ignore, but whose numbers have recently set off alarms.

In 2023, 89 femicides were reported in Cuba, nearly triple the number of each of the two years prior. So far in 2024, there have been 23 verified femicide victims, according to the Alas Tensas Gender Observatory (OGAT) and Yo Sí Te Creo’s Femicide Observatory (YSTCC). But even in light of this panorama, in which femicide rates exceed that of Spain (22 women in 2023, according to the country’s ministry of equality), the Cuban government has not only failed to approve activists’ much-heralded, comprehensive law against gender violence, but also obscures the numbers of women killed by their current or former partners. Díaz-Canel has insisted that femicides are “a construction by the media that is completely foreign to the Cuban reality.”

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