Danger in the streets: ‘Cuba is no longer safe, not even for the most hardened’
A list of prohibitions for the whole family, couples who can no longer frequent parks, women who have stopped ‘working the street’: such is life in a Havana that has become dangerous.
Emiliano is over 70 years old, but still retains that air of respect, his hands and firm step transmit to one that he is before a man to be reckoned with. His reputation on “the scene” is well-earned: he is a survivor of two deadly showdowns still remembered in the capital’s toughest neighborhoods. Now, he barely goes out; only to run “an errand or at the bodega, or at the greengrocer,” or to visit his grandchildren. And, when he has to leave his home, he never takes his cell phone.
“The streets are dicey, man,” he says. “They’re killing, assaulting and stabbing people over almost nothing. Every week there’s one dead, one missing, one fatal assault, not to mention the women murdered. These are the most dangerous times I’ve ever seen.” Interestingly, Emiliano only reads the independent press, and does not talk about politics “even with family.”
“Under no circumstances, not even during decades of imprisonment, was fear ever part of my mindset, until these last few years. My wife and I keep the gate and the door locked at all times. We go out on the street only when necessary, and never with our cell phones. If we go far, we always go by car, no matter what it costs. I never thought I would have to live like this, with scares, with real fear of walking those streets where they knew my name well,” adds Emiliano, who does not hesitate to compare the violence in his time and the escalation that is currently racking the island.
“Before you only had to fear those who were in on stuff, if you were involved, in one way or another. If someone pulled out a gun, whatever it was, it was because things had gone to the limit, but never to show off or impress. There was violence, yes, but you knew where, when and why. What is going on today is that had never been seen, anywhere, in this country. Crimes so grisly they’re like something out of a movie. Cuba is no longer safe, not even for the most hardened.”
Living with a list of prohibitions for the whole family
A mother of three teenagers, and taking care of her two elderly parents, Maria Esther Wong says she lives on tenterhooks She has a series of prohibitions for the whole family, including her husband: no one goes out alone after nightfall; cell phones are not used on the street; the gate is always lock; no strangers are allowed inside, and more.
“My daughter asks me whether I’m raising her to be a nun. The boys are more rebellious, because they want to be on the street all day, but I stand firm. Two co-workers of mine suffered the tragedy of their kids being stabbed for their cell phones. I don’t even go on social media anymore, because every day it’s someone who’s disappeared, and then they find them; attacks with machetes, shootings, women killed in the most horrific ways. What public safety are talking about at the Federation (of Cuban Women) within the (Communist) Party, on television? There is no safety in Cuba; what we’re experiencing is simply horrifying,” says Wong, who, in a low voice, says that she keeps a close eye on her daughter’s boyfriend.
“I’m scared, cause of the femicides. If they argue, can’t sleep. I won’t let them go out alone anywhere without their brothers, and they can’t sleep elsewhere, because here at home they have their space for intimacy. Those are the rules. I forced my husband to sell the motorbike. I told him it was either that or divorce. I tell families that they should be worried, very worried, because in this country you’re no longer safe, even at home. Even when making new friends, you have to take precautions,” adds Wong, who says that the police “barely fulfill their obligations.”
“It’s not enough to have cops who don’t take bribes, or who return lost belongings. We need cops who keep the streets, safe and laws that keep women safe,” he says.
Since February 1 DIARIO DE CUBA has documented more than a dozen murders, mostly involving robberies, not counting feminicides: 38 so far this year, according to independent feminist platforms in Cuba. That is six more than the total number of femicides reported in all of 2022.
No couples in parks
Being out on Havana streets at night, especially in peripheral neighborhoods, is very dangerous. Public lighting is practically non-existent, as are police patrols. Even avenues and roads are immersed in total darkness. Couples have zero intimacy in parks, because no one is willing to risk romantic or erotic indulgences amidst a wave of violence that has the whole country on edge.
“My partner and I, since we have no privacy in any of our homes, took advantage of the neighborhood parks. But that is taking a risk for pleasure, given the times,” says Yailín Caballé, a Reparto Martí resident.
“We prefer to bite the bullet and pay to enjoy a safe rental. We go there and back by taxi, because it’s not safe to walk at night, though the assaults are happening in broad daylight too. My brother-in-law was crippled for life. All for a cell phone.”
As she works night shifts at a café, Caballé is escorted by her partner and brother. Her partner stays with her throughout her shift, after which her brother escorts them.
“It’s a ritual every time I have to work at night, but in these neighborhoods you don’t even see a patrolman by day, unless they’re cracking down on the protesters. The Cerro Police mobilized for that,” adds Caballé, who points out that on the Avenida Santa Catalina and Avenida Vento” there are no longer any street walkers.
“It’s not due to the police operations, but rather all the violence. That’s why they’re gone.”
Yenisey has been a sex worker for more than five years. She used to ply the areas of Santa Catalina, Avenida Boyeros and Via Blanca. After one of her fellow workers was attacked, and did not recover from her injuries, she decided not to offer her services at night.
“It’s been very difficult for those of us who make our living from this, and nobody talks about it. We don’t even dare to work in groups, to obtain protection and security, because you can still be the victim of fake customers, like happened to our friend.
There have always been incidents against us because this is a risky job, but the streets are really bad now for everyone. Before there was a certain tranquility, a certain security, but every day now you hear about another tragedy. And these are the kind of tragedies that weren’t supposed to happen in Cuba. You’re no longer safe, even inside your own house,” laments Yenisey, who says she knows relatives of Anisleysi Rodríguez Mesero, an El Cerro resident who was brutally murdered last June 7 during a home robbery.
“If all those women haven’t obtained justice, imagine what sex workers can expect. For the Government, we are the dregs. We’ve never had any protection, only police round-ups and threats, or accusations of being a public danger. We would be doubly exposed in a country where, right now, being a woman is a curse.”