Reports from Cuba: Home delivery now a high-risk job for Cuban drivers

Natalia Lopez Moya reports in 14yMedio from Havana via Translating Cuba:

Home Delivery Now a High Risk Job for Cuban Drivers

Some couriers deliver goods that Cubans living overseas have bought for their relatives back home as well as takeout orders from bars and restaurants.

A company logo, a restaurant’s refrigerated packaging or the typical colors of a home delivery service are enough to catch the eye of a thief. In a country ravaged by economic crisis, couriers transporting goods to customers’ homes are being targeted. Easy to spot, with some on bicycles and others on motorcycles, they are increasingly victims of robberies and assaults.

With one arm in a sling, 21-year-old Ismael relates his story. “I picked up an order that included several main dishes and some beers from a restaurant for a customer in Playa. It wasn’t late but it had already gotten dark,” he says. “When I got close to the iron bridge over the Almendares River, a guy came out of nowhere with a pipe in his hand.”

During the assault, Ismael shielded himself with his forearm to avoid being hit in the face and ended up with a fractured ulna. “They took the backpack and everything it had in it,” he says. “The contents of the thermal container, which had the logo of a well-known home delivery service on it, cost more than $80. The customer had paid the bill up front using a payment app.”

After growing hungry and impatient while waiting for Ismael, the customers contacted the delivery service but it was hours before they received a response. “We are very sorry for the inconvenience,” the message read. “Our courier has been assaulted and is now in the hospital. We will arrange for a new delivery but it will not be until tomorrow because, at the moment, we have no other employees available.”

Home delivery services are becoming more common in Cuba. Some deliver goods that Cubans living overseas have bought for their relatives back home. Items can include anything from food products to hardware store purchases to home appliances. Perhaps the best known are the e-commerce platforms Supermarket and Katapulk.

“They might use panelitos [small vans], which are always safer, but even they attract a thief’s attention,” acknowledges Vladimir, who worked at Supermarket — an online grocery store — for three years. Now using his own vehicle, he delivers remittances for a company headquartered in Miami that sends cash on an informal basis to the island.

“Things weren’t too bad during my time at Supermarket. I just had to make sure the vehicle’s doors were secured to avoid the occasional robbery but we were already talking about it back then. We were talking about how they would come at you with a blunt instument at a street corner because they knew you were transporting things of value.”

By “things of value,” Vladimir means a box of frozen chicken, a rice cooker or a package of cassava. “It’s best to use cars that don’t have the company logo on them and that are not obviously used for deliveries. If you’re carrying valuable goods, the risk is greater,” he says.

This week Annia and Pascual, a married couple, waited more than ten hours for a driver to show up with some drill bits, which they needed for changes they were making to a kitchen wall. “The only thing left to do on our renovation project was to drill some holes in the stone and we needed some very specific tools. We saw someone was selling them on Revolico [a digital classified ad site] and decided to have them delivered,” says Annia.

After a frustrating day-long wait, the couple received a voice message from the driver. He told them he was at the hopital because someone had attacked him and stolen all the merchandise he was carrying. Between the drill bits, a hammer drill and some hydraulic parts, the thieves made off with items worth more than $300.

“Luckily, we hadn’t yet paid for anything — we didn’t have to pay until the driver arrived with the order — but it did force us to stop work. And we’ve been worried about the boy, who is very young. They hit him in the head really hard but at least they didn’t kill him. The way things are these days, you can lose your life over just about anything,” says Annia.

An article published on Sunday in the official State newspaper Granma on the role of the police in crime prevention explained that authorities have increased security “through operational and policing actions in different aspects of the country’s economic and social life, including transportation, storage and food distribution.” They are, of course, talking about state assets. Beyond filing a complaint or hiring private security guards, individuals have few options for combatting crime.

“We’re always hiring drivers but, for nighttime deliveries, we now prefer they have a car,” says the manager of one of Havana’s online delivery services. “We’ve had several assaults in the last few weeks. When that happens, everyone loses out. Customers don’t get what they ordered, we have to reimburse them for their loss and the driver bears the brunt of it.”

What not too long ago had seemed like the ideal job for someone who had his own vehicle — whether it be a bicycle, a scooter or a car — has become a high-risk profession. “I don’t use the the backpack they gave me at work anymore. I’d rather use a plain bag because, where some read the name of the company, others read, ’Rob me!’” explains Ricardo, whose employer has allowed him to revise his work schedule.

“I don’t deliver at night. I don’t deliver to neighborhoods on the outskirts of Havana. I don’t go into buildings; I do the handover on the street. I don’t let customers change the delivery address once the order has been placed.” To his long list of “don’ts,” Ricardo adds, “I don’t work Saturdays because those days are more dangerous and a lot of people are looking for ways to make some easy money. I don’t stop at stop signs or at railroad crossings. If I see a light is about to turn red, I circle around until I can go or I take a detour.”

Leave a Comment