Security Guard Proliferation in Cuba

Dmitri Prieto

Photo: Caridad

An interesting detail in the daily economy catches one’s attention in today’s Cuba.  The profession of security guard has turned into something quite prestigious.

Each ministry has its “Agency for Security and Protection,” and there also exist several companies that enjoy the status of a limited corporation; one can point to the famous SEPSA security guard firm, whose workers serve at embassies and other sensitive locations; and the TRASVAL company that transports cash.

There’s a certain military presence in this whole business, because the agents are usually former soldiers or police officers who have retired from active service.  But there are also other people who work for these agencies, though they lack a particularly solid history with regard to the armed services.

Several of those agencies have patrol cars and alarm control systems, and one even provides private detective services.

The profession of security guard is now prestigious because through it one can generate a substantial income in a completely legal manner.

In addition to the periodic payment of a “stimulus” in hard currency, many companies provide their guards with special “modules” of free food and other basic products (such as toiletries), assured transportation to the work site and fancy uniforms.  Plus, they get a snack (a can of soda and a sandwich), which is usually sold to passersby for 20 Cuban pesos or one convertible peso (about $1 USD) – and in this way generates extra income.

In addition to soldiers, some ex-engineers and former laborers work as guards.  Then too, some are simply youth who have managed to secure this employment as their first job, which certainly they consider a comfortable position.

I met a young poet and rapper who had wanted to study philosophy but who ended up opting for the occupation of security guard.  His perspective reminded me of that adopted by Albert Einstein, who once said that to be watchman in a lighthouse was the best job for someone who wanted to devote themselves to thinking about unusual theories.

Beyond the material privileges that distinguish these “simple mortals,” many guards enjoy important measures of power.  The decision often rests with them as to who can or cannot enter an establishment.

Guards are usually part of special contingents separated from the rest of the workers because part of their mission is to enforce controls so that those workers do not steal the equipment or products of their work.

Moreover, given that we in Cuba are experiencing the heights of the informal economy, theft is often one of the ways of contributing to one’s subsistence or to climb toward a higher social category.

That’s why guards are usually “rotated” to other workplaces within the same ministry after completing an assignment for one month (or for some other fixed period) at a certain site.  This prevents them and the workers they have to monitor from establishing relationships of trust; this distancing thereby ensures greater control.

The excessive power of guards, and the very fact that Havana is visibly full of them, derives in fact from the precariousness of the formal economic system in Cuba as well as from the strength and omnipresence of the informal sector, which is supplied to a large degree through the appropriation of goods from the formal workplaces.

The decision to combat this phenomenon through an increase in “control” has contributed to the proliferation of security guards in all official institutions.

Faced with this situation, some say that half of the work force is trying to steal while the other half is trying to prevent them.

I wonder if security guards will be the key to solving the economic problems of Cuban society. I also wonder just how many guards per capita would be necessary to accomplish that.

Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.


6 thoughts on “Security Guard Proliferation in Cuba

  • December 27, 2011 at 11:06 am
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    that the peeps are stealing from their own workplace is a sign that state ownership and wage labor is alienated labor. of course it would not be too “capitalistic” to punish pilfered workplaces or theft. it’s a pandemic at the grassroots level and actually the cuban economy would screech to a halt if the security guards were successful.

    then again come to El Salvador and you’ll see a very different kind of security guard– armed with rifles and pistols protecting the privileged .00001% against the rest of us– including a violent subculture of gangsters which this inequality has fostered. cuba is light years from that, but if it continues on this free market path that will be its inevitable future.

  • December 19, 2010 at 4:46 pm
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    Ahhh the Cuban Security guard , hmmm this is what I have seen .

    They take bribe form the workers , so worker tells them I have 1 pound cheese , 2 bottles of rum and your cut is 2 CUCpesos.

    The lifeguard “pimp” brings the young Cuban prositute onto resort , Security turns his back 5 pesos .

    The security guard meets innocent tourist , tell you he is not like the jinetras cause he supposingly has no interaction with tourist , and then starts emailing you , te quiero mucho all his buddies do the same , tell you that got found out and are suspended beccause of you , 25cuc to 75 cuc ,

    He stays the night and claims needs to take bus home ,,,5 cuc the wawa is FREE .

    I think Hotel Security are NOW WORSE than Lifeguards .
    NO SINGLE WOMAN is safe do not accecpt that walk back to your room , or the you are the 1st tourist line ,

    The tap on the shoulder means jefe yes but also means anther tourist girlfriend might be around and he doesnt want you to figure it out . All his buddies know and the are laughing their asses of at how stupid you are !!

    TRUE STORY , ahhhh CUBA

  • June 10, 2010 at 8:21 am
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    To alsdally, Everything you say here and everything you’ve said in the past seems to come from our own movement in the U.S. We see “real” socialism as “entrepreneurial” socialism, that is, where there’s cooperative employee ownership of most industry & commerce, and where the creative genius of the cooperative entrepreneur is unleashed for the building of a socialist society.

    At the same time there would be plenty of privately owned small businesses and such things as small farms & ranches.

    Nothing could be more scientifically proved than that the state ownership of all the instruments of production–per Engels & Marx in the 2nd chapter of the Communist Manifesto–is unworkable, and that it necessarily gives rise to massive, ever-growing bureaucracy that finally destroys the socialist leadership of society.

    I don’t know if Marxian state socialism can accurately be called state capitalism, but it certainly seems to function like a giant corporation that employs every working person.

    The bottom line in Cuba is for someone or some group to put forward a program of becoming a modern socialist cooperative republic. No one however seems to get it, and I for one am getting tired of saying it over and over.

    Even so, I wish Cuba the best and will continue to hope that the historic leadership will wake up before it’s too late.

  • June 10, 2010 at 12:24 am
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    So whatever happened to Che’s “new man” who would work for the good of the revolution with with no regard for himself or his needs? It was a fanciful theory with no basis in the reality of human nature. Perhaps in the early years of the Revolution the people felt a sense of ownership and did their part to contribute and make the system work. As the Revolution turned into a form of state capitalism the people became detached from this sense and it became no different than working for a large corporation where one is paid a basic wage and others farther up in the hierarchy benefit from the success of the undertaking. Only through a sense of ownership can people take pride. I have travelled to Cuba four times now and am astounded at how little the people maintain their homes as they have no extra money or availability of supplies but foremost have no sense of ownership. I am astounded at the lack of interest in customer service in the various state businesses as the workers are only putting in a shift and have no sense of ownership. As Grady Ross Daugherty has indicated, only through cooperative ownership of ventures can there be sufficient passion to move forward and end the stagnation. As a sole proprietor I also see the same principle at work in my passion to succeed and provide for my family responsibly and applaud the Cuban government in it’s moves to privatize small businesses.

  • June 9, 2010 at 11:33 pm
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    The only solution for Cuba is to discard the state ownership of the means of production model of socialism, and to become a modern cooperative republic. Only when the workers are associate owners of enterprise will the theft problem–and all the other problems generated by state socialism–be overcome. When the workers own their own workplaces, they don’t steal from themselves. The Mondragon, Spain cooperative model should be followed.

    Dmitri, are you listening?

  • June 9, 2010 at 7:58 pm
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    The means of production are pilfered by the people ….

    Wouldn’t it be better for a socialist society, or less socially disruptive, to ensure that the workers of the cooperatives/enterprises themselves do their own policing? Would it be too “capitalist” to incentivize against it by taking the money which would otherwise go to replace stolen goods to pay the workers more, thus increasing wages at workplaces where theft is less common? This is theft from the people, for the benefit of an individual (it just so happens that most individuals are forced to do it.)

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