The Jose Marti International Airport is the bottleneck for all categories of travelers coming to Cuba: expat Cubans, tourists, and government officials. Cuba is busy promoting foreign tourism; however the majority of people coming out of the arrival gates these days are Cubans who live abroad.
In a recent trip to the airport I found myself waiting with an eager crowd of Cubans who had dressed to the nines to receive their guests. Their effort was valiant, given how difficult and expensive it is to buy clothes here, but pretty much everyone passing through the arrival gates at customs was looking fresher.
There were plenty of people who live in the United States taking advantage of the long holiday weekend of Thanksgiving before the price of airfares rise again. They were arriving with Christmas in mind. The scene reminded me of people coming out of Best Buy or Wal-Mart the day after Thanksgiving in the US. That is when all of the sales and promotions start and people line up at midnight to get in the doors at 4 a.m.
People were arriving with bags of clothes; mostly new winter wear to keep their family members in Cuba up to date with the season. Flat screen televisions were hot items, especially the 32” Samsung. It must have been on sale. New cell phones were on display as well, and people were quick to take the sim card out of their old cell phone and put it in the new one right outside the airport in the Cubacel shop.
North American materialism was on display in Cuba. And just as there are Cubans who eagerly await the arrival of their families who live north of the Straits of Florida, there are thieves who know that the chance to provide for themselves or their families is higher during the holiday season.
Cubans can easily speak to the reality that crime goes up in November and December. There is more to steal and more of a need to steal on the part of those that do not have relatives abroad and cannot provide their children with new winter clothes.
In any society crime can be a symptom of inequality. In the example above the inequality comes from abroad: the relatives and the tourists. The relatives provide gifts to family members who are so well off that it is not even worth it for them to work in Cuba.
The tourists provide tips to those Cubans who work in hotels, tours, and restaurants so these workers can earn much more than nuclear chemists, doctors, or university professors.
Thus those people that engage in crime can be the usual unsavory suspects or they could be hard working Cubans forced into a situation where theft is the only alternative they can see to their financial and material problems.
The point is not that the arrival of goods or money from abroad is bad. Rather, we should all recognize that individuals who choose to work and advance themselves in their profession deserve a better place on the social ladder than next to common criminals.