HAVANA TIMES — On the last Saturday of March, an official government announcement took the habitual listeners of Havana’s Radio Reloj radio program by surprise. It was a petition by authorities asking the public the help clear up a crime that had taken place in Old Havana two days before.
The next day, on Sunday, Havana woke up to hear the news that “a multi-task force of the Ministry of the Interior, working with the Forensics Institute and thanks to the decisive support of the people, cleared up the facts and detained the perpetrator in a mere 24 hours.”
A 23-year-old man (without a criminal record) had killed three people in their sleep with a blunt object: a man (43), a woman (64) and a child (10).
It was strange to hear these announcements on Cuban news, as crime reports disappeared from our newspapers and magazines many years ago. I don’t believe the media should publicize every murder, theft or assault that happens in the course of a day. Far from giving the media more transparency, this would give our boring press yet another dose of monotony. What’s more, reporting on such incidents repeatedly would make them seem less important.
I also do not agree they should be kept from the public. The rising insecurity of our streets is evident and we have the right to know what dangers we are exposed to. It should be possible for us to consult reports published by the National Statistics and Information Bureau (ONEI) to see what the country’s crime indices are (provided the information is accurate, of course).
Getting past the surprise that the publication of the news caused, I must say that the note had a completely misguided approach to the incident. The Ministry of the Interior clarified that the murderer “maintained close relations” with the victim and went on to stress that “during interrogations, the perpetrator confessed he was driven by passion in his actions.”
In a male chauvinist and economically stifled society, where honest work doesn’t give people enough to live on, where young people are increasingly alienated, apathetic and devoid of hope for the future, such crimes are not uncommon.
In marginal neighborhoods, word-of-mouth news of deaths or serious injuries resulting from arguments and quarrels are heard every day. I can’t think of a time I’ve visited Reparto Electrico, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Havana, without having gotten wind of an assault or vendetta. One finds the same situation in rough neighborhoods like La Guinera, Mantilla, Parraga and San Miguel del Padron. Nearly any disco or place of “entertainment” in Havana can become the site of someone’s violent end.
Not long ago, the images of the corpse of a young woman from Cuba’s province of Artemisa traveled around emails and USB memories. She had been murdered by her ex-boyfriend – her body hanged from a fence near the town church. I’ve known of three such cases in Alamar in less than a year. One was a teenage girl who was stabbed to death by her boyfriend. He had hidden the body in a building’s water tank. The police made inquiries around the neighborhood for several days and found the perpetrator.
The last Monday of March, also in Old Havana (at the intersection of Compostela and Muralla streets, to be more specific), a woman was murdered by a man. The same Sunday authorities announced the crime of passion, another man stabbed a woman with a sharp object several times near a store on Monte street.
The motives are generally always the same: jealousy or spite over being left, in short, what’s referred to as “crimes of passion.” However, none of these tragedies have been reported over the radio or published in printed or digital newspapers – they’re not even officially acknowledged by the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) in their statistics.
Did they really need to mention such details? Bearing in mind we’re not talking about an episode of a soap opera, I don’t think the motive was important. I don’t want to think that the fact a man maintains “close relations” with another man is an aggravating circumstance for the Ministry of the Interior.
The emphasis the official note placed on that detail and the concluding phrase, telling us that “crimes like these will never go unpunished and perpetrators shall be persecuted with the full force of revolutionary law,” have prompted homophobic and discriminatory statements, and, above all, have made us think that Cuba’s Military Units for Aid in Production (UMAP), labor camps to which homosexuals were once sent, could come back at any moment.
The Cuban people, whether we like to admit it or not, do not respect diversity. It doesn’t matter what our educational level or our social milieu are: most people reject homosexuality and homosexuals suffer from our intentional or unwitting attitude towards them. It is no secret that, despite the fact the Cuba’s LGBTI community has greater social visibility, homosexuals continue to be the object of police repression, social humiliation, mockery and rejection within the family.
What good, then, are our official or alternative campaigns against homophobia, defending the right to have sex-change operations, launching health campaigns that insist AIDS is not a “gay disease”, securing certain spaces such as the “tolerance zone” (Mi Cayito beach, the Fraternidad park in Old Havana, the street across Havana’s Capitolio, and others), struggling with family and friends so they will not judge people on the basis of their sexual orientation and treat them simply as human beings?
We’ve worked so hard and then a simple piece of news associates violence and crimes of passion with homosexuality, such that people begin to express all manner of discriminatory things. Those few printed lines took us back a number of years.
I am waiting anxiously for May 17, International Day against Homophobia, to arrive. Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) will likely make a statement then. They have said nothing to date.