Is Cuba a Violent Country?

Isbel Diaz Torres

The presence of weapons on a bus represents a high risk.

One of the things I have always praised Cuba for is its safety.  Lately, however, looking closely at everyday life around me, I have found signs of violence – restrained, but ever present.

It’s common for on-duty Cuban police officers, uniformed and carrying firearms, to use public transportation to get around.  I started wondering about how naturally we accept this implicit presence of death.  Why is this considered normal?

A non-militarized civil society should not support such assaults.  The presence of firearms on a bus represents a risk to the safety of the passengers.  With the arrival of summer, the increase in heat and commotion in buses makes arguments and scuffles more frequent.  No one knows what a cornered person is capable of doing.  They could snatch a weapon from a police officer to defend themselves; and there are certainly instances in which they would.

Many officers who board buses while armed can be characterized as being extremely young, which makes one imagine their probable lack of experience.  This is another risk factor.  In fact, to accept armed people in the streets, we are cavalierly granting them a tremendous advantage that is not always used ethically.

Security guards with nightstick at Coppelia

Why is it that at all of the entrances at the Coppelia ice cream complex, security guards are stationed there with nightsticks?  Is it possible to enjoy ice cream like this?  Why do we live daily with the presence of violence, implicit or explicit?

At the beginning of the revolutionary triumph in 1959, there was a slogan that arms were to be held by the people. That slowly changed, so slowly that we didn’t notice it.  Today the doctrine of “people’s war” is just an empty slogan and not a defense strategy.  “Experts” possess the weapons, and they flaunt them immodestly in the streets.

This mixture of civil and military latitude has been a mark of our society.  It is commonly known that a large part of agricultural production is distributed to the army, while each civilian workplace has a whole militarized structure related to defense.

The presence of weapons should be justified for the control of very specific situations.  The maintenance of order in society is vital, but I yearn for the day when that order is secured by citizens themselves, through social mechanisms, without arms and without the need for repressing bodies.

Isbel Diaz

Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.


10 thoughts on “Is Cuba a Violent Country?

  • April 10, 2011 at 2:41 pm
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    Oscar Arias Sanchez, former President of Costa Rica, who won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending the war in Nicaragua, estimated from informal conversations with many ordinary Haitians after the restoration of democracy in October 1994 that about 80 percent of them wished the military were abolished. He suggested to Haiti’s President Jean- Bertrand Aristide to take a bold step before leaving office and to make Haiti join the growing list of countries without a military. There are about 30 such countries today, most of them small islands or land-locked countries.

  • August 23, 2010 at 5:23 pm
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    Thank you all for your comments. We share the same idea: I also think I live in a safe country. During the 90′ things were different here, because of the crisis, and street attacks were more common, but now I feel safe, there’s no question.
    There’s no sense in making a comparison with Brazil or any other country, but I feel uncomfortable with armed persons by my side. These policemen were not “working”, they were not “aware”. Usually, they are just another passenger in the bus, just as distracted as I am.
    There is another point I would like to make: safety is not the same all around the city. Places designed for tourism are much safer than a poor neighborhood. Sometimes visitors from other countries understand their experience as a “total truth”, and forget the huge difference between the touristic environment (which is not only into touristic facilities) and the hard reality of common people.

  • August 7, 2010 at 10:38 pm
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    One of the abiding memories of my recent trip to Cuba was how I felt safe. I have been to Brazil twice and trust me, there is no comparison when it comes to crime levels, Cubans should appreciate that they have law and order (unlike most of the Caribbean, Central and South America). Whilst I do not pretend that Cuba is perfect, one thing I do commend is the feeling of safety; I may be bothered by jineteros, but I don’t feel in fear of my life. Cops carrying guns is no big deal, I don’t feel bothered by it at all and I understand the need for it.

  • August 3, 2010 at 3:43 am
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    As a fairly frequent vistor to Cuba – from Canada, one of the things we appreciate – and emphasize to our friends, is just how safe it is. Unlike other ‘tourist ‘ countries where personal safety can be a real concern. I don’t believe too much should be read into a policeman carrying a gun. They all do here in Canada, and we don’t feel that is oppressive – merely a safeguard against any criminal activities.
    Thanks for many enjoyable holidays in Cuba.

  • August 3, 2010 at 1:02 am
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    I really like your sensitivity here to the presence of arms in the public. And I too always wondered why people with arms had to guard the ice cream! Nonetheless, everything was always calm and enjoyable so I just noticed the irony and went on, but I think you bring up a good point.

  • August 2, 2010 at 10:16 pm
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    Isbel, the public presence of weapons such as you describe certainly create an uncomfortable environment for people unused to seeing them. Hopefully you never are exposed to the reality of life in some of Cuba’s neighbouring countries, such as Jamaica or Mexico, where I live. On a daily basis we see military and policy vehicles filled with machine-gun-equipped officers and soldiers. In the past week alone, there have been two shootouts between authorities and the narcotics gangs. Despite the many challenges faced by Cubans in their daily lives, I wonder if they truly appreciate how safe they are? No-one needs be concerned with random shootings or being kidnapped… that peace of mind (innocence?) is so very precious.

  • August 2, 2010 at 7:40 pm
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    Cuba, like all the former “actually-existing socialist” states, actually loox to the imperialist West for much of its model of running society: always one of the worst aspects of the stalinist model of doing anything (superficial, distracting aspects to the contrary notwithstanding). And the use of regular, street-level police intimidation of the population (based on the imperialist model) is certainly one of those models which a *real* socialist society could immediately do very much without. This article makes a very good point here, concerning some of the issues. However, any change in the practice of policing in Cuba would likely have a whole lot to do with who was in immediate, direct control of them; and so I wouldn’t expect much change — including in policing methods — until real power was transfered from the usual stalinist bureaucracy to more directly democratic means of controlling the ‘mean’ streets of Cuba.

    Which constantly begs the question: when will real socialist, participatory, *council* democracy come to the citizenry of Cuba..?

  • August 2, 2010 at 6:54 am
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    Perhaps it is only prudent that security guards at Copelia carry night sticks. If anyone attempted to “jump the line” , for example, the rest of those waiting would probably lynch the offender! Weapons are symbols of authority, but police who are truly professional seldom are called upon to use them. Instead, they have other, more subtle, methods of persuasion. A few years back, while travelling on the “Toonerville Trolley” (i.e. the tren Hershey), a boorish, alienated youth was harassing two adolescent girls; a gentleman intervened on their behalf, and the boy started insulting him and spoiling for a fight; the situation threatened to escalate to fisticuffs–or worse–but a policeman intervened. Don’t know exactly what he said–perhaps the promise of a stretch cutting cane in a punative labor batallion–but the boy calmed right down, and not a peep was heard out of him during the rest of the trip to Matanzas!

  • August 2, 2010 at 5:35 am
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    Wow! If violence in Cuba is defined as armed cops taking public transportation…. that just proves it is the safest place on earth!

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