Is it a Crime to Go for a Walk with a Foreigner in Havana?

Yanelys Nuñez Leyva

Street corner in Old Havana. Photo: Elio Delgado Valdes
Street corner in Old Havana. Photo: Elio Delgado Valdes

HAVANA TIMES — I still haven’t managed to let go of the anger or overcome the surprise.

While strolling down a street in Old Havana next to a foreign friend of mine, a police officer stopped me to ask me the most ludicrous questions I’ve heard.

I don’t want to embellish or distort the events with flowery prose. I will try to offer a faithful transcription of the conversation I had with this police officer, as I recall it.

“Good evening, citizen. May I see your ID, please,” said the officer.

“Yes, of course,” I replied.

“Is he your husband?” he asked, pointing at my friend, who was standing nearby, unable to understand what was going on, as he doesn’t understand Spanish.


“Then, what are you doing with him?”

“We’re walking around the city. Is that a crime?”

“Are you a tour guide?”

“No, I’m an art historian and he’s an artist. We’re preparing an exhibition that will open in Cuba very soon.”

“And how do I know what you’re telling me is true? Do you have any papers on you?”

“I don’t have any documents on me, not even a student ID, because I’m no longer a student. But, if you wish, we can head down to my place and I can show you my degree. Or perhaps you can go to my place of work and confirm all of this.”

The officer remained quiet.

He hands my ID to another police officer, who asks me the same question the first did:

“Is he your husband?”

“No,” I replied, and proceeded to tell him the same story.

This officer tried to see if I had a criminal record over the radio, fruitlessly, as they had communication problems.

He gave me back my ID and I stood there, waiting for a reply, perhaps even an apology for having wasted my time, anything.

Nothing. Seeing I wasn’t leaving, he told me I could “continue on my way,” with a tone suggesting he had nothing more to say to me.

I was left perturbed and confused. I think I need to read my country’s laws more carefully and see how much of a right they have to unjustly question who I walk with or talk to.

Yanelys Nuñez

Yanelys Nuñez Leyva: Writing is to expose oneself, undress before the inquisitive eyes of all. I like to write, not because I have developed a real fondness for nudity, but because I love composing words, thinking of stories, phrases that touch, images that provoke different feelings. Here I have a place to talk about art, life, me. In the end, feeling good about what you do is what matters; either with or without clothing.

28 thoughts on “Is it a Crime to Go for a Walk with a Foreigner in Havana?

  • I don’t know if this was the case here, but Cuba has a very bad reputation throughout the Caribbean for supporting the prostitution of their women to foreigners. This is sex trafficking. i even heard a conversation from a Jamaican where he boasted of his weekend flights to secure the sexual favors of very young women. One would hope that this is not true since sex trafficking sets back women’s rights wherever it occurs.

  • Nonetheless, it’s quite incredible.

  • Never but I do not go to Havana. Most visits to Holguin and Granma Privinces.

  • Mission accomplished. To write without bias is a waste of time. The crime is not to have bias. The crime is to have it and pretend otherwise.

  • The laws that police in Cuba are trying to enforce when they ask such questions are the same type laws that police everywhere try to enforce and the way they do it is also pretty much the same everywhere else. Cuba has paid a heavy price for dignity and now that things are on the verge of getting a lot better, it is important for people going to Cuba to remember that every society has a right to make sure that people visiting understand what is socially acceptable and what is not and we (Americans and other foreigners) need to remember that a willingness to embrace economic opportunities does not mean that everything is for sale. Cuba did not suffer so much for so long only to hang a price tag on its dignity in the last few feet to the finish line. Cubans need to have a little more patience and try to understand what the police are really doing and what message they are really trying to send. We have a lot more and much bigger problems with our police here in the USA…

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