Cubans Becoming Less Human

Yusimi Rodriguez

Relaxing. Photo: Matthew Siffert

HAVANA TIMES, Nov. 17. – We don’t have yellow journalism in Cuba; and we don’t we need it.  Every day we hear the sensationalized details concerning some armed robbery or a rape.  These days people are talking about a daring bus holdup.

Some will say it happened on the P-15 bus, while others will insist that it occurred on the P-3 or the P-1. The rumor mill fills the hole left by the official press, which reports absolutely nothing in this respect.

Accuracy cannot be expected.  But what’s certain is that as we approach the end of the year holidays, there’s always an increase in crime, and the recent announcement about mass layoffs across the country has contributed to worsening the situation.

It’s becoming frequent that whenever a group of people get together to socialize and chat, someone will immediately start telling a story concerning a violent crime that they witnessed or heard about.  And since no one likes to be outdone, someone else will then follow that up with their own story.

Everybody seems to have one, and so do I. Mine is not as spectacular as an armed bus assault or a Hollywood-style robbery of a currency exchange store in broad daylight.  My story is a simple unarmed assault of a woman to snatch her gold chain.

What was interesting is that this incident didn’t occur in the dark pre-dawn hours along some deserted street, but around 9:00 in the evening.  What’s more, it was at a fairly crowded bus stop located in front of a 24-hour bakery in which all the workers are men (or at least 99 percent of them).

Thinking About Making Lunch. Photo by Nina Hooker

Out of all the people waiting at the stop, no one intervened.  The bakery workers sprang into action, but it was to lock all the doors and windows of their place. Everyone watched the woman struggling with the man as she as she got slapped around and punched, and finally lost her chain.

In fact, this assailant could be described as considerate; he could have raped and even killed her without anyone coming to her aid.

I know people who have traveled to other countries to study or to live outside of Cuba for good.  They always make comments like: “People won’t help you there, even if you’re dying,” or “if you faint in the street, no one comes up to up to see what’s wrong,” and “people don’t look at each other in the eyes,” “no one will offer their seat to an elderly person,” “if you’re getting your butt beat up in the street, people will simply lock their doors.”

Once abroad, people miss the human solidarity characteristic of Cuba.  But is seems that soon there won’t be anything to miss.

This is the country where the neighborhood Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) were created; a nation where people united to reject verbally (and with blows) the enemies of the Revolution (meaning those people who left the country at the beginning of the Revolution and in the 1980s).  This is a land where many were willing to give their lives completing internationalist missions.

Yet those same citizens doing night-watch duty today as cederistas (CDR members) on their blocks, can stand motionless before any attack on a defenseless human being.  And they’re within their rights.

No one will put them in jail for not helping a person in difficulties.  When any background check is carried through a CDR on some citizen, they won’t ask the president of that chapter if the individual is capable of intervening when someone is assaulting a woman.

What they have in mind is whether that individual is an active member of the Committee, if they participate in voluntary work days and if they do CDR night-watch duty. People don’t want problems.  No one is willing to risk being killed or hurt for a woman stupid enough to go around with an attractive necklace.

People always point the finger saying things like “who told her to put that jewelry on,” or “who told her to be walking around so late at night” and “who had her to go out with so much money.”

Havana kids. Photo: Noelia González Casiano

It’s the same old story of the blame ending up being placed on the victim. Others say that the police are the ones who should take care of such problems, since that’s what they’re paid to do.  And they are right.  But is the value of a human life then equal to a police officer’s wage?

As I’ve said before, I’m not brave; however, I don’t know if I could sleep after having seen a man assault a woman and myself not having at least tried to throw a rock at him.

Could it be that due to the differences generated by the dual currency and unequal access to new luxuries (like cellphones, video games and entry into hotels), combined with the uncertainty of the country’s future,  we are acquiring the traits of savage individualism?

The streets are dangerous and it scares me.  But those who scare me the most aren’t the ones who commit the crimes, but those who simply watch.  What’s next?  Laughing about what’s happening?  Participating?  We’ve climbed into the driver’s seat of “save yourself if you can.”

Very soon, instead of chanting like the Young Pioneers affirming “We will we like Che,” we will begin shouting: “We are becoming less human.”

6 thoughts on “Cubans Becoming Less Human

  • August 31, 2011 at 10:52 pm

    It all comes down to envy,envy is petty,dirty and low.n the last few years,during my many visits ( 9 ) to your beautiful island I have seen envy growing,very visible on the faces of many people,nevermind the wearing of gold,which by the way is worn openly by many young bully men in the streets,at rumba gatherings and at various other places,I’ve notice envy and disdain on people faces when someone has a nice pair of shoes,a handbag or any other attractive item of clothing,all items related to material things are subject of envy and resentment…”why do you have more than us?..if we take it is your fault for showing it!” that is the attitude……unfortunately there is always someone who has less than us….so,this is a good excuse to rob others and of course be robbed… at home and in school is the only solution…
    By the way we also have been robbed in broad daylight,my husband was wearing a thin gold chain under his shirt with St Christopher on it (the patron saint of travelers) The reaction of the passers by was:how stupid these Yumas are,no one was sympathetic or embarrassed….we went to the police station and had to wait there for two hours to lodge a complaint becouse around 8 other “Yumas”like us had suffered a variety of various incidents and were being processed,

  • May 8, 2011 at 2:52 am

    Yes a sad story, but not unique to Cuba. This happens in most countries and very often in my country, USA and I do understand fear – though when I was younger and more brave or foolish, I chased a thief and my big motorcycle and helmet intimidated him and I was able to return a purse to a tearful and surprised woman. I was lucky.

    And yes it happens most often when there is the mix of gold and poverty. In 2007 in Havana, I saw two young men ride past a woman and grab her pocket book. She may have come from the bank I just left. She was standing about a block away and all alone, I ran (sort of, I’m 75 now) toward her, but the bikers were gone. She was crying and people came over to comfort her. I have seen other examples of crime and corruption in Cuba on some of my trips, but nothing compared to my home cities of Washington, DC and New York City.

    So don’t hope for more economic disparity and competition, it is likely to increase the crime and decrease the likelihood of people coming to others aid. Oh, just a question. Who told this story and why didn’t they call on the citizens to go to the woman’s aid? I assume you weren’t a witness and are just reporting a story told to you. But anecdotes don’t make for good sociology.

  • November 22, 2010 at 11:52 pm

    Poor people stealing from rich people is understandable.

    However, inequality, stress, etc., are never an excuse for violence, and never an excuse for rape!!!

  • November 18, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    Yusimi, I sincerely believe that if Cuba would discard its state monopoly form of socialism and advance to a state participation form of cooperative socialism, this sort of citizen alienation would soon be a thing of the past. But only you Cubans can make such a reform.

  • November 18, 2010 at 5:21 am

    I, too, am saddened by suchstories, yet they reflect an unavoidable reality (despite the silence of GRANMA, JUVENTUD REBELDE, tv and radio. Since the police are often not around when incidents like this occur, perhaps it is time for folks to sign up for martial arts courses and other methods of self-defense. Up here when crime was out of control (in the 1970’s,1980’s–and beyond), self-defense patrols were formed (e.g. the “Guardian Angels” in New York, New Jersey, and elsewhere). Perhaps, to supplement the police, the CDR’s should be given arms and start patroling their neighborhoods. Besides the mugging you describe (and I am sure for the one you describe, there are thousands of others), there also seems to be an epidemic of breaking-and-entering residences, especially when the occupants are away at work. All this is a symptom, of course, of the growing inequalities betwixt those who have access to CUC’s, either by remittances from relatives abroad, by working in the tourist industry, or by providing goods/services “por la izquerda,” etc. Still, this does not excuse strong-arm thefts, rapes and robberies, should be dealt with severely!

  • November 17, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    I hate to hear stories such as this.
    I have vacationed in Cuba since 1984 , and have seen many changes , most of which have been positive.
    I hope that the troubles and stresses that are causing some of these negative social events will ease and life becomes better for all – brotherhood and socialism- it should be hard to separate the two.

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