The “Culture” of Violence in Cuba

…and the half-hearted attempt to tackle it

Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

I Say No!

HAVANA TIMES — Although it might not be apparent to the tourist, our society is very violent in many ways. It’s sad to admit it, but that’s our reality and we don’t get anywhere by minimizing it or denying it. If selling firearms was legal here, Cuba would be the Wild West.

There are many different forms of violence: on the street, when there are carnivals and other festivities, in lines and even on buses. It is physical a lot of the time, but it is constantly verbal.

A graphic example: on the P-12 urban bus I caught in Havana on November 19th, after I was banned by immigration from traveling to Peru, a man almost killed another one for pushing him when getting off the bus. The victim had also been pushed by the crowd. His wife and children were crying while he was kicked on the ground by the angry passenger. Somebody saved him from dying from a bad blow and got back on the bus. His gesture was human, but the strange thing was that he regretted not having brought along a knife “to kill that abusive guy.” Just imagine!

However, the most frequent and cutting form of violence in our society is domestic, mainly against women and young girls. For a few weeks now, there has been a great campaign to try and make this scourge visible, which is an excellent idea.

Machismo endures like a bad inheritance which is aggravated by Cuba’s critical socio-economic landscape. Cuban women freed their minds, but they are currently out-of-step with their most adverse social reality.

For example, they end up stuck in dysfunctional marriages a lot of the time because they have no way to be independent. The burden of looking after children and the household are great factors, of course. However, both are conditioned by the miserly wages that make their lives an odyssey. And that is the breeding ground for domestic violence.

No man woos a woman by saying that if he doesn’t like something he will beat her or insult her. The violent ones are the ones who sell themselves the best, as they are almost always innate manipulators who deceive everyone around them and victimize them.

And a very complicated psychosocial web is formed that only very few women, alone, are able to untangle. That’s why help via institutions and effective laws is so important.

The first problem we have is our police, where there are mostly men and most often practice macho solidarity. It’s very hard for a woman to decide to file a report but a lot of the time, it’s even harder to convince the police to accept them. Mainly in municipalities where nearly everyone has one relative or friend in uniform. People always think the victim is exaggerating until a tragedy happens.

No more violence against women.

Not even six months ago in Cocal, Mayari, an ex-husband holding a machete killed his ex-wife in the middle of a square, when she got out of a car, because she didn’t want to get back together with him. He left three children orphans by committing this crime. According to his brother, who was with him and lost some fingers trying to keep him back, he just wanted to intimidate her so that she would reconsider. When the impassioned brute saw what he had done, he slit his own throat and died in surgery.

It’s known that this young mother, under 30 years of age, had gone to report him to the police not long before. But, we don’t know why the case wasn’t followed up on, whether she herself withdrew it or whether the police just had a half-hearted approach. After a woman accuses the alleged abuser, he is supposed to be arrested to prevent reprisals and if he runs away she should be given shelter for her own safety.

But, normally, a lot of family and social pressure begins for her to retract her statement, which the police not so subtly cooperate with (by not opposing this or explaining the dangers or statistics of what the consequences are). They accept it and that’s it, prior agreement.

The Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) has a support program for women and children, but it hardly has any social impact. Very few women know that it exists as it isn’t publicized or promoted, they don’t even enter into contact with the police to accompany victims who go to them and they don’t do any community work either. The FMC works even less than the Committees in Defense of the Revolution (CDRs), which is a shame because even though it is not a real civic organization, it’s the only one in the country that brings women together.

When there is democracy in Cuba someday, I’d propose a law that bans a woman from withdrawing her complaint of domestic or gender violence so as to prevent immunity because of family and social pressure. This should also include training specialists in this subject and it should be the victim herself who protects herself if she feels in danger, because it is unfair to arrest the accused without any evidence of his guilt.

Steps needs to be taken so that the greatest social justice possible exists and the battle against these forms of violence is crucial. However, wanting to participate within today’s political system is very hard and dangerous, because even though you can legally collect signatures, it is banned in practice and is seen as an act of political dissidence.

Giving visibility to the subject, creating awareness, planting ideas and breaking myths is what we can do for now. And that is no small feat.

12 thoughts on “The “Culture” of Violence in Cuba

  • Slick how you switched up the topic from violent crime to a public service piece directly from the feminist manual for propaganda. Congrats on being deceitful.

  • Domestic violence is an issue in all of Latin America with Central America holding the ”trophy”.

  • Unusually, there is nothing in your comment that I would really disagree with.
    And I shall be careful to be on my guard next time I’m in Belgium.

  • Well Eden and Nick, fortunately neither Cuba or England (and UK) have sufficiently high levels of violence to qualify for the top twenty. Indeed Cuba possibly has the lowest murder rate of any Latin American country. The 2016 murder statistics show Latin American countries holding 5 of the top ten positions. Honduras leads the field with 84.3 murders per 100,000 population. Venezuela is second (I’m certain that excludes those killied by Maduro goons, then the US Virgin Islands, Jamaica, El Salvador, the first African country Lesotho, followed by Guatemala, South Africa, Colombia and Trinidad and Tobago. US surprisingly isn’t in the top twenty.
    Robbery is entirely different as Belgium is far and away the leader with 1,616 per 100,000 compared with Costa Rica in second place with a mere 984. I can personally vouch that the Belgian Police are incompetent.
    Where Cuba is prominent is in the figures for incarceration, holding fourth place in the world. But as Nick will undoubtedly point out, the good old US holds first place.
    Just thought I would help out

  • I spent a couple of years in Havana if it is of interest to you.
    But I can assure you that I am not trying to be an authority on anything – just giving an opinion (this is a comments page).
    Cuba has a relatively low level of violent crime compared to most of the Latin American and Caribbean region.
    And also compared to my own home country. That’s my opinion and the opinion of everyone who I have ever met who has lived in the two countries.
    It’s also my very clear opinion (based on having lived in several different parts of the world) that domestic abuse and domestic violence are not restricted to countries with a certain type of political system.
    If you have different opinions, that’s just absolutely fine with me.

  • My point is that you’re trying to be an authority on something that it appears you know nothing about.

    How long did you live in Cuba? Where?

  • I’m not going to get involved in any kind of competition on who knows the most people who have been murdered.
    Domestic violence is an issue in Cuba. My point is that it is an issue all over the place. It’s not something that is unique to countries with specific political systems.
    I know the two neighbourhoods you refer to. Vedado is not by any means a violent neighbourhood. El Centro can be more so. There are other neighbourhoods in Havana which probably have more social problems.
    But obviously Havana is not Cuba.
    I don’t know how well you know the UK.
    I have lived in both the UK and Cuba and I consider that Cuba has the lower level of violent crime. As does pretty much everyone else I have ever met who has lived in the two countries.
    Maybe you suggest differently?
    Other than that, I don’t really get what your point is.

  • “… In the time I spent in Cuba I was aware of domestic violence being an issue but I would estimate it to be significantly less of a problem than in my own home country…”

    “… I would also have to say that violence generally is less frequent in Cuba but it does happen…”

    How many people do you personally know in your neighbourhood in the UK who’ve been murdered in the last 10 years? I personally know 7 in my neighbourhood of Centro and Vedado.

    How many people do you personally know in your neighbourhood in the UK who’ve been seriously wounded in an attack with a knife or machete in the last 10 years? I personally know at least 20.

  • Osmel makes some very good points about violence, particularly gender-based “domestic abuse,” as it is frequently called. All too often, topics like this are kept like dirty secrets and not talked about, especially not when it could cause tourists to be fearful. But, this is a very important subject to discuss openly, in Cuba and everywhere else.

    The World Health Organization estimates that, globally, 1 in 3 women “have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.” That means women you know – your mother, sister, daughter, lover, friend – will be touched by violence at some point in their lives. Talking about this pervasive problem is a good first step towards finding solutions and ending it, as well as stopping other forms of violence.

    Osmel mentions that the FMC has support programs in place but they are not well promoted or effectively utilized. Is there any other group besides the FMC or the CDRs that could assist women who are victims of violence? Perhaps a network of “safe houses” or shelters could be developed. In other countries, this type of support work often began informally, at the grass roots level, and eventually led to nationally organized programs and stronger legislation. In some places, laws do stop women from withdrawing complaints, and the also give the police the power to lay charges when there is evidence of physical violence. Does this kind of work really need to wait for a different government? I hope not.

    As Osmel concludes: “Giving visibility to the subject, creating awareness, planting ideas and
    breaking myths is what we can do for now. And that is no small feat.” Very true! But, it is need to be done.

  • Sadly societal violence and particularly domestic violence are widespread issues.
    It is certainly occurrs in Cuba.
    But with what frequency compared to other countries?
    It may well be tempting for some to link this issue with politics, but it is most definitely not a problem restricted to countries with specific political systems.
    In my home country, the UK, there is a largely capitalist system and the 6th largest economy in the world. There is also considered to be a high degree of gender equality.
    But unfortunately 14% (approx 1 in 7) of children live in households where domestic abuse/violence has occurred. In the UK there are an average of around 3 women per week killed by current or ex partners.
    In the time I spent in Cuba I was aware of domestic violence being an issue but I would estimate it to be significantly less of a problem than in my own home country.
    I would also have to say that violence generally is less frequent in Cuba but it does happen. As has been mentioned it is more likely to occur away from touristy areas. I have certainly witnessed violent incidents in Cuba, but far less so than in the UK.

    Thank goodness neither the UK nor Cuba has a culture that involves widespread gun ownership.
    Far more domestic violence fatalities would inevitably occur if that were ever to be the case.

  • Excellent example of the vast difference between “Tourist Cuba” where everything is constantly lauded as “so safe” (and indeed it is) and normal “Day-To-Day Cuba” where violence and murder is not uncommon.

    Cuban-on-Cuban violent crime is a fact of daily life, thank God this hasn’t trickled down to the tourist sector yet.

  • Truth will out. Although I agree with Osmel about the rife machismo in Cuba, one factor he does not discuss is the built up frustration for the average Cuban male consequent to his inability to properly provide for his family, the inability to improve his lot and no hope for a better life in the future.

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