What People in Cuba Ought to Know about Miami (Part 1)

Where are the Police?

Vicente Morin Aguado

Biscayne Blvd, in Miami. Photo: wikipedia.org

HAVANA TIMES — In a popular Cuban joke, one fellow says: “Havana, a city of two million people.” The phrase is left hanging in the air, in anticipation of the reply. The reply finally comes: “Yeah, two million: one million citizens, one million cops!”

According to statistics, there are some 5 million people living in Miami’s metropolitan area. In this post, I will tell you about the number of police officers I ran into in the downtown area.

Jorge Alejandro Soca, a reader (and commentator) of Havana Times, went to pick me up at the hotel, rescuing me from a veritable luxury prison, to take me to the park in front of the bay area, one of the city’s busiest spots. The first challenge was finding a parking spot. We finally found one (for the price of a good meal in my country of origin). Soca paid for the parking spot as though it were a matter of routine, pointing towards the sea.

I know it is not in good taste to speak of what one ate, but I cannot avoid mentioning that we consumed the red meat that is forbidden in Cuba. Later, we conversed on a balcony, a stone’s throw from the thousands of many-sized recreational vessels that pierced the quiet of night or stirred up whirls of foam as they advanced across the water with passengers on board.

From there, I saw a boulevard that was more than two kilometers long, where there is hardly any space between the numerous cafeterias, bars, kiosks, discos and other establishments capable of offering services to the tens of thousands of people who gather there on the much-awaited US weekend, the reward for the five previous (and commonly arduous) work days.

Miami, the world’s cruise ship capital, capital of the so-called Sunny State, welcomes daily several times the number of tourists one can find in Havana at any given moment. The local population, however, far exceeds these tourists in numbers at all public establishments, commonly full of drinkers, families who drive around with their babies on board and other customers one is likely to run into during Florida’s warm, tropical summer nights.

My friend offered me the opportunity of toasting with the world-renowned Guinness beer, a highly stimulating beverage that opened my eyes and allowed me to see beyond the shocking first impressions that so much consumption makes on a Cuban, particularly one who has never been in the most advanced First World country before.

As is my habit in Havana at night, where I sometimes act as a tour guide, I looked for the police officers one commonly finds at every street corner in my city, casting suspicious glances on all Cubans who walk next to tourists, but did not find a single uniformed officer among the thousands of people in the area where we walked for several hours.

I didn’t see one person complaining about anything or any form of aggression, let alone anyone trying to get ahead of someone else at any establishment. There was an abundance of courtesy: the European tourists walked around without anyone bothering them, conversing happily with anyone they pleased, even though they stuck out like sore thumbs (for Miami is populated mainly by Latin Americans).

It seems people don’t need to be looked out for so much here, or perhaps people don’t particularly want to be “protected” by the authorities so much.

The days passed. I visited a school and several supermarkets (immense in comparison to the largest in my country). I went back to the downtown area, where the branches of the world’s largest banks are located, including the now renowned Paribas, recently fined millions of dollars for carrying out transactions with Cuba.

I frequently asked for directions, for I would lose myself in the streets, similar in their shop windows, in a city full of skyscrapers, all alike in their architectural conception. I’m talking now about the old town, the equivalent of Old Havana, Centrohabana and Vedado. There is also a residential Miami that is entirely different.

To this day, I continue to ask myself: where were all the cops?

13 thoughts on “What People in Cuba Ought to Know about Miami (Part 1)

  • Red meat is forbidden in Havana?

  • Carlyle,
    I had very similar experiences.

  • My wife and I have usually spent 2-3 days in Havana for the last five years. We have been stopped and questioned by the police in the street 3 times without any reason being given. On another occasion when in a taxi travelling to Jose Marti Airport we passed a police car which followed us and directed the driver to draw in to the sidewalk. He got out with his papers and went back to meet the police. They waved him aside to open the rear door beside my wife and ordered her out of the taxi. They then checked her papers. Upon discovering that she was with her husband and was a professional school teacher with a Masters degree, they released us.
    I have no doubt that in each of the four cases mentioned we were stopped because we are black and white.
    The only countries I have visited where racism is worse even than Cuba are South Africa and the USA.
    The only people who have harassed me in Cuba – and I live there for over half the year, are the police.
    My wife spends 6-8 weeks a year in Canada with me and we have never been stopped by the police – in fact I was bold enough to tell her prior to her first visit that she would seldom see the police and that we would neverr be stopped by them.
    Moses hit the nail on the head!
    John Smith is totally incorrect in suggesting that we were stopped and harassed because: “people see and experience what they want to.” We did not want to have these disturbing and upsetting experiences – don’t judge others by your own standards!

  • I cannot say how Cubans experience the police. I can see that the government may have deployed a strong police presence to discourage harassment of tourists, given the importance of tourism to the Cuban economy.
    In our brief visit to Cuba in May of last year, we experienced lots of “street hassle,” but we did not feel threatened. This was true even at night when we wandered into the back streets. I have seen reports of robberies, but our own experience was good.

  • The population of Miami Dade County and Broward County together do not reach 5 million people. metropolitan Miami is less than a million…

  • On my last visit to New York City, my only encounter with police occurred at Yankee Stadium, where a good natured cop teased me about my Blue Jays cap.

    On the other hand, I saw a lot more police in Paris, including members of the Sûreté nationale toting submachine guns.

  • Are you a white male foreigner of at least middle age? If so, you are least likely to come in contact with Cuban police. Unless, of course, you were walking down La Rampa with a young dark Cuban girl. Even then, they wouldn’t hassle you, only her. As an African-American male, over 6 feet and at 215 pounds, I seldom go unnoticed in Cuba. Worse yet, I am seen as a Cuban until I begin to speak. The ‘jineteros’ leave me alone but the police don’t.

  • Just a little correction, Miami is not the capital of Florida. Tallahassee is.

  • As a foreign single female living in Havana I am grateful for the police presence as annoying as I know they are for cuban males

  • I’ve been to Cuba three times now, including two visits to Havana; I genuinely felt safe there, I didn’t experience any hassle and wasn’t particularly aware of any police presence. I guess people see and experience what they want to.

  • Thanks for the great report Vincente. The other part of the story is you being
    a great spokesperson for your fellow Cuban’s and sharing your experiences
    with all the citizens of Miami.
    To be fair, as a NY and Chicago resident, there are some major problems here
    in the US that you might not experience in Miami. The one positive is that
    we have the freedom to discuss and propose changes that could in fact
    remedy these problems. In the meantime I look forward to your Part two

  • Welcome to the nightmare world of Yankee capitalism. To be sure, there are good and bad aspects to life in America. But far from there being too many cops, the real problem is often there are too few cops about when criminals show up.

    Maybe that’s in the next instalment?

    By the way, while the fee for parking fee may seem exceedingly high to you, relative to the average salary in Miami, it’s quite low.

  • Thanks for your honest and slightly humorous accounting of your first impressions in Miami. My Cuban wife, prior to leaving Cuba for the first time, was an avid reader of the latest American and European fashion magazines and a fanatic viewer of American movies on DVD and on Cuban television. Yet, when she got to San Francisco, after seeing what she had seen only on TV or in magazines now in the “flesh”, she had roughly the same reaction regarding Police. We went to Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf and all the other sight-seeing spots in the first few days of her arrival and she was amazed how unmolested the tourists were. Better said, she noticed how native San Franciscans virtually ignored the tourists (16.5 million in 2012) and how the police were practically invisible. Through her eyes I saw the differences as well. Havana is a police state and the police presence alone is oppressive.

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