14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Havana, 16 June 2016 — “It was about six in the evening and I had taken money from an ATM, when I saw the knife.” So says Carmen, 71, about the time when she was attacked by two young men who stole her entire pension for the month on 10 de Octubre Avenue. The little security in the areas where many of the ATMs are located contributes to the assaults, a topic discussed last week at a meeting between members of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) and government representatives in the capital.
In addition to losing 243 Cuban pesos, Carmen has inherited from that traumatic moment the fear of reliving a similar situation. “From that day I hardly go out into the street alone and when I’m going to collect [my pension] at least two of my children accompany me,” she explains.
During the meeting with the PNR, a representative of the Provincial Administration Council (CAP) of the People’s Power of the capital confirmed the increase in robberies around ATMs. Police major Manuel Alejandro Godinez warned that “security measures” will be taken to address “the increase in assaults” at the cash machines, whose victims are mostly elderly people.
In Havana there are 398 ATMs of the 700 in the country, although the years and wear have taken more than a dozen of them out of service. Vandalism has also contributed to the reduction in the number of cash machines, like that suffered last May be three ATMs in Branch 295 of the Metropolitan Bank in the Luyano neighborhood in the Diez de Octubre district.
However, the biggest concern for the police authorities focuses on the increase in the first half of this year of robberies, as was noted at the meeting. The most affected municipality is still Centro Habana followed by Arroyo Naranjo, Diez de Octubre, San Miguel del Padron, Marianao, La Lisa, Boyeros, Guanabacoa and Habana del Este.
“These are events that occur primarily in outlying neighborhoods and where there is a higher crime rate,” a government specialist in Central Havana who works in crime prevention explained to this newspaper, declining to give his name. “The most common victims are elderly, because they are easier to frighten and because the country has more than one million magnetic cards issued to retirees.”
Major Godinez said during the meeting that the neighbors should be alerted to “avoid older people from frequenting these places alone.” He also stressed that the police have arrested several youths, suspected perpetrators of this type of theft, who are “under investigation” and “some are minors, so their parents will be sanctioned for not having them under control and monitoring their children.”
One solution for reducing theft is to better illuminate the areas around cash machines, says a customer who frequently uses the ATM on the main street of Villa Panamericana. “Sometimes I come here and it is pitch black, you can’t see your hands in front of your face,” she says.
However, Cubans have no choice: they need cash to pay for purchases, since magnetic card payment in shops is often hampered by poor communication between point-of-sale terminals and the bank.