For a Messi Shirt

It was at the exit of the nightclub. The night was over. Around 3 o’clock in the morning, in an unlit block, they beat him on the head with a baseball bat. That was the last thing he saw.

Yasser Bedia, 19, woke up in an intermediate care ward. Serious bruises on his head and with 43 stitches. The gang of thieves robbed him of his light blue Levi’s, retro plastic glasses, his Motorola, a wallet with nine Cuban convertible pesos ($8) and 75 Cuban pesos ($4), and a shirt with the red and blue stripes of Barcelona’s Argentine star, Lionel Messi.

“I thank God that they didn’t kill him,” says his mother, who does not understand how a person’s life can be endangered for so little.

Exaggerated acts of violence such as the case of Yasser are not isolated events in Havana. Havana is still not as violent as Rio de Janeiro or Caracas, but it is on the way.

Groups of juvenile delinquents roam the streets late at night. Their mission is simple: to steal or rob people wearing an item of value. Or simply because they like the shirt of a football star or an iPhone.

Let’s analyse these types of thieves. They go in bands of 5-10 youngsters. The average age is less than 18. They are armed with knives, razors, well sharpened scissors or just punches. Sometimes they have guns. The majority are black.

Now I present a young man who served five years in prison for assault with a deadly weapon. Call him Yoandri. In a brawl in prison, he lost an eye. He has a long, ugly knife wound on his rear end. He looks like a mature adult. But he is only 21.

“I’ve always lived by stealing and assault. I have no father and my mother is an alcoholic and a raving lunatic. I was raised by a grandmother in the neighborhood of Belén. There I began snatching gold chains. We rode on a motorcycle and when we saw a person with a good piece, we would grab the chain and, with the motorbike running, we dragged them across the asphalt, until the chain broke,” says Yoandri.

He lost count of the items he took. “There were a lot, particularly at the exit from clubs. Well-dressed girls and young men with good phones – with a gun in our hands, we left them naked. If the female was good, sometimes we all screwed her,” narrates the young man without a fuss.

They caught him one afternoon in June 2004. Back on the street, Yoandri doesn’t see a clear future. “Work washing buses at a bus stop, my salary shit, trying not to go back to the slammer (jail), but the situation makes me seethe and I want to dress well and have hard currency in my pocket. The devil is pushing me to crime,” he says, seated in a seedy bar, taking a swig of a double rum, strong and cheap.

Young people like Yoandri do not try to change their fate. They go for the easy route. Crime. Dysfunctional families and households that are like a small hell is the common denominator of these guys.

They go out looking for what they can’t have. At times, even, causing the deaths of their victims. Prison for them is like a second home. Anything can spark their interest. A good watch or a mobile phone. Or a Messi shirt.

Iván García

Translated by: CIMF