14ymedio, Havana, 7 March 2022 — “First we had to put bars on all the windows and now we have to go out with a knife,” laments María Elena Figueroa, a resident near the corner of Porvenir and Dolores streets, in the center of Havana’s Lawton neighborhood. To the robberies in the houses are added the assaults that occur even in broad daylight.
The residents of that residential area in the municipality of Diez de Octubre, a few years ago, boasted that the marginality of Centro Habana or the gangs of Cerro had not yet ruined the aspect of a family neighborhood that marked their daily life. But for some time now, citizen insecurity has also knocked on their doors.
“This weekend there were four assaults with a knife,” the activist Elsa Morejón denounced on Monday through her Facebook account. “All the victims were threatened and their cell phones were taken away. In addition, there was a robbery with force in the private agro-market located in Acosta and Santa Catalina.”
One of the assaults took place last Saturday around ten in the morning, a time when there are normally many passers-by on Acosta Avenue. Two individuals approached and one of them placed a knife in his stomach. “Give us the phone and run,” they told him. The victim only managed to run away and leave them the cell phone.
The day before, a young woman was robbed as soon as she got off the bus at the Hermanos Gómez Technological Institute stop. “They snatched her chain, her wallet with her money and her cell phone,” Morejón details. A barber on San Francisco Street and a young man sitting outside his house were others affected by the wave of violence when their cell phones were taken at knifepoint.
A privately managed agricultural market, also located on the central avenue and close to Santa Catalina, could not open its doors last Sunday. The reason for the closure was the theft at dawn of a good part of the merchandise stored in the place for sale. Food, vegetables and fruits were stolen from the premises.
“Here you can’t even hang clothes outside,” María Elena Figueroa explains to 14ymedio. “When I wash and dry I have to stay next to the clothesline all the time because they take everything, from a pair of pants to an old kitchen rag. That didn’t happen before in this neighborhood, where everyone knows each other.”
Crime statistics are a mystery closely guarded by the Cuban government, but stories of robberies and muggings pass quickly by word of mouth or spread through social networks and instant messaging services. “We neighbors have a group on WhatsApp and we let each other know when something happens,” adds Figueroa.
“Before, the group would tell us if something was coming to the butcher shop or if they put out chicken in a nearby store, but now most of the time people tell each other stories of friends or relatives who have had their mobile phones snatched on the street, of a young man who was pricked with a knife to remove his gold chain or of a house that was emptied while the owners were away.”
Figueroa believes that “those who steal are from here, they don’t come from other neighborhoods, although that could also be the case, but you can see that they know the area and know who they can get the most things from in a robbery… Here we can already see that there are organized groups and that scares me a lot because that way no one is safe.”
Elsa Morejón adds that the police station “is less than a kilometer away from where all the vandalism has taken place in recent days,” but the uniformed men seem oblivious to the assaults. An absence that many criticize, when compared to the permanent operation that the agents maintain around the headquarters of the Ladies in White.
Every weekend, the former Black Spring prisoner, Ángel Moya, denounces the police cordon around the house. Last Friday he wrote on social networks: “Today: State Security repressive operation against the national headquarters of the Ladies in White in Lawton-Havana.” On Sunday he was arrested along with his wife, Berta Soler, who leads the organization.
“The neighbors have spread the word to other neighbors, friends and relatives so that they take care of themselves because they feel unprotected,” Morejón points out. But it’s not just assaults, “other forms of theft such as scams in products sold on the black market” also proliferate, a phenomenon that increases in times of food shortages and other basic supplies.
“People are afraid and many don’t want to leave their homes,” acknowledges the activist. Others go further and also claim that this is happening “they should say it on the news so that the people know and take care of themselves.” The absence of a crime report in the Cuban official media spreads a false sense of security, in the opinion of those affected.
Parks, bus stops, Wi-Fi zones to connect to the internet and around stores are some of the places preferred by assailants. “I have a 21-year-old daughter and a 27-year-old son, every time they go out my heart is in my mouth,” Luis Emilio, a resident of the area, explains to this newspaper. “My son carries his own knife to at least defend himself if he is cornered by several others.”
The many assault stories do not, however, have a counterpart in the reports of arrested criminals. Something that significantly annoys the neighbors. “If a graffiti appears on a wall against Díaz-Canel, they arrive immediately with all the police technique, but to catch a thief they don’t even rush. It’s as if they weren’t interested in people,” says Luis Emilio.
“Even teenagers are victims of this because they wait for them at school exits, when they know that many are entertained looking at their mobile screen and right there they threaten them or simply snatch the phones from their hands,” adds the man. “At least they should put police near the schools to prevent that.”
Luis Emilio’s sister suffered a robbery at her home. “She was in the shower and heard a noise, when she got out he could only see the back of a man who ran out the door at full speed. When she checked, she was missing her laptop, mobile phone and decoder box to watch television.”
To date, no one has been arrested, although Luis Emilio’s sister pointed out several alleged suspects. “She told the police about a gang in the neighborhood that hunts the neighbors to rob them, but the police are there for something else. So my sister bought a German shepherd and put more bars on the house. It’s the only thing she could do.”
COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.