14ymedio, Natalia Lopez Moya, Havana, January 10, 2022 — El Biky did not have a single empty table on Saturday night and no one seemed worried about his or her safety on this normally busy corner of Infanta and San Lazaro streets in Havana. No one except the staff at this well-known restaurant, which has decided to suspend nightime home deliveries so as not to expose their drivers to the ever growing number of attacks in the capital.
One employee’s explanation left Vilma, a customer who had called to place an order, speechless: “The motorcycle couriers have created a crises over all these assaults. They’re afraid to deliver at night.”
“I was told you delivered until 7:00 PM. It’s only twenty past seven and all I want is a cake. Can’t you ask one of the drivers to deliver it to me?” pleaded Vilma over the phone. But she could not twist the employee’s arm. He told her that the new schedule, which took effect at the end of last year, was the result of “constant complaints by motorcycle couriers.”
The restaurant is located in Vedado, one of the most centrally located parts of the city, near the Malecon. Nevertheless, last weekend the neighborhood surrounding the restaurant was devoid of pedestrians and vehicles, a situation which further frightened motorcycle couriers.
Since the final days of 2021, reports of robberies and assaults, which have been perpetrated mainly on motorcyclists, has frightened many owners of these types of vehicles. The response by cafes and privately owned restaurants, which managed to stay afloat during the most difficult months of the pandemic by offering home delivery, has been to shorten delivery schedules.
La Rosa Negra, a privately owned restaurant in Havana’s Nuevo Vedado district and popular for its moderate prices, posted this on its Facebook page on December 29: “For reasons of safety we have decided to reduce the hours during which our home delivery service will be available.”
The restaurant’s management said it would not be making deliveries after 8:00 PM. The next day, however, it announced the cut-off would be 6:00 PM, to coincide with the summer nightfall.
It is not just the increasingly common robberies of motorcycles on Cuban streets that the couriers fear. They also risk having their deliveries stolen, or falling victim to the “customer trap.” In this case, someone posing as customer will request a home delivery and ambush the courier upon arrival, taking everything he is transporting, including the vehicle.
“You need four eyes on the street at all times. Driving a motorcycle comes with the threat of physical harm. If they come at you with a club or stick, you have no way to protect yourself,” says Yantiel, a courier who freelances both for a privately owned restaurant in Playa and for Mandao, an popular online service that offers a variety of products through its mobile app.
The delivery schedule cutback has had a big impact on these restaurants’ bottom line. “We get most of our orders close to dinner time. If we can’t make home deliveries at that time, we earn a lot less,” admits the owner of one cafe in Central Havana which delivers pizzas throughout the capital.
But even in daylight hours, couriers take precautions. “I don’t go inside anyone’s house. I don’t go to any floor in an apartment building. And I carry this with me,” says a young man who opens a compartment at the rear of his motorcycle to show 14ymedio the metal pipe hidden inside.
Authorities have not have not officially commented on the increase in assaults though the Ministry of the Interior did issue a statement saying that complaints about this on social media, in particular those related to the theft of electric motorcycles, “are events that occurred in previous years or are fake news.”
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