Tomb Raiding and Wreath Robbing / Rebeca Monzo

The scandal of thefts in cemeteries continues, despite all the denunciations published inside and outside the island. Of course for many years here there was a silent complicity by the official press, the only one accredited in the country. But with the advent of technology and the access, although greatly restricted, to the social networks, this seems to have escaped the censors and now, from time to time, an occasional critical comment appears in local newspapers on this thorny subject.

No longer is it only the Colon Cemetery, perhaps the most looted simply because it has the most works of art of household value, but also Baptist, Chinese, and Jewish graveyards have recently been vandalized, by practitioners of African cults, who use bones of the dead (preferably unbaptized) as offerings for their “religious” practices, in the face of the unpunished and easy access to them.

Another phenomenon that occurred since the appearance of the two currencies — the current Cuban pesos (CUP), in which they pay you wages and pensions, and the strong pesos (CUC), in which you are forced to pay for almost everything — is the reappearance at burials of two types of wreaths: the poor ones, with sparse flowers, unattractive and mass-produced, with paper tape and letters in purple ink, offered for CUP, and occasionally in limited supply, depending on time and death; and the others, for “hard currency,” well-made with beautiful imported flowers, fabric ribbons for the dedication in gold letters, and in unlimited supply. As a result of this another type of theft began: that of wreaths.

It is sad to think about the people who have made a sacrifice offered to their deceased friend or family member of one of these beautiful wreaths acquired in hard currency which, just after the burial is concluded and the accompanying mourners dispersed, then disappears “as if by magic” and is offered, in CUC of course, by other unscrupulous mourners, or is simply dismantled to sell its flowers, to people who already have pre-established contacts to buy them.

This has led increasingly to seeing fewer floral offerings on the graves. This type of desecration also may occur at some of the monuments to heroes in the city, where foreign delegations deposit elegant wreaths, as recently occurred at the monument to Eloy Alfaro on the Avenue of the Presidents, between 15th and 17th in Vedado.

Until now, as far as I know, there is no effective measure for stopping this miserable and criminal practice. Nor do I know of anything having been returned to the owners, any of the sculptures or large bronze crucifixes stolen over the past twenty years. My family’s burial vault was plundered; I submitted the complaint, supported with before-and-after photos, over five years ago, yet the cemetery authorities have not given me any response.

It is shameful that these activities continue to occur in the 21st century, practices that seem better suited to the Middle Ages, and which are perpetrated in the face of the apparent apathy of the authorities, who have the obligation of ensuring the preservation of our historical and cultural heritage.

Translated by: Tomás A.

29 August 2013