Overall Crime and Safety Situation
Because Cuba is a police state, a large police presence provides security in the streets. Americans should be aware that any on-island activities could be subject to surveillance and their contacts with Cuban citizens monitored closely. The United States does not have full diplomatic relations with Cuba, but Cuba welcomes American travelers, and Americans generally are well received. Although official crime statistics are not published, evidence suggests that crime is on the rise, and the police response/capability is below average. Travelers should take the same basic precautions they would take when traveling to any large city.
Most crime is non-confrontational (i.e. pick-pocketing, purse-snatching, fraud schemes, and theft of unoccupied cars and/or dwellings). American travelers are perceived to be wealthy and are many times the target of these types of crimes. In 2011, there appears to have been a slight increase in the reporting of violent crime, but these crimes generally did not affect tourists.
The roads are ill maintained and often dangerous due to a lack of road maintenance. Potholes and a lack of proper lighting on roads and highways make driving at night particularly dangerous. Although traffic is light compared to many other countries, the combination of old vehicles, motorcycles, horse carts, and buses on narrow two-lane roads can create traffic bottlenecks and potential hazards. Cuban drivers tend to place large sticks or rocks in the road to indicate a broken-down vehicle ahead. Many times, it is impossible to notice these “accident markers” until one has hit them.
Cuba requires the possession of a driver’s license and has a system in place for issuing and insuring drivers. Police posted on the street corners of all major cities enforce traffic laws and inspect vehicles. Generally, the police hand out small fines to most individuals that are stopped.
Since 1958, Cuba has suffered dictatorial rule enforced by a robust internal security apparatus. Although in past years large, peaceful government-organized demonstrations against the United States were common, in 2011 anti-U.S. demonstrations were smaller and less frequent. Government-organized demonstrations against domestic opposition groups can turn violent, and tourists should avoid all demonstrations.
Due to government repression, civil unrest is extremely rare. In the past, there have been sporadic citizen protests; however, these have been generally short-lived and elicited a rapid government clamp down.
Regional Terrorism or Organized Crime
There is no known regional terrorism or organized crime threat.
International Terrorism or Transnational Terrorism
Cuba is on the United States “State Sponsors of Terrorism List.” While the Cuban government does not appear to provide training or direct support to such groups as Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), it does provide safe haven to known members of the groups.
Cuba is prone to hurricanes and the resultant flooding from June through December. The Government of Cuba is very organized in the face of hurricanes and usually imposes a mandatory evacuation order to the potentially affected areas.
In addition to the threat of hurricanes, heavy summer rainstorms and poor drainage can cause localized flooding in a matter of minutes in many areas.
Industrial or Transportation Accidents
There are minimal industrial or transportation accidents due to the small industrial base.
Kidnappings are an extremely rare occurrence, and there were no reports of any U.S. citizens being kidnapped in 2011.
Drugs and Narco-terrorism
Violence from drugs is not common, as the market for drugs is small. Although the location is ideal for the transshipment of drugs, it is not used often due to the heavy police and military presence. The Cuban government is strict in its enforcement of laws against the illegal use, sale, and smuggling of narcotics.
Although police are present on most street corners in major cities, the overall police response to crimes involving foreigners is not adequate. Police do take reports of crimes and will respond to emergency calls but rarely engage in serious investigations of crimes involving foreigners.
The emergency number for the police is 106. The emergency number for the fire department is 105.
If one is apprehended by the police, be cooperative with all orders. As soon as possible advise the police of your nationality and if possible show them your passport or copy of your passport. Also, ask the police if you may contact your Embassy or Diplomatic mission as soon as possible. Americans needing assistance in Cuba should contact the United States Interests Section at 537-833-3551/9 or 537-833-2200. For after-hours requests, they may also call 535-280-5713.
Medical care is substandard by American standards. Most hospitals and clinics often do not possess required equipment for proper diagnoses or medication for treatment. Although there are numerous hospitals in Havana, Americans are asked to use Cira Garcia Hospital, which provides better quality care although below U.S. standards. Ambulances do operate in many cities, but response times vary, and not all ambulances carry medical personnel.
Cira Garcia Hospital
41st Ave & 18th Street
Ambulance Service 204-4300
CIMEQ Hospital (Military Hospital) *Only used in extreme emergency with special permission
216 & 11B
Air Ambulance Services
National Air Ambulance
Fort Lauderdale Airport
3495 SW 9th Ave.
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33315
(954) 327-3710 (24 hrs) or (954)359-9900
Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
The number of non-confrontational crimes continues to rise. As such, tourists will find that areas frequented by tourists (beaches, hotels, restaurants, and shops) are also where most offenses take place. Pick-pocketing is becoming an increasing problem, and tourists are reminded to stay vigilant to their surroundings and ensure proper care for valuables (i.e. use of money-belts and/or safes in hotels).
Travelers should ensure that someone other than those traveling with them has a schedule of their proposed events and local contact information for them. In addition, the United States Interests Section asks all American travelers to sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to receive updated information on travel and security in the country.
One recent scam targets car rentals. The individual renting the car provides an extra key of the rented car to an accomplice. The accomplice follows on a motorcycle and then after the renter has gone shopping at various stores, returns to find their items gone but with no damage to the car.
The U.S. Interests Section is located in Havana at Calzada between L and M Streets, Vedado; telephone numbers (537) 833-3551 through 833-3559. Hours are Monday through Thursday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. For emergency assistance after hours and on weekends, individuals should call (537) 833-3026 or (537) 833-1913 or (535) 280-5791 and request to speak with the duty officer.
OSAC Country Council
The U.S. Interests Section does not have an OSAC Country Council. The United States Interests Section reminds all U.S. citizens that due to sanctions against Cuba, travel to Cuba must be done in accordance with U.S. rules and regulations. Please visit www.travel.state.gov and access country information on Cuba. Included in this information are the guidelines for U.S. citizen travel to Cuba.