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Cuba 2013 Crime and Safety Report

Western Hemisphere > Cuba > Havana

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Because Cuba is a police-state, there is a large police presence that provides security in the streets. The United States does not have full diplomatic relations with Cuba, but Cuba welcomes American travelers and Americans are generally well received. Although official crime statistics are not published, evidence suggests that crime is increasing while police response remains substandard. 

Most crime can be characterized as non-confrontational (i.e. pick-pocketing, purse-snatching, fraud schemes, and theft of unoccupied cars and/or dwellings). Unfortunately, American travelers are perceived to be wealthy and are many times the target of these types of crimes. While most tourist hotels are relatively safe in Havana, pick-pockets, prostitutes, and other criminals tend to congregate around these hotels, and Americans should take basic precautions to avoid being the target of these criminals. While violent crime is not common, there were a few violent crimes involving American citizens in 2012, including an American citizen who was stabbed to death in an apparent act of vengeance.

Cuba has a commercial sex trade, and visitors should understand that their private activity may be monitored by Cuban authorities and could potentially be used to compromise them. Visitors should also be aware that although the age of consent in Cuba is 16, sexual activity with anyone under the age of 18 could be a violation of U.S. law and subject to prosecution in the United States. 

Overall Road Safety Situation

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 other countries, the combination of old vehicles, motorcycles, horse carts, and buses on narrow two-lane roads can create traffic bottlenecks and potential hazards. Lastly, 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 does require the possession of a driver’s license and has a system in place for issuing and insuring drivers (all tourists should check with their tour provider if they intend to drive). 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 who are stopped.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Cuba’s dictatorial rule is enforced by a robust internal security apparatus. Although in past years large, peaceful government-organized demonstrations against the United States were common, in 2012 there was only one known anti-U.S. protest. Government-organized demonstrations against domestic civil society and opposition groups can turn violent, and tourists should avoid all demonstrations.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns 

In 2012, Cuba remained on the U.S. State Sponsor of Terrorists list due to its historic ties with two known international terrorist groups: the Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).  

Civil Unrest

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. 

Religious or Ethnic Violence

Religious and or ethnic violence is non-existent.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Cuba is prone to hurricanes and resultant flooding from June through December. The government 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 and Transportation Accidents 

There are minimal industrial or transportation accidents due to the small industrial base in Cuba.

Privacy Concerns

The government maintains tight control of information through ownership of the communications networks. This means that there is very little privacy for companies or individuals. While intellectual property crimes are not reported in state-run media, there is a significant market that deals in fraudulent movies and software.

Americans should be aware that any on-island activities could be subject to surveillance and their contacts with Cuban citizens monitored closely.

Regional Travel Concerns and Restricted Travel Areas/Zones

There are no restricted areas of travel in Cuba for foreign travelers, but U.S. Interests Section officials require time-consuming approval from Cuban authorities to travel outside of the capital city, making it difficult to provide consular services in an emergency.

Drug-related Crimes

Violence from drugs is not common, as the market for drugs is small. Although the location of Cuba is ideal for the transshipment of drugs, it is not used often due to the heavy police and military presence. The government is strict in its enforcement of laws against the illegal use, sale, and smuggling of narcotics.

Kidnapping Threats

Kidnappings are extremely rare; there were no reports of any U.S. citizens being kidnapped in 2012 in Cuba.

Police Response

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.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

If one is apprehended by the police, be cooperative with all orders. As soon as possible advise the police of your nationality and 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 should contact the United States Interests Section at 537-839-4100. For after-hours requests, they may also call 535-280-5713.

Various Police/Security Agencies

The Ministry of Interior, commonly known as MININT, is the Ministry in charge of police. Most foreigners will interact with the Revolutionary Police (Policia Nacional Revolucionaria) or the Transit Police (Transito). Most police officers are in uniform, though some investigators or officials may be dressed in plain clothes. Police do carry identification.

Medical Emergencies

Medical care is substandard by American standards. Most hospitals and clinics do not possess required equipment for proper diagnoses or medication for treatment. Although there are numerous hospitals in Havana, Americans generally use Cira Garcia Hospital, which provides better quality care although still 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
Miramar
204-2811
Ambulance Service 204-4300

CIMEQ Hospital (Military Hospital) *Only used in extreme emergency with special permission of Host Government
216 & 11B
Siboney
858-1000

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 
inquiry@nationaljets.com

CDC Country-specific Vaccinations and Health Guidance

Information on recommended vaccinations can be found at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/cuba.htm

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Travelers should take the same basic precautions they would take when traveling to any large city. 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). In addition, more cell phones are available, and theft of SIM cards from cell phones has increased.

Travelers should ensure that someone other than those traveling with them has a schedule of their proposed events and local contact information for them. 

U.S. Embassy/Consulate Location and Contact Information 

The U.S. Interests Section is located in Havana at Calzada between L and M Streets, Vedado; telephone number (537) 839-4100. 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) 839-4100 and press 0 or (535) 280-5791 and request to speak with the duty officer.  

The U.S. 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. The U.S. 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. 

OSAC Country Council Information

Cuba does not have an OSAC Country Council.