Cuba 2014 Crime and Safety Report
Travel Health and Safety; Transportation Security; Surveillance; Hurricanes; Floods; Earthquakes; Maritime; Theft
Western Hemisphere > Cuba; 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. Americans visiting Cuba should be aware that any on-island activities could be subject to surveillance and their contacts with Cuban citizens monitored closely. The U.S. does not have diplomatic relations with Cuba, but Cuba welcomes most American travelers, and Americans are generally well-received.
Although official crime statistics are not published, evidence continues to suggest that petty theft and minor crimes remain a problem. Most crime can be characterized as non-confrontational (i.e. pick-pocketing, purse-snatching, fraud schemes, and thefts from unoccupied cars and/or dwellings). American travelers are perceived to be wealthy and are, thus, often 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 there.
While violent crime is not common in Cuba, there were a number of violent crimes involving American citizens reported in 2013.
Cuba has a large commercial sex trade. Visitors’ private activity may be monitored by Cuban authorities and could be used to compromise them. Also, visitors should 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 U.S.
Overall Road Safety Situation
Road Safety and Road Conditions
The roads are often dangerous due to a lack of road maintenance. Potholes and a lack of proper lighting on roadways make driving at night particularly dangerous. Although traffic is light compared to other countries, 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 see these “accident markers” until one has hit them. Drivers should be aware that Cuban law can have severe implications for drivers involved in accidents. Regardless of fault, accidents can result in the detention of foreign drivers, particularly when someone is injured.
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:
In 2013, Cuba remained on the U.S. State Sponsors of Terrorism list.
Cuba’s government relies on a robust internal security apparatus. Although in past years large, peaceful government-organized demonstrations against the U.S. were common, in 2013 there were no violent protests directed against the U.S. Interests Section or other U.S. targets. Government organized actions (“actos de repudio”) against domestic civil society and opposition groups can turn violent, and tourists should avoid demonstrations.
Due to government repression, civil unrest is extremely rare. There have been sporadic citizen protests; however, these have been generally short-lived and elicited a rapid government clamp-down.
Religious and or ethnic violence is non-existent.
Cuba is prone to hurricanes and resultant flooding from June through December. The government is well-organized in the face of hurricanes and usually imposes a mandatory evacuation order to 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.
Cuba is located along several active fault systems. While the majority of the seismic activity is unnoticeable, the potential for larger scale earthquakes exist. This potential, combined with the deteriorated infrastructure in Cuba, is cause for concern and could have devastating results. For general guidance on how to prepare and protect yourself during an earthquake visit Ready.gov/earthquakes.
The U.S. Interests Section reminds all U.S. citizens and others subject to U.S. jurisdiction that due to sanctions against Cuba, travel to Cuba must be done in accordance with the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31 CFR Part 515 (the “Regulations”). The Regulations apply to all persons (individuals and entities) subject to U.S. jurisdiction – including all U.S. citizens and permanent residents wherever located, all persons in the United States, and all branches and subsidiaries of U.S. organizations throughout the world – as well as all persons engaging in transactions that involve property in or otherwise subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. The Regulations are administered by the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”). Criminal penalties for violating the Regulations range up to 10 years in prison, $1,000,000 in corporate fines, and $250,000 in individual fines. Civil penalties up to $65,000 per violation may also be imposed. The Regulations require those dealing with Cuba (including traveling to Cuba) to maintain records for five years and, upon request from OFAC, to furnish information regarding such dealings. Please visit http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/pages/cuba.aspxwww.treasury.gov for additional information.
Industrial and Transportation Accidents
There are minimal industrial or transportation accidents due to the small industrial base in Cuba.
Economic Espionage/Intellectual Property Thefts
While intellectual property crimes are not reported in state-run media, there is a significant market that deals in fraudulent movies and software.
The government maintains tight control of information through ownership of the communications networks and laws prohibiting independent media. So, there is very little privacy for companies or individuals.
The lack of local access to the internet, the government’s tight control of media, and its particular sensitivity to any news that reflects poorly on Cuba results in a lack of reliable information, not only regarding crime, but also regarding disease.
Regional Travel Concerns and Restricted Travel Areas/Zones
There are no restricted areas of travel in Cuba for foreign travelers. However, due to travel restrictions placed on U.S. government officials by the Cuban government, consular services are generally limited to the city of Havana.
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 Cuban government is strict in its enforcement of laws against the illegal use, sale and smuggling of narcotics.
Kidnappings are extremely rare, and there were no reports of any U.S. citizens being kidnapped in 2013 in Cuba.
Although police are present on most street corners in major cities in Cuba, the overall police response to crimes involving foreigners is not adequate. Police do take reports of crimes and will respond to emergency calls, but they rarely engage in serious investigations of crimes involving foreigners.
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 if possible, show them your passport or copy of your passport. Also ask the police if you may contact your diplomatic mission as soon as possible. Americans needing assistance in Cuba should contact the United States Interests Section at (53)7-839-4100. For after-hours requests they may also call (53)5-280-5713.
Where to Turn to For Assistance if You Become a Victim of Crime
The emergency number for the police is 106. The emergency number for the fire department is 105.
Various Police/Security Agencies
The Ministry of Interior, commonly known as MININT, is in charge of Cuban 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.
Contact Information for Recommended Local Hospitals and Clinics
Medical care is below 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 the Cira Garcia Hospital. Cira Garcia is operated specifically for foreigners and provides better quality care, specifically for foreigners, although still below U.S. standards. Ambulances do operate in many cities in Cuba, but response times vary and not all ambulances carry medical personnel.
Cira Garcia Hospital
41st Ave & 18th Street
Ambulance Service - (53)7-204-4300
CIMEQ Hospital (Military Hospital)
*Only used in extreme emergency with special permission of Host Government
216 & 11B
Recommended Air Ambulance Services
Air Ambulance Services (not exhaustive):
National Air Ambulance
Fort Lauderdale Airport
3495 SW 9th Ave.
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33315
(954) 327-3710 (24 hrs) or (954)359-9900
CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
Information on recommended vaccinations for Cuba can be found at the following CDC website: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/cuba.htm.
Dengue and cholera are increasingly common in Cuba, with cases dramatically underreported by the government.
Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
Best Situational Awareness Practices
Travelers to Cuba should take the same basic precautions they would take when traveling to any large city. Americans should take basic precautions to avoid being the target of these criminals.
The number of non-confrontational crimes in Cuba continues to rise. As such, travelers will find that areas frequented by foreigners (beaches, hotels, restaurants and shops) are where most offenses take place. Pick-pocketing continues to be a problem and travelers 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 to Cuba 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 (USINT in English, known to locals as “La SINA”) is located in Havana at Calzada between L and M Streets, Vedado; telephone number (53)7-839-4100. 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 (53)7-839-4100 and press 0 or (53)5-280-5791 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.
OSAC Country Council Information
The U.S. Interests Section does not maintain an active OSAC Country Council.