A report on street gangs in Cuba paints a picture of their limited but active presence in capital city Havana and their involvement in the island nation's thriving prostitution industry.
In a rare glimpse into Cuban organized crime, Miami-based news organization CubaNet published a feature story looking at gangs in Cuba's capital, reporting that one gang charges male prostitutes a fee in exchange for operating in their territory. The gang, "Blood for Pain" (Sangre por Dolor), is reportedly one of the largest in Havana, and is active particularly in sectors of the city where there are high rates of male prostitution. According to the article, the gang harasses and threatens prostitutes who do not pay the fee.
Street gangs reportedly operate in other parts of the city as well, earning cash by committing robberies and homicides, according to CubaNet.
Immigrants from rural Cuba to Havana -- which, under Cuban law, makes them "illegal" -- may end up working for street gangs because they have no other way to earn income, the news organization reported.
InSight Crime Analysis
While the article relies heavily on anecdotal evidence and only quotes three sources, it is nevertheless a rare look at street gang activity in the island nation. Given the Cuban government's strict control over the media -- in 2012, the Committee to Protect Journalists ranked Cuba as the ninth most censored country in the world -- it is immensely difficult to find reporting about crime there.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Cuba
Gangs have likely resorted to illicit activities like taxing prostitution as a source of income due partly to Cuba's zero-tolerance policy on drugs.
Additionally, Cuba, once known as the "Brothel of the Caribbean," reportedly has the most active sex tourism trade in the Americas, largely due to the greater economic opportunities that prostitution provides when compared to other industries. According to government figures, Cubans earn an average of just $22 per month -- less than half ($50) of what one male prostitute interviewed by CubaNet reportedly made in a single night. As a result, it is natural that local gangs would monopolize this sector of the country's thriving black market.
Cuba's gangs bear little comparison to their much larger and more sophisticated counterparts in Central America. Street gangs, or maras, like Barrio 18 and the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) have evolved into transnational actors and are key drivers in the epidemic of violence of the "Northern Triangle" region (Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador).