Is Cuba the Next El Salvador? Not Likely

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A social scientist has warned that Cuba’s growing gang problem could soon make the island nation’s security situation resemble that of violence-wracked El Salvador and Guatemala, a questionable claim that appears to have little to do with facts on the ground. 

Psychologist Manuel Fabian Orta recently told Cubanet that gang violence in Cuba is on the rise, and is set to reach the same level seen in some of Central America’s most violent countries. 

“Gang-related violence is growing at a worrying rate,” Orta said. “If nothing is done, [Cuba] will soon be like El Salvador or Guatemala.”

Sociologist Maria del Carmen Cordero also told Cubanet that between five and ten new youth gangs emerge in Havana every year. According to Maria del Carmen, who participated in a study on Cuban criminal groups, members of these gangs are generally residents of the city’s poorest sectors or are migrant youths from the country’s eastern provinces who do not have full legal status due to Cuba’s strict internal migration laws. 

InSight Crime Analysis 

The notion that Cuba is en route to developing a gang problem similar to that of El Salvador or Guatemala is simply far-fetched. The US Department of State characterizes Cuba as a communist police state and attributes low violent crime rates on the island to the heavy presence of security forces and police. Cuba has a homicide rate of just 4 per 100,000 residents, according to the most recent statistics from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (pdf).

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Cuba

In contrast, El Salvador and Guatemala both rank among the top five most violent nations in Latin America. El Salvador in particular is struggling to contain high levels of gang-related violence: new homicide figures indicate the country is on track to register an astounding murder rate of 91 per 100,000 in 2015. The recent gang-enforced bus strike that paralyzed San Salvador for days was a stark reminder of the influence criminal groups have over the country’s security situation. 

Although gangs are known to operate in Havana, Cuba’s harsh drug penalties are a significant limiting factor to the expansion of criminal groups. The country’s draconian drug laws call for severe punishment for even minor offenders, and President Raul Castro has publicly said he would consider the death penalty as a possible sentence for drug traffickers.  

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