Gang Warfare In Havana
Gang Warfare In Havana / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila
Posted on February 8, 2016
14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 8 February 2016 – A few nights ago my
wife and I arrived in an almendrón [old American car in use as a
shared-taxi] at the Ceiba little park just before the traffic light at
Via Blanca and Lacret, in Havana. We we usually get off there when we
are going home from El Vedado, in a line of collective taxes headed to
The unwelcome surprise that night was to find ourselves almost in the
middle of a pitched war at 1:00 in the morning. At Bella Vista and Via
Blanca two gangs of children – for the most part; many of them weren’t
even teenagers – were facing off with stones, sticks, bottles, and some
carried machetes nearly as big as they were.
Some amorous couples in the park ran away to avoid being hit by the rain
of objects of all kinds from all directions that these little pioneers
were throwing at each other with an eerie chill. In the midst of the
hullabaloo, a voice from Santos Suarez shouted, “I’m done, assholes!”
A boy among those who were “shooting” from the Cerro side apparently
tried to take the other side by assault and fell in the middle of the
street from a stone to the head right in front of a huge truck that
slammed on its brakes so as not to crush him and almost flipped over
with a container on its trailer. Several light trucks had to brake
quickly and honked their horns, but the contenders didn’t seem to hear
The dispute continues and there is already a line of cars waiting,
fearing to pass in the midst of the artillery and lose, at the very
least, a windshield. Two “rescuers” from the Cerro side ventured out to
retrieve the fallen one who was trying to stand up but couldn’t. His
companions covered them, raining fire down from a hill of trash next to
the daycare center that was serving as a shield and a park at the same time.
The operation is successful but the counteroffensive is unexpected. From
the Santos Suarez side they take advantage of Cerro’s casualty to try to
cross Via Blanca to launch an attack that extends to the intersection of
Bella Vista with San Salvador Avenue. The Cerro side manages to escape
towards the depths of Canal and the invaders don’t dare to continue
advancing because they are already deep in hostile territory.
The tallest one, a skinny bare-chested guy with Mohawk-like hair styled
after the singer El Yonki, shouts, “Next time we’re gonna kill you,
monkeysssss! Let’s go!” The troop retreats with the discipline of a
professional army but not before dispersing through several routes so as
to avoid attracting the attention of the neighbors, who have gotten out
of bed to see what’s going and who have almost certainly called the
emergency number, 106.
Indeed, ten minutes later, two police cars appeared, sirens blaring,
tires squealing, looking unsuccessfully for “the brawlers.” They
question the neighbors who are cautiously doing damage control, but no
one answers. Better not to risk that an indiscreet cop could reveal the
name of an informant, or that from the shadows someone might see them
giving information and take reprisals.
The next day in the morning, all the talk in the line to buy bead
is about “what happened last night.” In the street and along the facades
that was the battleground, are the marks of the impacts of the stones,
glass bottles, and even the broken windows of a Russian-made Lada that
was parked in front of the bakery last night (wrong place, wrong time).
This is a faithful description of what happened that night and what is
happening ever more frequently not only in the Cerro neighborhood, but
in many Havana neighborhoods, where often there is mourning for some
victim who dies.
It is noteworthy that these gangs are made up of children who are
often under 14. These aggressive boys have a very strong sense of
identity with and commitment to their group, which revolves around two
or three older leaders with experience in the art of street fighting. In
our areas we now have gangs that everyone knows, such as the one that
calls itself “The Lawless” and an even more popular gang made up of
girls who identify themselves as “The Apululu.”
What would happen if for some reason these groups came to be armed? How
much power could they get? Would we have the self-employed paying them
protection money as happens in other Central American countries?
All this and more can easily come to pass if the already terrible
economic situation and the quality of education continue to deteriorate
and there are no incentives or direction for teenagers and young people;
but especially if it continues to be the priority of the State to invest
its scarce human resources and materials in repressing those of us who
want to confront the real problems and take steps to resolve them.
Source: Gang Warfare In Havana / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila | Translating