Following on from the review of the determinants of order in Cuba in the previous chapter, this chapter provides a basic analytical catalogue of illicit activities on the island. The overall picture is of a nation where illegality permeates most aspects of daily life – far above the average Latin American country, which is already a high standard. However, (and fortunately for its citizens) serious crimes affecting ordinary citizens are rare in Cuba.
Again, it is essential to remember that activities which are formally defined as illicit in Cuba would be perfectly legal in a democratic regime, or even in many other authoritarian countries. Many of these formal rules go against many basic economic and behavioral incentives. In general, if a rule is absurd or at odds with reality and citizens’ incentives, we will observe many infringements to said rule.
Therefore, it is important to distinguish between crime that would be classified as such in most or all societies, such as homicides or robbery, and actions that are not classified as crimes in most countries, but are in Cuba. This distinction is relevant to understanding how crime incidence could change as Cuba liberalizes. For instance, it is not clear whether people involved in illicit behavior that we may consider to be relatively trivial now, such as selling or buying food on the illicit market, would shift into other, quite harmful, criminal activities, such as drug trafficking. I discuss this issue in-depth in Chapter 6.
Ultimately, however, most of these rules have not been designed naïvely. Many rules in Cuba are devised with the goal of exercising control in all areas of life, both public and private. Although some are also atavistic remains of the massively inefficient Cuban bureaucracy.
Because of the ubiquity of the Cuban state, citizens experience corruption from public officials on an almost daily basis. Cuban bureaucracy is notoriously inefficient and scarcity is high, key incentives for corrupt practices. Moreover, the non-democratic nature of the current regime inhibits citizens’ resistance to corruption.
Corruption extends across almost all other crimes that I discuss in this chapter. Some authors argue that Cuba's political culture has been eroded, and that Cubans are apathetic and distrust public institutions. Since the dominant norm is that the ends justify the means, amiguismo and sociolismo seem to be the informal standards that guide most transactions in Cuba.