Monday, January 27, 2003

Anthony Boadle

Cuba cracks down on drugs, prostitution, porn

HAVANA — Communist-run Cuba is cracking down on rising drug consumption by raiding homes in search of narcotics and ordering the confiscation of property used in the trade.

A government decree passed last week but made public on Monday empowered authorities to confiscate houses where drugs are being hidden or consumed, and land used to grow cannabis.

In recent weeks police have raided numerous homes in Havana and other Cuban cities in search of drugs — mainly cocaine and marijuana — and their suppliers. Havana residents said whole blocks have been sealed off by police during the drug busts.

Decree 232, signed by President Fidel Castro and dated Jan. 21, also ordered confiscation of properties used for prostitution and the making of pornography, as well as illegal discotheques and underground video stores.

"It is equally necessary to combat with greater rigor and energy other cases of corruption and antisocial conduct that affect our society," the decree stated.

Cuban officials say drug abuse is on the rise in Cuba because demand has been fueled by a growing tourist industry that has exposed the island's youth to outside evils.

Cuba has increasingly been used as a transit country by smugglers of Colombian cocaine who ditch bales of drugs off the barely patrolled keys of its north coast for shipment in speed boats to the Bahamas and the United States.

Growing quantities of that cocaine supply are staying in Cuba while small plantations of marijuana had been discovered in the country and destroyed, officials aid.

In a Jan. 10 editorial in Cuba's state-run newspapers, Castro's government recognized that illegal drug use was on the rise and urged Cubans to close ranks to fight the threat.

Marijuana, cocaine and crack are reportedly available on Havana streets, where prostitution has multiplied since the collapse of the Soviet Union plunged Cuba into economic crisis over a decade ago.

Some Cubans said they were worried the new decree could be used by authorities to crack down on other black market sales that have become part of daily life in Cuba, such as food and gasoline, but also clandestine video stores that now exist in most neighborhoods.

Before Castro seized power in a 1959 revolution against a U.S.-backed dictator, Cuba was the Caribbean playground for Americans and Havana's nightlife was notorious for its Mafia-run casinos and prostitution rings.

Copyright 2003 Reuters Limited.

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Created: April 13, 2003
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