I have just spent 8 years living in a country where the police are ………… quite frankly a joke. In fact, they are worse than that, they are a corrupt bunch of people who I would not call if anything remotely bad or good happened to me. I just wouldn’t trust them one bit. Also I knew someone who was raped by 3 policemen in Antigua and fled the country pretty soon with her daughter. Do you blame her? Rapists and the police have impunity in Guatemala along with a whole bunch of other low-lives ……..
By the end of my time there I had even stopped stopping for the police in Guatemala. My opinion of them was so low that even if they tried to wave me over in the road I would just wave at them like a foreign loony without a clue. One time I was involved in a police chase when I was taking the boys to their French class at Alliance Franςaise. I had touched the bonnet of a taxi whilst virtually stationary at a T junction and the taxi driver wanted to get a few quetzales out of me for his already falling apart taxi. I knew the drill and was so bored. The taxi driver managed to flag down a police car and they chased me all the way to the Alliance. I didn’t want the boys to be late and they LOVED being involved in a real life police chase. They ran into their French class as though they had just been on the best fairground ride ever!
I then had to go through the ridiculous farce of paying off the taxi driver and the police as any other option just isn’t worth it. At least the young police officer had the decency on this occasion to look a little bit ashamed. So my boys have always known that we did not have much respect for the police in Guatemala!
So here I am in Cuba a country with hardly any violent crime and certainly not of the organised variety. The police have a strong but unaggressive presence on the streets and I am glad they are there. Having said that I have already managed to get stopped twice! Schoolgirl errors, as really this is about the easiest city I have ever had the pleasure to drive around.
On my second Saturday I was suddenly filled with a desire to get out of the house and get Paulo’s hair cut before school began. Off we went down Quinta with a vague idea that someone told me that there was a barber shop near Nautico shopping centre and supermarket. Suddenly I saw it and swung across Quinta at the next opportunity. Peep peep peep went the policeman’s whistle. I was pulled over and a friendly policeman informed me that I had crossed a yellow line. Never cross a yellow line in Cuba, is a bit like never eat yellow snow. A good bit of basic advice.
The policeman asked me if I thought I should get a fine with a smile beginning to appear on his lips. Please no I am new in town and my son needs a haircut and I’m having problems getting my electronic wing mirrors on my new strange car to open. I promise I won’t do it again I was a bit confused! After this he helped me to back the car out and showed me where to park and where the barber shop was.
The second time I was on Quinta near our house on my way to get Saskia from her circulo (nursery). I have to say I am usually more bothered about going fast enough on Quinta as it says maintain your speed at 80 kph or 60 kph depending on which lane. So there I was trying to maintain 60 but falling short when I got pulled over. Maybe I wasn’t going fast enough I thought! A few teenagers crossed the road giggling and shouting suerte! I had forgotten that that part of Quinta was in a school zone where you have to go 40 kph. Quite right too. I was terribly apologetic to the polite and professional young office saying I had 3 children of my own etc etc. He asked for all my papers and when he realised that the car and the driver were in some ways connected to the film school he was even more friendly and kind. Apologising for bothering me. Not at all I said, el contrario! I think he even ended by sending greetings to the school and my husband. Once I got on my way again they drove past me waving!
So what have I learnt. Police in Cuba do their job but they are not officious nor heavy handed. Do not ever cross a yellow line on the road and watch out for school zones. And also that in a country that puts so much emphasis on cultural development like Cuba everyone knows the film school and our position here is a privileged one but in the nicest possible way. Rafa is respected for who he is, and what he does rather than how much money we have or have not or what model of car we drive.