HAVANA – Cubans allegedly have stolen everything from gasoline and cement to rice and powdered milk — one person was even caught with 320 tubes of toothpaste — in the wake of three recent hurricanes that caused more than $10 billion in damages.
Officials have prosecuted more than 1,200 cases of hurricane-related crime in the Havana region through the first half of November, the government-run Havana newspaper Tribuna said in this week's edition.
Courts imposed jail sentences to more than one-third of the people arrested in a crackdown on fraud, theft of government property and other crimes following Hurricanes Gustav, Ike and Paloma that hit, starting in late August.
Those arrested were found with large, presumably stolen stocks of goods such as toothpaste, gasoline, powdered milk, cement, spaghetti packages, rice, detergent and chicken — goods the government had destined for hurricane relief projects or for heavily subsidized state rations.
"In the city of Havana, we are in combat," Tribuna declared, saying the police actions were "in defense of the interests of the majority of the people."
The newspaper said that 34 percent of those prosecuted were sent to jail, about 8 percent were sentenced to correctional work programs, about 16 percent were fined and 4 percent received some kind of parole. The rest of the people were absolved, or their cases merely filed away.
Cuban courts have also imposed stiff sentences on people accused of price-gouging and stealing construction materials and other supplies.