Friday, January 15, 2010


Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

Carla has suffered from chronic depression since she was 22. I’ve been with her to see psychologists at support centers, to specialists at the Surgical Clinic and Calixto Garcia, spiritualism sessions, group therapy, alternative healing treatments and to Mazorra.

After Prozac, imipramine and trifluoperazine, the comprehensive indifference of the doctors and the shuttling around to the treatment centers, she was never diagnosed. Her faith in Cuban psychiatry ended with a visit to Mazorra. I went with her to be examined and—in going and coming home—she made the most important decision in her life: The treatment is over, the hospital is over, goodbye to the psychiatrists. She took her condition stoically and since then, when the crisis comes, she locks herself in her house to read like a madwoman and doesn’t miss a showing at the movies, and so overcomes her depression.

What we saw, I can’t deny it, left no room for half-measures. I remembered televised images of the hospital, with a group of high spirited old women wearing a lot of makeup—in a dream lobby filled with plants and chairs—reading novels or rehearsing a beautiful chorus. It was the only image I had of the famous hospital.

Just past the Admissions desk some twenty old people were cleaning the main path with straw brooms, wearing tattered clothes, their teeth black, turning over the weeds they’d swept up looking for cigarette ends. One berated me with a voice full of tears, asking me for one. When I gave it to him the other 19 rushed us. I left the box.

We went through almost the whole hospital until coming to a building where, we’d been told, the outlook was bleak. I couldn’t say who the crazy ones were, if it was those going in or those coming out, because to put a person with mental illness in a place as horrible as that is to condemn them to absolute alienation. I recognized some of the beggars who mill around on 23rd Street. It surprised me to see them in the same state of filth and half-nakedness; I had always thought that they had escaped the hospital and that when they were inside they were fed and clothed.

I waited for Carla for two hours sitting in the lobby of the pavilion, surrounded by the unbalanced, without having the least idea of what they suffered from, some seemed sad, others unhinged, and others moody. Some were bandaged, an old man sang horrendously; I thought back to the choirs on the newscast and felt like crying. The walls were black with soot, letting in almost no light, everything was bathed in shadows that highlighted the misery and filth. In a room next to me a nurse was talking with the family of one of the patients, the man wept disconsolately because he wanted to be let out—promising to behave and be good—the mother was begging that he stay in the hospital at least to the weekend and the nurse was saying something about the shortage of mattresses.

Returning home Carla and I said not one word, we were astounded. When I left her in her house she whispered: I’m never going back to the doctor, I’ll be the same anyway.

I would like to dedicate this post to the patients who died of hypothermia in the Havana Psychiatric Hospital, between the 9th and 12th of this month. Read the news here and here.


Humberto Capiro said...

WASHINGTON POST: Cuba cold snap kills 26 at psychiatric hospital

The Associated Press
Friday, January 15, 2010; 4:02 PM

HAVANA -- "Twenty-six patients at Cuba's top hospital for the mentally ill died this week during a cold snap, the government said Friday.

Human rights leaders cited negligence and a lack of resources as factors in the deaths, and the Health Ministry launched an investigation that it said could lead to criminal proceedings.

A Health Ministry communique read on state television blamed "prolonged low temperatures that fell to 38 degrees Fahrenheit (4 Celsius) in Boyeros," the neighborhood where Havana's Psychiatric Hospital is located.

It said most of the deaths were from natural causes like old age, respiratory infections and complications from chronic diseases including cancer and cardiovascular problems."

Paul Selwyn Berry said...

It appears that a socialism with no higher power or authority than the state seems to breed a spirit of apathy and disinterest.

Humberto Capiro said...

ENGLAND'S THE GUARDIAN: Haitian orphans could be airlifted to Miami for resettlement

Richard Luscombe in Miami, Sunday 17 January 2010 19.39 GMT

"Thousands of orphans and other Haitian children displaced by the earthquake may be airlifted to Florida in a humanitarian project that has roots in a similar mass exodus from Cuba half a century ago. Operation Pierre Pan would be a near repeat of Operación Pedro Pan, which saw 14,048 unaccompanied Cuban children start new lives in the US in the early 1960s.

Just like that two-year programme, which was designed to remove children from the control of Fidel Castro's government, the new arrivals would live in temporary shelters in south Florida until foster homes are found, or they are reunited with family members."

"Many of the original Pedro Pan children are among the volunteers offering their support, and in many cases their homes, to the young victims of the disaster.

"It's a way that we can give back," said Eloisa Echazabal, who was 13 when she and her younger sister were sent to Florida by their parents in 1961, before they moved on to an orphanage in New York.

"Their stories are different, but in other ways these children are just like us a long time ago. We know how bewildering it is for a child to arrive alone in an unfamiliar country, not knowing the language or where they will spend the night. But we also know the kindness of strangers gets you through, and we can be those strangers to these children who are suffering.""

Humberto Capiro said...

ORANGEBURG Raul Castro turns into big brother Fidel
By NAT HENTOFF Monday, January 18, 2010

"At least 40 Cuban advocates of human rights have been locked up during the last three years on the charge of being “dangerous.” And Human Rights Watch documented “more than 40 cases under Raul Castro in which Cuba imprisoned people for ‘dangerousness’ because they sought to do things like staging marches or organizing independent labor unions” (New York Times, Nov. 19)."

"This customary censorship by the dictatorship has not prevented Afro-Cubans from hearing of it and being encouraged by this long-delayed support from these black Americans. And although the mainstream American media have paid little attention to their pre-emancipation proclamation, the 60 signers “are considering forming a group to follow this (Jim Crow) situation via international human rights and civil rights organizations” (Radio Marti —, Dec. 30)."

"A particularly prominent American signer, political scientist Ron Walters — in “Racist or Revolutionary: Cuba’s Identity is at Stake” ( -- declares:

“Cuba’s national identity is precisely what is at stake. The government cannot claim to be truly revolutionary and progressive while tolerating white elitism in its leadership and the oppression of its blackest citizens.” He quotes Dr. Carlos Moore, a longtime battler against racism in Cuba:"

"Entering what is now a worldwide conversation about the bigotry of the Castro brothers is a hero of freedom, Vaclav Havel, whose Velvet Revolution helped drive the Russian dictatorship out of Czechoslovakia. Author of “The Power of the Powerless,” he has won the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom. In a letter to Yusnaimy Jorge Soca, which I’ve not seen mentioned in the American press, Havel says of the Cuban resistance against the Castros:

“The Cuban opposition has my sympathies since it suffers totalitarian forms of power and ideology similar to those that I knew in the former Czechoslovakia.” Then Havel went on to target passive accomplices of endemic Cuban racism: “I am very worried about the lack of willingness of the European Union to express itself clearly and draw conclusions. Even though the practices and treacheries of totalitarian regimes have been described and documented thousands of times, their lies are still underestimated, omitted or even accepted by international organizations."