This Monday (January 10) will mark one year since the tragic night when 20 some Cuban mental patients died at Havana’s national psychiatric hospital due to a cold spell, according to the Cuban authorities. Human rights leaders on the island told Reuters (January 14, 2010) that “the patients were not properly protected from temperatures that dipped into the low 40s during an unusual extended cold snap on the tropical island.”
Granma, Cuba’s official newspaper announced that “the ministry of public health decided to create a commission to investigate what happened, and… the commission has identified several deficiencies related to the failure to adopt timely measures,” adding that “those principally responsible would be submitted to the corresponding tribunals.”
The Granma article was published on January 16, 2010. But nothing else has been heard from Havana.
The story, and the heartbreaking photographs, could not be denied by the authorities due to the courage of human rights activists who took advantage of twenty-first century technologies, sending abroad the dramatic evidence. Granma reported in a small item on January 16 that “during last week there has been an increase in the mortality rate of the patients at the psychiatric hospital of Havana.”
Elizardo Sanchez, spokesman for the Independent Cuban Commission on Human Rights, told Reuters that the deaths were “unprecedented,” and accused the government of criminal negligence. Sanchez said that there were “growing signs of deterioration in the national health system.”
“The people were not covered up, and many windows and doors at the hospital were broken, so they were not protected.”
Sources on the island told the Washington-based Center for a Free Cuba that pilferage is not limited to factories and government offices. “Hospital employees often steal light bulbs, blankets, pillows, mattresses, medicines, and food.”
Inexplicably, important media continues to echo Cuban government claims about its health system. For example, in a recent PBS News Hour program, Gwen Ifill said that as far as medical care, the Cuban government believes that “many ounces of prevention are considered worth a pound of cure.” We only wish that were so.
*Frank Calzon is a guest blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. He is executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, which is based in Arlington, Va.