Thursday, August 22, 2013

Alcoholism, Corruption and Other Demons

Alcoholism, Corruption and Other Demons…
Posted on August 21, 2013

The exclusive news was first offered by Cuban TV's Havana Channel, in an
evening program on Wednesday July 31, 2013: six people had died and 40
remained hospitalized due to ingestion of methyl alcohol (wood alcohol).
According to official investigations, alcohol came from an Institute of
Pharmacy and Food warehouse. Stolen by two employees who had access, the
alcohol was then sold illegally by a woman from Arimao, in the
municipality of La Lisa, where all the poisoned individuals also resided.

It unofficially appears that said illegal dealer is a marginal person of
low and irregular income and that her son was among the disadvantaged
people who died.

In the days that followed, the National TV News and the written press
have continued to update some facts about the case, while taking
advantage of the tragedy to highlight the niceties of the Cuban health
system and to stress the efficiency of the work of the Integrated
Medical Emergency (SIUM) and Toxicology. There have also been
testimonials, more ridiculous than moving, of some survivors who have
promised their families, "and the Revolution", that they will stop
drinking, as if, in tandem with the bad experience, they had overcome
the existential miseries that have pushed them to alcoholism, or as if,
ultimately, they were not victims of the illusion they insist on calling

So far, there have been 16 deaths, several people remain admitted and
others have been discharged from hospitals, while they are still
reporting some additional cases of poisoning, even in other
municipalities, and a combined operation of the National Police and the
Ministry of Public Health continues to be active, with a command post
set up in a school district to monitor the situation.

Beyond the Events

At first glance, what transpired in a Havana neighborhood might seem
like a single isolated event, but such an impression would be
misleading. While the high cost in human lives conveys unusual
sensationalism to the official press, in reality, it is just the tip of
the iceberg, the most visible external manifestation of a generalized
crisis arising from economic collapse, the failure of the system, the
lack of prospects, hopelessness and loss of values. Only under Cuban
conditions or under those of other societies as broken as ours could
similar events take place.

This time, there was the combination of rampant corruption, widespread
alcohol addiction and low purchasing power of the poorest sectors of the
population, all factors that contribute to the trafficking of various
toxic substances in the illegal markets.

In fact, illegal trade of alcohol is widespread in the capital, where
almost all neighborhoods have one or several of these dealers of spirits
of dubious origin and composition, both from clandestine stills and from
thefts of legal networks of stores and warehouses. Though trafficking
and consumption have always existed, they have proliferated since the
1990s' crisis, when even the ration card, unable to keep up the hefty
subsidies of previous years, guaranteed a monthly quota of rum for each
family nucleus.

Cubans with better memories will certainly remember the weekly meetings
of the leaders of the [Communist] Party and the Popular Power, televised
every Tuesday, which the people dubbed "Meeting of the Fatsos" because
of the participants' glowing looks, in contrast to those of the hungry
and emaciated population. In one of the reunions the then First
Secretary of the Provincial Committee of the Cuban Communist Party,
Jorge Lezcano, cynically stated that what the population could not lack
was rum. Alcohol consumption was, therefore, an official policy aimed at
dulling people's thinking: alcohol to forget our frustrations in the
midst of the worst shortages in the last century of Cuban history.

As a consequence, alcohol consumption has increased through the years,
at the same time as the average age of its consumers has significantly

For years, Cuban wit has dubbed these concoctions with different names
which, in the way of the marginal language, translate into the effects
of their ingestion: mofuco, tiger's laughter, man and earth, train's
spark and the like. Though trafficking and consumption have always
existed, they have proliferated since the 1990s' crisis, when even the
ration card, unable to keep up the hefty subsidies of the previous
years, guaranteed a monthly quota of rum for each family nucleus. On the
other hand, in a country where life offers more frustrations than
expectations, it is not surprising that alcoholism has reached truly
alarming levels

Thus, the misadventure of several dozen drunks has fired off the
official alarms and, this time, events have cut across to the media, but
the overall decay of the system is evidenced in all areas and levels of
national life, far exceeding the government's ability to address the
crisis. It is the metastasis of a terminally ill system, without the
means to cure the nation's moral unhealthiness

The continuous succession of events demonstrates the irreversibility of
corruption under this government: officials who get corrupted, illegal
markets that grow and diversify, increases in prostitution, alcoholism
and drugs.

There is little left to defend of socialism Cuban style, let alone the
kindness of a system where the reality exceeded the macabre and
corruption is a means of survival. Today, Cuba is a country where it is
possible for stolen human fat from a crematorium to be traded as if it
were pork fat, where you can buy a school exam, a surgery or a dental
prosthesis, where individuals can applaud an official speech, attend a
"Revolutionary" march and steal from the very government they pretend to
support, where dozens of mental in-patients at a hospital can die of
hunger or cold weather, and where most of the objectives are enclosed in
the perspective of an exit with no return.

Translated by Norma Whiting

16 August 2013

Source: "Alcoholism, Corruption and Other Demons… | Translating Cuba" -

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