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    Alcoholism, Corruption and Other Demons – 2013

    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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