The Hospital Staff Steal and the Patients Die

The crazies are easy prey for the cunning, who shout painful taunts at them from street corners to exacerbate their delirium. We had one on my block with his two paper boats which he spent hours racing in a rare regatta that never went anywhere. His mother kept him calm with Benadryl and diazepam; anything, before sending him to the dementia warehouse known as Mazorra, the Havana psychiatric hospital.

The mind of this lady was filled with the images of what had been the mental clinic on Boyeros Street, with its accumulated terror and material impoverishment. The patients half naked, the walls smeared with human excrement, and the lack of supervision set the stage for the worst atrocities. The photos had been published in the magazines of that long ago 1959. Then, came the television reports: clean sheets, occupational therapy and even political billboards that changed the face of what had been a horror. Except that, like I said, the crazies are easy prey for the cunning.

Since the nineties, with the coming of the Special Period, the diversion of resources showed no mercy to Mazorra. The residents of nearby streets were well stocked through a black market in blankets, food, clothing, towels and medicine coming from the hospital. Those admitted there thought it was part of their everyday suffering--like in the film Gaslight--with the light bulbs missing in most rooms. Everything indispensable was stolen and no one noticed the broken windows, the clogged toilets, the broken beds. This time there was no journalist authorized to portray the misery.

The official press could not hide, however, the deaths of 26 patients--some say the true figure approaches 40--from hypothermia and the illnesses associated with neglect. They left this life on a cold day in January, while huddled together, body upon body, without the power to avoid this end. The cunning, for their part, built houses with the dividends from theft and thought no one would ever detect their embezzlement. Today, those responsible in the hospital are being investigated amid a police deployment to keep away the curious. No pictures have come out, but I'm tormented by the idea of how much they have come to resemble, in their helplessness, those patients whose faces we see in the photographs from the past.

Yoani's blog, Generation Y, can be read here in English translation.