July 2016        

Letter from 420 km west of Havana

Seán Joseph Clancy

More people were killed in Cuba during 2015 by lightning than by gunfire.
     One of the most significant and transcendental conquests of the Cuban revolutionary process lies beneath such relatively low gun and drugs crime statistics.
     Cuba is an island nation situated strategically on the route between where vast amounts of the raw materials required to manufacture drugs, and drugs themselves, come from in South and Central America and where they are consumed in vast quantities, in the northern portion of the continent.
     There are of course drugs, and guns, on the streets here. There are addicts and armed delinquents and all the tragic suffering that both tribes breed.
     Although there are people who suffer the dire consequences associated with these twins, conceived in the test tubes of capitalism and consumerism, it is not at all unrealistic to say that neither has a broad enough impact on society as a whole to justify being considered social problems.
     Addiction issues here are complex and hard to define and address because of the amount of mainstream and prescription drugs around—at prices that can only be described as symbolic—and consumed for legitimate medicinal as well as recreational or addictive and compulsive reasons.
     These are in reality free, because pharmacy prices are generally less than, or just about cover, the cost of packaging, distribution, and dispensing.
     From aspirin to the most advanced cancer and retroviral drug treatments that typically cost a patient in excess of €75,000 there are some eight hundred mainstream and hundreds more complementary and “green” medicines available through the state pharmacy network (except in cases where the US blockade makes them impossible to obtain or to reproduce generically). I have never seen any priced at more than the equivalent of 1.50 American dollars. Most can also be obtained at no cost in cases of hardship.
     Things can become a bit distorted and complicated at times because of petty corruption or infrastructural problems, but generally things work well enough.
     Addicts seeking help here can go into a residential treatment scheme, can do inpatient detox and transfer to outpatient self-help or professional group or individual community-based therapy, can attend twelve-step recovery meetings, and can avail of ancillary physical and psychological support services.
     There is no such thing as a waiting-list for any of these.
     It would be far easier to obtain help for oneself or a family member here in Cuba than in the post-Tiger Ireland of today.

Back on track . . .
Puerto Rico was freed from Spanish colonial rule 116 or so years ago. It did not graduate—as Cuba did, for a large part under the guidance of José Martí and later Fidel—to freeing itself from the US yoke.
     North American forces only entered the fray against the Spanish—who they would have lived with were they not somewhat in shreds and vulnerable—because they considered that a French or British colony would be detrimental to their regional control and expansionist interests. The concept of a sovereign state never even crossed their minds.
     One (there are many) direct consequence of this is that there are now more guns in Puerto Rico than there are people.
     The symbiotic relationship dynamics between guns, drugs and US imperialism are vast, profound, and undeniable. They stretch from ghettos all over the continent to the twin towers of the Pentagon and the White House and leave their bloody mark on all social strata in between.
     Cuba—a small, underdeveloped, poor and blockaded Third World Caribbean nation—stoically maintains the requisite degree over the two former, in no small part because it has kept the latter at bay.
     The social benefits are enormous and beyond my space here and scope to delve further into. Suffice it to say that I have no doubt that my six-year-old son, Fidelito, will get through his primary, secondary and third-level education without ever encountering (unless he goes to considerable trouble to find some) street drugs or being exposed, even at a distance, to gun crime and many of the other social malaises that have somehow been normalised elsewhere.
     A journalist from the Washington Post who was here in April made some nasty and unfair comments about a visit she made to a school in Havana. She claimed that children were “little robots,” who churned out pro-government propaganda, and that their school was a sterile and sombre place.
     She quietened somewhat when asked if she had any trouble getting through the metal-detectors at the door, or finding the Pepsi and McDonald’s franchises in the school canteen.
     My son—not even slightly robotesque—is thriving in school here in every way that a loving parent could hope for.
     Viva Cuba Socialista!

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