Friday, January 14, 2011

One Year After Mazorra

Negligence, Indifference & A Madhouse of Death in Cuba

Fernando Comas one of the patients who died at Cuba's
National Psychiatric Hospital "Mazorra" in 2010
(Photo BBC Mundo)

Today marks one year since the world learned about the deaths of 26 psychiatric patients at the Cuban Psychiatric Hospital in Havana known as Mazorra. Yoani Sanchez denounced this atrocity last year along with other dissidents, but today on her twitter account provided an update on what has and hasn't happened since then:
They are trying to hide during these days the first anniversary of the deaths of dozens of patients at a psychiatric hospital because of starvation and cold. The results of the police investigation into the deaths at Mazorra were never made public. Official figures spoke of 26 dead, but it is clear to everyone now that the number of dead exceeded 40 victims. After that various twitterers created the tag #despidanabalaguer (#firebalaguer) calling for the minister of Public Health to be fired. Although Balaguer was removed he was never prosecuted for negligence. He was the minister and had to know what was occurring. Autopsy pictures of the dead patients were leaked. More than 300 lurid photos of emaciated skeletal bodies.
Nelly López, mother of Fernando Comas, one of the victims (Photo BBC Mundo)

BBC World in Spanish reported on the fact that a large number of Cubans are demanding accountability surrounding this crime and fear that it will not be forthcoming ending the article with a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche: "All suppressed truths become poisonous." In the same article Nelly López, the mother of one of the victims, Fernando Comas, explains that she has been waiting for a year for an official explanation that she has asked everyone but no official replies just rumors.

[Warning the video below contains graphic images of the victims]

Unfortunately this tragedy should not have come as a surprise to human rights observers of Cuba. Amnesty International had raised the issue first in their report Psychiatry: A Human Rights Perspective in 1995:
In Cuba, there have been allegations in recent years that not only the criminally insane but also political prisoners have been sent to forensic wards of state psychiatric institutions where they are kept in unhygienic and dangerous conditions and where they are exposed to ill-treatment either at the hands of staff or fellow inmates. In 1988 Amnesty International visited the Havana Psychiatric (Mazorra) Hospital in Havana. The delegation was permitted to visit one of the forensic wards - the Sala Carbó Serviá. However, the existence of a second forensic ward, the Sala Castellanos, was denied by a hospital official. It was this ward which was alleged to present harsh conditions and to be used for the punishment of prisoners.
Amnesty International reported how prisoner of conscience Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet was sent to Mazorra on November 29, 1999 to Mazorra. He was sent to Mazorra by State Security agents and forced to undergo psychiatric examinations on several occasions including November 29th.
Cuba's National Psychiatric Hospital "Mazorra"

Amnesty also reported how on December 4, 1998 Cuban dissident Milagros Cruz Cano, who is blind, was detained by State Security agents while waiting for a bus. She was initially held at the Maria Luisa police station in Havana where she was: "beaten by police officers which resulted in a swollen cheek and a bruise and scab below her eye. She was then transferred to Mazorra psychiatric hospital in Havana where she was held in an isolated cell called Córdoba. The conditions of detention were said to be degrading as she was held in a cell with iron bars which other patients and guards could see into and where she had to carry out all personal hygiene. She was released on December 14, 1998 without charge."

Observers need to take into account that in addition to negligence and indifference to human suffering that led to a situation in which more than 40 patients died of malnutrition and exposure to cold in a tropical country that this psychiatric hospital was also employed in the mistreatment and torture of Cuban dissidents and human rights activists.

Earlier today Yoani Sanchez concluded her tweets on Mazorra calling for the publication of the report of this crime stating:
I dare to venture a label to require the publication of the results of the investigation into Mazorra #muertosmazorra (#mazorrasdead)
Its easy for someone writing from abroad to second this call to action because, unlike in Cuba under the current regime, living in a part of the world were freedom of expression is respected means not having to contemplate the consequences of being harassed and prosecuted by the state for denouncing a crime. Nevertheless, there are brave people in countries like Belarus, Cuba, China and Vietnam that risk everything to do just that. Those who don't face those dangers and are people of good will could at least assist them in relaying their message to the rest of the world and not let their calls for justice remain unanswered.

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