Drug Consumption in Cuba... "Benefits" of Globalization?

Entre los consumidores de medicamentos psicoactivos combinados con bebidas alcohólicas, la edad mínima promedio es de 12 años. (CC)
Among consumers of alcohol combined with psychoactive drugs, the youngest users average around 12-years-old. (CC)

Juventud Rebelde’s extensive report ( Alas Trágicas para Volar (I) [Tragic Flying Wings I], of Sunday, June 28 th addresses the controversial issue of drug use among adolescents and young Cubans. Putting aside that the presence and alarming spread of this scourge in the Island’s population has been previously revealed on numerous occasions by the independent press and foreign media – which were accused at that time of distorting reality with the deliberate intention of tarnishing “revolutionary” Cuba’s image – it is no less commendable that the official press has finally recognized the existence of this evil in the supposedly exemplary Cuban society.

The article in question also notes other flaws, no less serious, such as increasing alcoholism from an early age and the growing illicit trade in psychotropic and other drugs controlled by the Ministry of Public Health. A string of corruption often starts with theft at the very factories producing the pills and its saga includes shorting at the warehouses, overpricing at drugstores and even at doctors’ offices where some unscrupulous physicians prescribe them, be it for lack of ethics or patient bribes.

A psychologist at the Community Mental Health Center in the Havana municipality Plaza de la Revolución declares that, among consumers of alcohol combined with psychoactive drugs the youngest users average around 12-years-old, a fact that reveals the extent and depth of the problem.

Neither happy nor too profound

Formerly, the official speech coined a Guevara phrase defining Cuban youth, “Happy but profound.” However, the article by Juventud Rebelde assures us that in a survey conducted on a sample of 40 young people between 14 and 19 of age, residing in the capital and in four other regions of the Island, it was evident that, though they are aware of the health risks of narcotics, “most” associate it with a social activity, and consume them at discotheques, parks, festivities and they even take “pills” at school or at home. Such are the ways the failed children of “the New Man” find happiness

Over half a century of indoctrination to purify four generations of revolutionaries have not been enough, and young Cubans have surrendered to that other  noxious influence of the consumer society: drugs. We must ask ourselves how many of those who march each year towards the Fragua Martiana Museum carrying torches or those who join in youth battalions of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution will be destined to combat and eradicate this new enemy that attacks us from within, drug use.

Drug use has become one of the ways to find joy for the failed children of the “New Man”

In any case, we know how useful the most wholesome youth can be when it comes to joining in those battles of the revolution, as was demonstrated in the past decade, when an army of young social workers* knocked themselves out in the urgent task of wiping out the roots of corruption. We can still recall the sassiness on their faces at the gas pump, trafficking happily in the hydrocarbons of their beloved mentor, Fidel Castro.

Without cause and without solutions

Juventud Rebelde’s article barely shows the tip of the iceberg, judging by a specialist in forensic medicine, who says that “consumption (of alcohol) mixed with medication is a fairly common group practice in recent times,” difficult to quantify because “alcohol consumption is often diagnosed, but it is very difficult to know if it has been combined with some psychotropic drug” due to the lack of controls and corresponding clinical examinations.

That leads directly to another question. If drug use has spread in such an epidemic fashion among young people, is it not time to set in this dazzling medical world power the necessary clinical procedures to find out what types of substances have been ingested by those who come to the health care centers, to identify trends and implement the most appropriate medical procedures, for both emergency treatment and a process of rehabilitation? What happened to that fabulous anti-drug laboratory — “the largest in the region” — perfectly equipped, which, in the brutal 90’s the Cuban president had constructed to demonstrate our purity as a sport nation? Why not devote the necessary resources to get this new scourge that hovers ever stronger over the Island out of the way, especially when payment for the services of the contingents of physicians services sub-contracted abroad is one of the most juicy foreign exchange net earnings in the country?

Is it not time to establish in this dazzling medical world power the clinical procedures to detect what types of substances have been ingested?

Meanwhile, the  Juventud Rebelde article makes reference to the increasing use of drugs and alcohol in Cuba as if it were just another trend in line with global standards. It is, in short, a global scourge, and in this Cubans are also in tune with the rest of the world. So our young people are simply seeking “to escape reality,” which should not be expected of a just and happy society like ours, where everyone is guaranteed a bright future, very different from that of the wretched people who scrape by in decadent capitalist societies.

What’s more, it is known that drug use is also associated with alcoholism and smoking, another two of the national pandemics. But this is certainly not related to the fact that Cuba is one of the leading producers of tobacco, or that rum is one of the few industries that has survived the voracious predatory social system imposed on the island since January of 1959.

For now,  Juventud Rebelde does not venture too far into the analysis of the causes, or of solutions. However, we should not get too far ahead of ourselves. This article last Sunday was only the first installment on the topic in the “Journal of Cuban Youth.” In the next installments we will certainly be able to discover some ingenious proposals that will fill us with hope.

*Translator’s note: These are young people performing their “social service,” not social workers in the sense of a life’s career.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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