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Drugs in Cuba: An Inconvenient Reality

'Public Health has no way of coping with the rising consumption rate', says a psychiatrist.

La Habana

"I don’t sell yerba or piedra (grass or crack) to anyone under 18, that's my secret," says Yayito, a jíbaro (drug dealer) who for almost a decade has done business in neighborhoods in western Havana.

With this philosophy of not selling drugs to minors, he assumes that he buys a kind of ticket to impunity, or a reduced sentence, in the event the authorities decide to put and end to his career as a trafficker.

"Yes, because Yayito has been in the business for years, and the police never mess with him," says Oraldo, a local consumer, implying that this jibaro cooperates with the Technical Department of Investigations (DTI).

Similar comments abound in the world of drug trafficking and consumption on the Island. It is also part of the national paranoia, in a country where "they educated us to keep an eye on each other," says Yayito in response to comments about his alleged collaboration with the DTI.

Relatives of youth that are "hooked" on drugs - mainly piedra [crack] - complain that the "0 Tolerance" policy of the phenomenon is applied many times to those who consume it, and not to those who sell it.

According to the calculations of Lourdes Pilar, the mother of a 22-year-old young man addicted to crack, in the operations against drug trafficking, for each jíbaro convicted, four consumers are.

"The most fortunate users have their sentences reduced to time in a psychiatric hospital, provided they snitch on other consumers", says Lourdes Pilar.

Other parents, like Ernesto and Amelia, have opted to use marijuana together with their children, "right at home, without any trouble." They believe that with this strategy they can control the their children's consumption and create "a climate of trust" to keep them from falling prey to police operations "where the innocent end up paying the price for others' crimes."

"The Public Health institutions, in reality, have no way of coping with the rising drug consumption rate," a General Psychiatry specialist with 15 years of experience told us, on condition of anonymity.

"In the first place, the Government's policy to respond to this phenomenon is punitive and judicial, not scientific. We have instructions not to disclose the figures on patients who come to us for help. Therefore, it is hard to inform the population about the dynamics and the impact of drug consumption on society," adds the specialist.

Article 191 of the Cuban Penal Code sanctions the "possession of narcotics, psychotropic substances and other substances having similar effects without due authorization or a prescription." The sentences range from one to three years of incarceration, depending on the type of drug used by the consumer.

In April of 2016 the head of the Anti-Drug Directorate at the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), Colonel Juan Carlos Poesy, reported that in 2015 1,266 kilograms of drugs were seized on the island, and 1,363 people were brought to justice, 44 of them foreigners.

The latest update on Cuba at the UN's Office for Drugs and Crime dates from the same year.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Ena Elsa Velázquez, stated that schools are the ideal places to promote protective factors that mitigate risks. Among the prevention tasks to avert drug use among students, the minister said that, together with other institutions, "we are doing community work with young people to focus their attention on healthy sports, cultural and recreational activities."

In mid March specialists in advertising at the RTV Comercial network visited several pre-university schools in Havana as part of an anti-drug campaign. There was a drawing, and the prizes were a weekend at a state campsite, and four cases of Bucanero beer.

More than a few say that the money for drugs - from trafficking to consumption - comes mainly from corruption.

"Corruption among government elites and drug trafficking and consumption go hand in hand," says a journalist with sources in the Cuban world of narcotic sales, explaining that the price of substances such as farlopa [cocaine] are far too high for most people on the Island to pay.

"Although prices dropped by almost half in the last year - from 100 to 60 CUC per gram - they are still exorbitant for most young people. Revealing the exact amount of cocaine that is seized in national territory would meaning giving uncomfortable explanations, and the Causa 1 (the controversial trial in which high-ranking Cuban officials were convicted of drug trafficking) is still fresh in the Government's memory."

"Without socialism, Cuba would not be (...) the strongest barrier in the hemisphere against drug trafficking (...). We would not have a country without drugs, brothels, casinos, organized crime (...) ".

With these words Fidel Castro responded in 2005 to the publication of the book Conexión Habana, by the Spanish authors Santiago Botello and Mauricio Angulo, which revealed the cocaine trafficking on the island.

And, as a result of the episodes in which Castroism is linked to important drug cartels in Central America, the Colombian TV show The Lord of the Skies, offered in the Paquete de la Semana media package, has been censored.

"Like they say, 'the truth hurts,'" says Marisol, the girlfriend of a popular salsa musician, while she waits for her biweekly appointment to treat her addiction to cocaine.

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