Looking for a Lost Pill

The piece of paper was left under the door, but he only found it the other day. The list was written in rough handwriting, with spelling that exchanged “R’s” for “L’s” and some “B’s” for “V’s.” But he understood everything. Diazepam continues at 10 pesos for a dozen pills and should be delivered within a day, at least for the next month. Paracetamol is also available, so next to the name of that medicine he put the number two. This time he didn’t need alcohol, but Nystatin cream is a yes so he marked it. His son, restless by nature, could also use some meprobamate so he also wrote down the number for a several week supply. This dealer was reliable, he’d never been cheated, all the medications were good quality and some were even imported. More than once he’d bought the sealed jars that said, “Sale prohibited, free distribution only.”

The business of medications and other medical supplies is growing every day. A stethoscope on the black market costs the salary of two working days; a Salbutamol spray for asthmatics costs the wages of an entire work day. Given the undersupplied State pharmacies, patients and their families can’t sit around with their arms crossed. A roll of tape costs around 10 pesos in national currency, the same price as a glass thermometer. You can break the law or continue diagnosing fever with a hand to the forehead. The danger, however, comes not only from violating the law. In reality, many customers self-medicate or consume pills that no doctor has prescribed for them. Given the clandestine seller, it’s not necessary to show a prescription and he never questions what the client is going to do with the pills or syrups.

Despite the successive sweeps against drug smuggling, the phenomenon seems to increase rather than decrease. In the Havana area of Puentes Grandes an old trash bin turned into a pharmaceutical warehouse is the emblem of the government strategies and failures to prevent illicit sales. The police are incapable of eradicating the situation, because the diversion of medications is carried out from grocers, pharmacy technicians, nurses, doctors, even hospital directors. The greatest demands are centered around analgesics, anti-inflammatories, antidepressants, syringes, cotton and painkiller creams. The illegal drug market also goes along with adulteration and counterfeiting.

Some small white pills, costing three times their official value, can end the problem, or be the start of others, more serious.

10 thoughts on “Looking for a Lost Pill

  1. VIDEO: The Wall Street Journal’s Joel Millman reports on Cuba’s program of sending doctors abroad as missionaries—and the doctors’ attempts to stay abroad for good:
    The video tells the story of one Cuban doctor working in Gambia who took nine months to escape and now lives in Florida. His wife and child are still in Cuba and she lost her job at a hospital as a result of being blacklisted for five years because of his defection. Another downside is that, without their medical records and certifications (held by the Cuban government), Cuban doctors in the United States can only work as nurses or surgical assistants.
    Cuba has been sending medical “brigades” to foreign countries since 1973, helping it to win friends abroad, to back “revolutionary” regimes in places like Ethiopia, Angola, and Nicaragua, and perhaps most importantly, to earn hard currency. Communist Party newspaper Granma reported in June that Cuba had 37,041 doctors and other health workers in 77 countries. Estimates of what Cuba earns from its medical teams—revenue that Cuba’s central bank counts as “exports of services”—vary widely, running to as much as $8 billion a year. Many Cubans complain that the brigades have undermined Cuba’s ability to maintain a high standard of health care at home



    In one Cuban hospital, patients had to bring their own light bulbs. In another, the staff used “a primitive manual vacuum” on a woman who had miscarried. In others, Cuban patients pay bribes to obtain better treatment.

    Those and other observations by an unidentified nurse assigned to the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana were included in a dispatch sent by the mission in January 2008 and made public this month by WikiLeaks.

    Titled “Cuban healthcare: Aquí Nada es Facil” — Nothing here is easy — the cable offers a withering assessment by the nurse, officially a Foreign Service Health Practitioner, or FSHP, who already had lived in Cuba for 2 ½ years.




    THE TORONTO STAR: Toronto man sentenced to 9 years in Cuba on corruption charges – by Julian Sher

    For almost two years as he sat in a Havana prison awaiting trial on corruption charges, North York businessman Sarkis Yacoubian held out hope that by collaborating with the Cuban authorities and fingering a wide web of foreign and domestic corporate intrigue, he would get some leniency.
    “They are going to bring down my sentence, provided that I go along with them,” he had told the Star in a series of exclusive jailhouse phone interviews.
    But that didn’t happen.
    Three weeks after he was put on trial in late May, Yacoubian finally got word he has been sentenced to nine years in jail.
    “We were shocked,” said Krikor Yacoubian, Sarkis’ brother in Toronto. “We were anticipating less with the collaboration, but they did not budge much.”

    Krikor says his jailed brother was stunned when he first heard the news from his Cuban lawyer.
    “He was silent for awhile, for a good minute,” he said. “Not tearful or angry. He said, ‘OK let’s go to the next step.’”
    That next step, the family says, will be a protracted battle to try to get the 53-year-old Yacoubian transferred to Canada to serve out his sentence here.
    “To my knowledge it is the first time that any Canadian businessman has been sentenced for corruption,” said John Kirk, a professor at Dalhousie University’s Department of Spanish and Latin American Studies who has written several books on Cuba.
    “Clearly this is intended to send a message to Cubans and foreign investors alike,” he said. “Several deputy ministers in Cuba and dozens of bureaucrats have also received heavy sentences.”
    Yacoubian’s cousin and business associate, a Lebanese citizen named Krikor Bayassalian, was sentenced to four years as a co-defendant, the family says.

    In September 2011, Cuban authorities arrested a second GTA man –73-year-old Cy Tokmakjian, whose $80 million Tokmakjian Group company is one of the largest foreign operations in Cuba.
    His family told the Star he has still not been charged.



  4. @Help

    Thank you for replying.

    That’t too bad Yoani did not publish the names of the thieves. Reading her post – she must know them. It is bad enough they steal in Cuba, worse if they come to the US as immigrants. Nobody wants such “political refugees” here.

    I understand the prohibition of taking pictures in the hospitals.
    I would also understand the citizens breaking this law in order to make public the personae of the criminals.

  5. Marabu,

    She didn’t name names.

    A Cuban reporter was recently put in jail for reporting a case of medical corruption.

    His name is Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias and was accused of disrespecting Castro for reporting missing medical supplies.

    Did you know it’s illegal to take an unauthorized picture inside a Cuban hospital?

    I have a friend who was arrested for that, although they let him go after seizing his camera.

  6. @Help

    Assuming it is true what you say:

    1. Is this post of Yoani a negative publicity about the medical system?
    2. Will it land her in jail?

  7. Marabu

    Reporting a thief in Cuba will land you in jail

    Castro doesn’t like negative publicity, especially about his decrepit medical system

  8. Ugly people, stealing the medicine made to save lives.

    Hey, but this is Generation Internet, isn’t it?

    Yoani, being so creative in the use of modern media, just stopped short of suggesting a remedy.

    What about Twitter messages, identifiying the dealers? A web blog with cladenstine photos revealing the faces of the thieves and corrupted hospital staff? An iPhone as a prize in the monthly competition “Report a Thief”.

    This would help the police. Police is only so good as the citizens around it.

  9. Simba Sez: Diogenes of Sinope was born some four centuries before Christ. It has been documented that he roamed Sinope with a lantern in daylight hours searching for an honest man, which he could not find. If he were alive today would it be possible for him to locate an honest man in all of Cuba? With that in mind, how can a government that creates such an environment remain in power? Did every honest Cuban citizen emigrate? Why does the population continue to allow themselves to be ruled by this family of inept despots? What fools these mortals be.

  10. A terrible situation, not reported in the mainstream media.

    In Cuba’s best hospitals reserved for tourists, communists and rich Cubans, doctors are always on the lookout for a quick buck and will steal anything not chained down, including drugs.

    Even if you’re a tourist they expect a nice tip for treating you, although most won’t come right out and say it.

    If you’re a poor Cuban, you can expect them to steal your clothes and rifle through your possessions while you sleep, and steal most of your food. Unless you bring family to protect you, which is what Cubans usually do.

    Writing about medical corruption and other daily facts of Cuban life is the reason Castro fans hate Yoani so much.

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