Cuba: Victories, Cholera and Our Neighbors
Cuba: Victories, Cholera and Our Neighbors
October 2, 2012
By Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*
HAVANA TIMES — Cuba's leaders like decisive and overwhelming victories,
which is what they have proclaimed to the world for five decades. While
it's true that they've never been able to overcome economic
inefficiencies, they did achieve crushing military victories several
times, from the Bay of Pigs to Cuito Cuanavale (in Angola).
Accustomed as they are to taking part in such triumphs, in late August
the Ministry of Public Health proclaimed that they had won their war
against cholera after suffering a final toll of 417 people infected and
This was a big mistake, because vibrio cholerae isn't so easily overcome
– even less so when relying on quickly organized campaigns. Cholera is a
disease that has a low mortality rate because the cure is relatively
simple, nevertheless it's exceedingly difficult to eradicate.
To do so requires a lot of time and care, much more than what the Cuban
health authorities could provide. Therefore cholera has returned to the
island, or — better said — it has reappeared, having never really left.
A first conclusion about how the cholera epidemic broke out in Cuba
would be the deplorable sanitary conditions in the region, not because
the infection has occurred, which can sometimes happen for a host of
reasons, and regardless of one's class or status.
In the Dominican Republic, for example, a wedding party of Venezuelan
millionaires was infected during the festivities in a country estate,
where they dined on infected ceviche. Though no one died, the toilets of
Caracas were under a tremendous siege for several days.
Nor can a conclusion be made because three patients died in Cuba, which
is a very low number and indicates the promptness of the island's health
But the fact that four hundred people became infected in such a short
time does demonstrate the magnitude that should induce the government to
focus its allocations on the provision of an improved water supply and
better sanitation conditions in these regions, which remain among the
poorest in the country.
The other issue is the origin of the ailment. There had been no cholera
in the Caribbean for over a century.
It reappeared in Haiti a couple of years ago not because the poverty of
the Haitians created it, but because UN troops — particularly a Nepalese
contingent — sowed it in the Artibonite River from their poorly
constructed latrines. Since then it has killed more than 7,000 people
and sickened nearly 600,000.
From there it's likely that it was carried in the intestines of a Cuban
internationalist aid worker or in a fish that made its way to the town
of Manzanillo. So far this hasn't been explained, so I suspect that it
was an internationalist aid worker.
I haven't been following or keeping up with the epidemic, I'm not a
doctor. But I think this issue forces us to think more seriously about
Cuba's relations with Haiti, a topic I've addressed several times before.
The history of eastern Cuban has always been linked to Haiti. In 1900
there began arriving in our country hundreds of thousands of Haitian
workers, who's labor made possible the great harvests of the 1920s. Many
of them were temporary and were repatriated when the harvest ended, but
others remained in the country.
In 1931, the census counted almost 80,000 of them. In 1953 — when the
flow was for the most part had stopped, many had assumed Cuban
citizenship — they numbered 28,000. The descendants of these people, who
maintain a long-term cultural ingredient, are currently estimated at
Haitian cultural vitality — one of the greatest riches of this country —
can be seen in the eastern region, where people of that origin still
populate many of the old still existing sugarcane towns and constitute
the leading parts of the unforgettable programs of the Caribbean
festivals in Santiago de Cuba.
I'm sure that the current demographic situation in Cuba could induce the
reactivation of migratory flows. At the same time that Haiti continues
to lose population from emigration, all of eastern Cuba (especially its
southern side) is experiencing depopulation due to low growth rates and
migration from eastern Cuba to Havana (while Havanans are migrating to
Across the island the population is aging and stagnant or in a process
of absolute reduction.
The island of Cuba needs a workforce, especially if it continues the
current process of economic liberalization and privatization of
agricultural land. Many Haitians could find a stimulus to emigrate to
Cuba, where currently many thousands of Haitians already live,
particularly in the southeastern region; there, their customs and
religious beliefs wouldn't be strange in the least.
This wouldn't make us unique, because Haitians have spread throughout
the Caribbean, forming strong communities in the Dominican Republic, the
Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos, Guadeloupe, Cayenne, and of course in
Miami – where they live in segregated neighborhoods (residential
segregation is a fact of that city, particularly in Little Haiti). In
all these places they are key pieces of the local economies.
This is why what cholera indicates is more than an epidemic. It's a
relationship that will grow and will require special handling. It will
not be solved in a quick and crushing victory, like the one that
supposedly befell vibrio cholerae earlier this year but that still
haunts us from the quagmire of Manzanillo.
(*) Originally published by Cubaencuentro.com