Tropical Depression in Cuba

Despite having one of the highest suicide rates in Latin America, Cuba denies the existence of mental illness. For relief, citizens turn to the black market and a little white pill.

| May-June 2009

August in Havana is a mounting wave of heat—so consuming, the sun so piercing, it can warp your sense of reason. Tempt you to surrender. Make you flirt with insanity. The pained faces around you are covered in grimy sweat, a haze of resignation in the eyes. Here or there a woman fans herself, perhaps with some ladylike, store-bought thing, but more often with a stray scrap of cardboard. Inside, heat radiates from every surface, the temperature rising as the torridity soaks deeper into the concrete walls. Outside is worse. Few dare venture into the scorching light.

And there is nowhere else to go. Havana, for most inhabitants, is an enclosed island within an island. To the north is the water, of course, but it is accessible only by climbing down the Malecón seawall and a ring of perilous cliffs. A trip to the beaches east of the city involves hours of waiting in line, then standing for the long ride on an overstuffed bus with no air-conditioning.

Havana’s neighborhoods explode with the products of sun, water, and the island’s intense fertility: the delicate orange flowers of the outstretched framboyán shade trees, bougainvillea in twists of magenta and purple, squash blossoms peeking from the weeds encircling decrepit mansions, and the red mar pacíficos, or hibiscus, which curl in their blossoms every afternoon.

On a lucky day, this occurs just as the rains come in. The horizon goes from partly cloudy to gray and foreboding, the sky exuding a brilliant, otherworldly yellow. Lightning jags, in white and orange, hover on the horizon, above the imploding buildings. Then the aguacero comes down: angry, gigantic drops beating into the ground in long flashes of light. Few Cubans can afford umbrellas, and they resign themselves to the deluges, like so many daily realities.

As August goes on, the rains become scarce and the temperature rises. As they walk down the street, visit with friends, or ride the bus, people everywhere lament the unrelenting heat. Will September bring relief? Or will the hurricanes start? Even when the sun sets, temperatures never fall more than a few degrees. Across the city, people pray for nights free of blackouts, so their electric fans will not rattle to a stop, so the suffocating heat will be staved off one more night. Then, in the morning, the cycle begins again.


Ted Drooker
6/13/2009 3:02:34 PM

I would like to point out what a propagandistic piece of crap this article is. Number One: Cuba instituted organic farming and gardening after the fall of the Soviet Union. There can be no people taking Prozac due to hunger pains. Number Two: The transportation problems that occurred after the fall of the Soviet Union were solved by private, informal bus companies coming into existence, and by the widespread use of hitchhiking. There's absolutely no way that Havanans are taking Prozac because they can't get to the beach. There are junkies in Cuba just like there are junkies in America. Yet I don't see Lygia Navarro condemning the United States the way she does Cuba. So Ms. Navarro found a few prescription drug addicts when she vacationed there. Big deal.

Ted Drooker
6/13/2009 2:37:12 PM

Comment for Cuba article.

4/28/2009 10:00:33 AM

life under any kind of fundamentalism (communist, socialist, islamist, christianist, capitalist, masculinist, feminist, fascist) is's the fundamentalism that is the problem, manifestations take their various flavours depending on the surface "culture"...and all the fundamentalism are in complete denial that anyone could be unhappy in their particular heaven-on-earth (which is, invariably, hell-on-earth)...the cure is not in a pill, it is in enlightenment, of the eurocentric kind, if i dare say...the value of the individual and the use of the collective with skeptical critical thinking always.