Cuba: Escapism and its Causes

Francisco Castro

HAVANA TIMES — (…) I’ve been thinking about the chances of recovery these people actually have. Alcoholism doesn’t really have a cure, but one can control it. But, ultimately, I think they’re simply too ignorant to acknowledge they have to go into rehab.

How do they make a living? I doubt refilling lighters gives them enough to live on. I see them standing on the corner, in front of the pharmacy, all day, and they’re always drinking.

You can see the damage alcohol has caused them clearly on their faces. Their eyes have an unhealthy look which turns into an idiotic expression when they reach a state, or, better, surpass the limits of inebriety.

They’re pitiful. They cease to be human. What suffering could have led them to this state? 

I cannot but question the intelligence of people who fall into destructive habits, such as nicotine and alcohol addictions.

News about the recent incident involving the poisoning of a number of individuals who ingested methanol (popularly known as “wood alcohol”) prompted me to rummage through my documents in search of the above diary entry, which I wrote on October 3, 2010, while living in La Carolina, in the municipality of San Miguel del Padron.

I imagine the seriousness of the incident, the fact that no State entity or institution is implicated (or so we have been led to believe), and the fact the events in question are not of a political nature, explains the unusually detailed coverage Cuba’s official media have devoted to it.

No one, however, has made any effort to explain why incidents of this nature, or the phenomena I describe in my diary, take place in our country.

No one, for instance, cares to mention that alcoholism is spreading among Cubans of all ages and both genders at a startling pace.

No one, therefore, can tell us about the reasons why more and more people are acquiring this regrettable, chronic condition every day.

I have my own theory, of course, which is why I write and share these “reflections.” My theory as to why this is happening is, quite simply, escapism.

I have a relative who lives in a town in one of Cuba’s eastern provinces who distills his own alcohol. He uses measuring instruments and is capable of giving his spirits distinctive tastes and aromas using sugar cane, red mangrove and other ingredients.

I am not saying this relative of mine is an alcoholic. All I’m saying is that he’s been drinking this concoction of his for many years and I don’t know what would happen if, for one reason or another, he were unable to have this regular dose of escapism.

Foto: Caridad

In the town where he lives, people also prepare an alcoholic potion known as “walfarina.” Many of the people who drink it, men, for the most part, have distinctive characteristics. The sweat they perspire, and their breath, acquire a characteristic stench.

Hundreds of crimes have been committed in this town by people in search of their daily dose of “warfarina.” The destruction of many families, and several deaths, have also been chalked up to the abuse of this substance (sound familiar?).

To get a sense of the kind of poison this is, suffice to point out that, at one point in the production process, a child’s feces is used. Perhaps this is a myth, but we all know that myths always have a grain of truth to them.

I’ve never actually seen the production process, like most drinkers of this substance. But all seem to know, and accept, that this “organic product” is used in the preparation of the beverage.

Why, then, do they keep on drinking this poison? In addition to how little it costs, to escape themselves.

We should bear in mind that, historically speaking, Cuba’s eastern provinces have been “worse off” than the rest of the country. It is understandable, thus, that people at this end of the island should have more reasons to become escapists and, as such, that alcoholism rates should be higher there.

I don’t think I need to refer to the many “reasons” Cubans have to want to escape. Those who follow the posts published on this site already have a good idea. Those who don’t probably have something to go on already.

I am not against the responsible consumption of alcoholic beverages, the use of hallucinogens in moderation and even cigarette smoking, though I know this last one is quite harmful. This is what I thought about these issues in 2010:

 (…) I have been tempted to pick up smoking many a time because of the aura of sensuality which surrounds cigarettes.

Once, while sitting on Havana’s Malecon sea-wall, I longed for a cigarette, though I have never smoked. A young man sitting on the sea-wall, looking out to the sea, is not the same thing as a young man sitting on the sea-wall, looking out to the sea, while smoking a cigarette.

A cigarette between the fingers. The fingers go up to one’s lips. A slight inhalation. The smoke spreading inside the lungs, causing silent pleasures (or, better, a silent death), coming out from one’s mouth, enveloping one’s face. This is a far more interesting scene.

Then, the mixture of sweat, perfumed made from wood and citric essences, and the smell of tobacco, produces an aroma which is almost an aphrodisiac.

Yes, inebriated with a dose of Noir, my feet on the ground, I escape myself also from time to time. However, don’t believe my addictions do any harm to my health – physically speaking, at least.