Lunatics in Havana

By Osmel Almaguer

When I was little, my parents made me obey them by telling me that El Loco (the lunatic); would get me if I misbehaved. Though I never saw him, I imagined he must have been a hideous creature.

I remember that their technique worked in the beginning. Then I discovered that El Loco didn’t appear when I acted up, but only sometimes when walking down the street. He was dressed badly and was filthy, moving with urgency, with his eyes fixed on some place that even today I haven’t been able to find.

He spoke to himself or to an imaginary friend or to an enemy, but I no longer fear him. I recognize that he must have been traumatized, somewhat like what happened to me with spiders (which I can’t handle if they’re any closer than 15 yards away).

Today I look at “lunatics” more objectively, which is fortunate because if I feared them I’d be in bad shape; over the last several years they’ve proliferated in our cities. Now they can be found everywhere, at any bus stop or street corner and even in “upscale” areas, where their presence stands out even more.

But, who are the “lunatics”?

Society – wrongly – usually classifies many people who have problems, or who are simply different, with this label. Social groups such as hippies, punk rockers, etc., or anyone who is not well-dressed, are considered lunatics by these “inquisitors.”

Those who classify them in this way do not distinguish the type of psychological dysfunction or trauma that the person might be suffering; “It doesn’t matter,” they say, “they’re nuts.”

Sometimes we can hear “lunatics” talking to themselves or screaming profound truths. What is certain is that many of these truths revolve around the social problems of which these people are the visible part.

Respected institutions try to ignore their existence, because these types of people are not supposed to exist in a “socialist” society such as ours. These agencies therefore leave the dirty work to the police, who – overwhelmed with having to do someone else’s job to boot – simply scare them off to another precinct.

There exists the Havana Psychiatric Hospital, which was a model institution for many years thanks to Dr. Eduardo B. Ordaz, who died a few years ago. Since that time, the situation of people who are mentally ill has worsened a great deal, both within the facility (according to individual experiences) and outside it; the hospital doesn’t seem to have control over the situation of so many disturbed people in the streets.

These individuals don’t disappear; they remain, as do their causes (family abandonment, alcoholism and other illnesses, etc.).

Certain individuals do the opposite of the lunatics; who see something or someone where there is nothing or nobody. Instead they choose to ignore reality, as if erasing a piece of it would make the problem disappear.