Of Generals and Doctors

Dariela Aquique

Carlos Loveira. Photo: ecured.cu

HAVANA TIMES, Feb. 17 — The setting of the novel titled “De Generales y Doctores (Of Generals and Doctors),” by Carlos Loveira, takes place in Cuba in the first decade of the 20th century.  It illustrates the society of that time, providing excellent profiles of that epoch.

It has been considered one of the fundamental works on the early years of the past century since it eloquently reveals the situation in Cuba at the time and paints a picture of a society frustrated in its yearning for independence from US domination.

Up to this point many people won’t understand the reason for mentioning this book.

However, what I’m trying to do is establish comparisons with the nation’s current situation, appealing to emotive memories that recall experiences from the past.  While this clearly takes into consideration the distances in time, because there are no parallels, this doesn’t mean there are no analogies.

It occurred to me that I could take what is suggested in the title of the novel and use it as a vehicle in to develop my article, and also to show a society that remains frustrated in its yearnings, though for completely different reasons.


(Havana, Cuba – 1988-1989)

Arnaldo Ochoa during his trial in 1989.

In 1989 people talked about nothing else except what was called the “Causa No.1.”  Everyone waited impatiently in front of their television sets for the broadcast of those scenes.  It was the trial of Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa Sanchez and thirteen other military officers accused of high treason for acts of corruption and proven links to drug traffickers.

The whole nation watched that trial made public — detail by detail — as the government made a lesson of what happens to those who dare to put revolutionary morals in question and defame the name of the country in the international arena.

The episodes shown on TV for over a month, the extensive press reports and even a book that recorded the whole story with photos, all served to collect the sad memories of the well-known Ochoa case.

The fact is that the general, “was convicted on June 12, 1989 of illegal drug trafficking with international dealers; using Cuban air space, ground and waters for activities of this type; and embarrassing the Revolution through acts described as high treason.”

One year earlier, “in 1988 he was accused of being connected with officials of the Cuban Ministry of the Interior for the carrying out of drug trafficking operations involving the Medellin Cartel.  According to the Granma newspaper, Ochoa and his accomplices conspired to transport six tons of cocaine via Cuba, receiving 3.4 million dollars in exchange.  Under a decision of a military tribunal, he was shot by a firing squad in Havana on July 13, 1989, along with Colonel Antonio de la Guardia, Captain Jorge Martinez and Amado Padron.

From Wikipedia and other sources: Arnaldo Ochoa Sanchez (Cacocum, 1930 – Havana, 1989) was a general of a division of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba.  When he was very young he joined Castro’s revolutionary armed struggle against the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship, as he served in Sierra Maestra Mountains in Column 2 under the direct command of Camilo Cienfuegos.

After the revolutionary victory, he studied in the ex-Czechoslovakia and the former Soviet Union, where he received military training.  From a vast curriculum of accomplishments, what stood out were his actions in the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, his notable participation in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, his actions in Venezuela in 1966-67, and his military prowess in the war in Angola in the 1970s.

He held the ranks of sub-commander of the General Staff, head of Military Construction and of the Western Army, and head of the Internationalist Mission in Angola.  Designated as a “Hero of the Republic of Cuba” for his performance in various military campaigns, he was the most decorated general in the country.  He was also a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

These were, however, not enough pages in service to the Revolution.  The general committed treason and — like in ancient Rome — “Traitors are paid with death.”

He was a hero of the homeland, a family man, and a person like anyone else in that we are all responsible for our actions and must pay for them.  In this story of Ochoa, far from paying for his actions, he was paying the high price in communist morals and the spotless name of the country; and in the face of misdeeds like this, there is no hesitation.

The general was not only judged and executed, before this he had to be subjected to humiliation and the opinions of the entire people.  They saw another of their idols fall, and they judged him harshly.  An entire nation was inflamed in the face of those atrocious misdeeds, and all of this anger was directed no more or less than by the highest levels of government leadership.

I was very young, but I still have fresh image of that man on the screen, his head tilted down, his prison uniform and his gaze fixed behind his glasses.

Years passed, but many people have always believed that the measures taken against Ochoa were extreme, but as is logical, these are the truths that must remain silent, only because it’s not permitted for us to say them.


(Havana, Cuba – 2010-2011)

The Havana Psychiatric Hospital

Recently people were shocked about what came out in the news.  It concluded with sentences handed down in the trial stemming from crimes at the Havana Psychiatric Hospital.  Published on January 24, 2011, on the website http://www.cubadebate.cu,  it stated: “Between January 17 and 22nd, the main persons involved in the acts that occurred in January of 2010 at the Psychiatric Hospital of Havana were tried by the Second Penal Court of the Popular Provincial Court of this capital for the crimes of the abandonment of minors and disabled and destitute individuals, and for graft.

It continued by saying:  “In the charges put forth by the prosecutor’s office during the public oral hearing for the Havana Psychiatric Hospital director, the deputy-directors of the areas of psychiatry, clinical-surgical, the infirmary and administration; and the principal dietary specialist, requested prison terms of between 6 and 14 years.” Following this, the ruling continued with other details.

Days later, on January 31, another “official note” was released on that same website indicating that the sentences had been imposed “by virtue of the trial held between January 17 and 22, the court —found the accused to be guilty according to the facts proven, according to the degree of indistinct participation in the crimes, and given the aggravated form in which the deaths were produced among several people — imposed sanctions of between 5 and 15 years; and in relation to one of the accused, the maximum fine stipulated in the Penal Code.”

An entire year lapsed after the first news of the tragedy broke, and after an unofficial series of photographs circulated freely with horrifying shots of the autopsies of the deceased.

A brief official note had appeared in Granma newspaper a year before, on January 15, 2010, that used sugar-coating to try and justify the unjustifiable:

“Last week at the Havana Psychiatric Hospital, which has 2,500 beds, an increase in mortality of patients took place.  In total, 26 deceased were reported.  These facts were connected to the prolonged drops in temperature that have been present (as low as 3.6 degrees centigrade in Boyeros, where the hospital is located) and risk factors characteristic of patients with psychiatric illnesses, natural biological deterioration due to aging, respiratory infections in a year during which such illnesses have exhibited epidemic behaviors and were linked to complications stemming from chronic problems present in many of those patients, basically cardiovascular difficulties and cancer.  The Ministry of Public Health created a commission to investigate what occurred, which identified several deficiencies related to failures to adopt suitable measures.  The main people responsible for these acts will be submitted to the appropriate courts.”

To refer to drops in temperature is completely ironic; it’s as if we ever had zero-degree temperatures.  In terms of the epidemics, that makes me wonder how it’s possible for us! – we who boast of being a world medical power and who provide so much public health care assistance to so many countries around the world.  How could we permit these types of deaths and in a figure greater than two dozen?

Commentaries with respect to all of this have been succinct and concise, while television reporting has been limited to journalists reading the official statements.

Obviously these are not the best times for divulging the vulnerabilities of the country, which needs to give examples to the world that it has learned its lessons…that this is not the 1980s.

Random interviews with five people

I spoke with several people to get a sense of the range of opinions concerning the information regarding the trial and the punishment imposed on those responsible for the crime of medical negligence at the Psychiatric Hospital of Havana last year.

Added to this, given the enduring nature of the “Ochoa Case,” I asked people about their opinions of the fairness of his trial as well.

Leo (43 years old)

I know some of the facts, but not the specifics about the hospital incident.  I don’t think it’s been covered well and I have doubts about the transparency of the process.  I think the hospital’s director and all the rest of the ones sanctioned are scapegoats, the real responsibility lies above.  It’s said that they didn’t have blankets, that the blinds were broken, that they were undernourished, but all that’s hearsay.  There’s no real evidence because they hardly ever report on facts as they are here.  If it suits them they smother you with the story; if not, it’s ignored – period.

The trial of General Ochoa, sure, it was a whole process.  It lasted a long time on television. It was about him doing business with the heads of narco-trafficking cartels, and so the Cuban government shot him and three of four others, I don’t remember exactly.  I don’t know to what extent it was or wasn’t fair.  They have swept so many things under the carpet that you’ll never even know about some elements.  Here, things always depend…

Rey (36)

Public health in the country is gradually deteriorating due to the economic crisis, which brings with it human misery.  Now it’s normal for health care personnel to attend to provide certain services (such as complete blood counts, ultrasound, etc.) in exchange for receiving gifts; such attention that might range from a sandwich or a bar of soap to five CUCs.  In the capital these things are more common than in other parts of the country.

Where did these acts occur?  In a psychiatric hospital, where most of the patients don’t have families or they’ve been put away by them.  Therefore they don’t have economic opportunities, no one cares about them, they don’t have gifts to give.

I think the sanctions have been fair, including imprisonment and the loss of their licenses; this will serve as an example.  Yes, I believe there could have been more and better coverage…that it was pretty scant.

I remember some things concerning the Ochoa case.  I was 15, but I recall the trial on television.  I also believe that at that time they were fair with the measure taken since it involved drug trafficking.  That’s a lethal weapon for humanity, so it was necessary to make a good example out of them; their heads were cut off from above.

Katia (26)

Very little has been said about this case.  I’ve learned more in the streets than from the mass media.  Yes, it has been mentioned, but the problem here is that they emphasize some things to death, but this was merely touched on and that was it.  I think the punishment was lacking.  There were 26 poor sick people who died, and for that they’re only going to pay 14 of 15 years?  If you kill a cow in this country you’ll end up rotting in a jail cell.  So is a head of cattle worth more than a person?

I’ve heard people talk about the case concerning General Ochoa, but people have always talked about it.  It had to do with drug trafficking didn’t it?  And they shot him, right?  I can’t say if the sentence was fair or not.

Margot (50)

Yes, I believe the case has been covered on the radio, TV and the papers, but I think the sanctions were very slack; they should have been more severe.  There were 26 sick mentally ill people.  That’s the most terrible illness a human being can suffer.  In addition, this was not only about medical negligence.  It’s obvious there was no administrative control at that place.  There was no monitoring on the material conditions, on attitudes or on the responsibilities of anybody.

I don’t know what the administration of the hospital was doing?  Was it a work of bad faith?  It was a reprehensible act and a scandal of major proportions in Cuba.  Just look at how much medical assistance we provide to so many other countries; so for Cuban health care personnel to show themselves as being remiss with their patients was an outrage.

Terrible things occur in the capital in the sphere of health care.  I’ve heard of doctors and nurses who pay to not serve their on-call duties, that they even take money from patients and family members in exchange for better treatment.  This demonstrates that there’s no sense of ownership.  That was a crime, it doesn’t have another name, and people say the conditions in the hospital were deplorable.

Yes, I remember perfectly, it was “Causa No. 1” in 1989, the trial of Ochoa.  On that occasion we all believed that it was just — drugs in Cuba, no way! — and especially if this involved members of the military, it was very serious. However, I believe that killing someone is a bit extreme.  After that there were cases of corruption involving high-level leaders but their treatment has been more flexible, though really there has been less coverage of those incidents.

Yela (30)

Concerning the Havana Psychiatric Hospital incident, there has really been very little coverage in the official media.  Most of the information, whether true or not, and the photos of the deceased were circulated through unofficial channels.  More news reports about the incident and the trial appeared on foreign websites and dailies than in Cuban ones.

More should be reported to the public, keeping in mind the expectations that the whole matter has generated.  In terms of the sentences, perhaps they were overly benevolent given that this involved the negligent homicide of 26 destitute patients!  I’ve always believed that public health personnel should be much more sensitive and more careful since they’re dealing with people with needs that are outside of their control.  In Cuba, more severe punishment has been meted out in less serious cases.

“La Causa 1/1989,” the well-known Ochoa Case, was and continues to be very controversial.  I remember it only vaguely from television because I was very young.  My family kept the book and from it I learned the details.  The crimes were very sensitive: the military was involved in drug trafficking and other schemes.  However, Fidel Castro himself has said that he couldn’t prove that it was for personal enrichment.

Likewise, there has been a moratorium on the death penalty here for years, and the few times that it has been applied promptly have been in cases with political undertones, such as this one and the incident in March or April of 2004.  Many people wonder why it isn’t abolished, it’s also very controversial.  With Ochoa, an example was given to the world.  I think that was the intention, although I believe they went a little too far.  He was shot very soon after the approval by the Council of State, as if they were in a hurry to apply the punishment.


(Cuba, Today)

Near Trinidad, Cuba. Photo: Elio Delgado

I commented at the beginning that I would take the title of the novel as a vehicle and I’ve structured my commentary in this way.  I also noted the way the author reflected the frustrated yearnings of the society.

I have often said that I belong to a generation that for the most part feels it has failed, we have had many “broken Gods” and the degree of credibility and our sense of belonging towards our socialist political and social system has been called into question more than once.  It is not the trial of the general, it’s not the trial of the doctors – it is the matter of the people always being the best judge.

The Cuba of the beginning of the last century was seen through the lens of a novelist who spoke to us of corruption…of politicking.

The Cuba of today is viewed through this article that makes mention of acts of corruption by high-ranking military officers of twenty years ago (“inside the Revolution”), which speaks of graft and medical negligence only one year ago (“inside the Revolution”).

I’m talking about the handling of information: the overkill or very light reporting on certain situations, how it does or doesn’t suit the politics of the country according to social and historical contexts and conjunctures, which is directly proportional to a people who are partially or totally skeptical.

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