14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 7 July 2017 — He dries his sweat and takes a drink of water from a bottle he carries in his backpack. “In my time the young people spent the holidays in front of the television,” says Ignacio, the father of two teenagers. As he moves along crowded Avenida 10 de Octubre, in Havana, he looks for video games for sale. “So that they stay at home, because in the streets there are more and more drugs.”
Ignacio’s concern is shared by thousands of parents all over the Island. The country where, decades ago, the government controlled how many cigarettes an individual smoked, has given way to a more complex reality. Authorities warn of increased drug use among young people and call on families to be alert.
In recent years the official press has also begun to address the issue, albeit with some hesitancy and clarifying that this problem is not as serious as it is in the capitalist countries. However, there is no neighborhood in the Cuban capital where a wide variety of preparations, pills and powders for “flying” are not bought and sold.
His family life took a turn when his parents decided to take the route to the United States through Central America and he was left alone with his grandmother
Hannibal, 17, prefers to change his name to detail his relationship with narcotics. He began using at age 12 and what, at the beginning, was a game, later became an obsession. “I stopped going to school, I was only interested in getting high,” he relates to 14ymedio.
Over the last five years, Hannibal has been using and swearing off drugs. A week ago he broke his longest stretch without using drugs. “I was clean more than 80 days, but they invited me to a disco and I fell back into it,” he confesses.
His family life took a turn when, in mid-2015, his parents decided to take the route to the United States through Central America and he was left alone with his grandmother. In a short time, his consumption doubled. “I had at least two overdoses, but only once did they take me to the hospital.”
Hannibal’s friends did not want the doctors to report the case to the police and feared they “would all end up prisoners,” says the young man who, at 17, weighs no more than 110 pounds and whose hands shake all the time. “I lost interest in food and went for months almost without taking a bath.” He sold all the appliances in the house one by one to pay for drugs.
“I met others there like me and I promised to stop killing myself with all this, but in the street life is something else”
“One day I sold the bathroom mirror over the sink because I needed money and because I could not look at the face of how emaciated I was,” he says. At that moment he decided to seek help.
The young man went through the Provincial Center for Teen Withdrawal in Havana, an institution that since 2005 has been serving patients who have started taking drugs since very young ages. “I met others there like me and I promised to stop killing myself with all this, but in the street life is something else,” he says.
On weekends the wall of the Malecon becomes a massive meeting point, an open air brothel and display point for countless illegal substances. “I just have to go there and I always find something.” With the increase in tourism “the supply has diversified and there is a lot of marijuana,” although he says he prefers “faster and less adulterated” pills.
Synthetic drugs reign among the young and have become the currency with which foreigners pay for sexual favors, either in tablets or “dust,” says Hannibal. Although he says he has never sold his body to feed his addiction, he does know many who have. “Who’s going to pay for all these bones?” he asks wryly.
A confidential phone line helps those looking for information on the subject, although mistrust affects its reach. “Hello, you have contacted 103, Confidential Antidrug Line, we will soon help you,” says a voice. Claudia, 39, prefers to hang on. She has a daughter of 14 who has become “aggressive, she spends long hours in a stupor and sometimes she cannot get out of bed.”
Claudia fears the worst about what her daughter does when she leaves the house but does not want to “get her in trouble” by contacting a specialist
Data published by the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Unit report that last year 14,412 calls were received on the confidential line, most of them in Havana, Pinar del Rio, Camagüey, Ciego de Ávila and Las Tunas.
Claudia fears the worst about what her daughter does when she leaves the house but does not want to “get her in trouble” by contacting a specialist. She has thought of another kind of solution. “I spoke with a cousin who lives in Quemado de Güines, in Villa Clara, about my daughter spending some time there.” The mother believes that “being in the countryside, outside of Havana and away from her friends” will help her, although no place in the national territory seems to be safe.
The entry of drugs into the country has been increasing in recent years. For all of 2016, the General Customs of the Republic (AGR) confiscated 67 pounds of drugs, however between January and May of this year the amount seized has already reached 72 pounds, according to data offered by Moraima Rodríguez Nuviola, AGR deputy director.
Ships are the main route of entry, especially of marijuana. Although the latter is also sowed on private farms where the owners risk ending up in jail with their land confiscated.
In the pocket of his jeans he carries a small envelope with ten pills. “These are the last, I promise.”
Drug trafficking is punished in the Cuban penal code with sanctions of four to ten years, if it is considered small scale, but if it is large amounts the sentence can reach 20 years. The size of the volume is determined in practice, it is not fixed in the law. International trafficking carries up to 30 years in prison and is aggravated if minors are involved. Consumption is also seriously punished, with fines of up to 10,000 pesos or deprivation of liberty of between six months and eight years.
Despite the severity of the national legislation “consumption begins very early,” according to a psychiatrist who preferred anonymity. “In Cuba initiation into these types of substances increasingly occurs at younger ages.” The specialist, who has treated about 100 patients, finds that “marijuana, psychotropic drugs and some medications used as drugs are displacing alcohol among adolescents.”
Hannibal is determined to try. “I want to leave this garbage, go back to study, redo my life and get married,” he says. In the pocket of his jeans he carries a small envelope with ten pills. “These are the last, I promise.”