15. Thousands of Cubans Losing Their Sight Because
Sources: PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER Date: 4/16/93 Title: "Malnutrition
in Cuba so severe, thousands are losing their sight" Author: Lizette
Alvarez; THE CUBA ADVOCATE Date: May 1993 Title: "Dateline: Miami"
Authors: Jamie York and Emily Coffey; SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER Date: 11/4/93
Title: "Allies desert U.S. on Cuban embargo"
SYNOPSIS: In mid-April, 1993, the Knight-Ridder News Service
carried a lengthy article by journalist Lizette Alvarez that warned
of a rare disease caused by malnutrition. The rare malnutritional ailment,
called optic neuropathy, can lead to blindness.
Alvarez reported that after two years of severe food shortages, thousands
of Cubans were going blind and that some 12,000 Cubans were treated
for the ailment at hospitals and clinics in Havana during the last two
months. On July 17th, the Toronto Star reported that some 45,000 Cubans
had been affected by the epidemic of optical neuritis.
Cubans are losing their eyesight because of an almost total lack of
meat, milk, cheese, and vegetables in their diet. A number of them also
are suffering from beriberi, an illness related to Vitamin B1 deficiency
that attacks muscles and nerves and can lead to paralysis.
Most Cubans can only afford the food they get from the government:
one bread roll a day; ten ounces of beans a month; and six pounds of
rice a month, for three people. Alvarez reported that when Cubans get
hungry, they heat water and add sugar.
The article was an important one, well-researched and well-written,
except for one critical oversight. The story did not mention one of
the prime causes of malnutrition in Cuba-the U.S. economic blockade.
Jamie York and Emily Coffey, editors of The Cuba Advocate, in Boulder,
Colorado, point out that the story accurately portrayed the scope of
the crisis, but did not mention that the U.S. government was using food
as a political weapon.
While the Cuban government confirms the epidemic, it says only a few
thousand people have been affected and denies reports of widespread
malnutrition. At the same time, it says excessive smoking and drinking
-- not just malnutrition -- are to blame. U.S. doctors say smoking and
drinking are not to blame -- starvation is to blame. "It's an indication
that these people are starving," said Matthew Kay, a neuro-ophthalmologist
at Miami's Bascom Palmer Eye Institute.
A Havana doctor, who sees patients with neuropathy almost every day,
said, "This is a big, big problem. Rice and beans just won't cut
it. We are all petrified of going blind." Another Cuban doctor
said that without the proper food and a steady supply of vitamins the
crisis would become a plague.
The U.S. embargo, implemented in 1961, has already cost Cuba more than
$37 billion in trade and investment; created fuel shortages that have
slowed agricultural and industrial development; and now is causing tens
of thousands of people to go blind. The United States stands nearly
alone in world opinion on the Cuban embargo. On November 3, 1993, the
United Nations General Assembly, in a non-binding but forceful resolution,
repudiated the 33-year-old embargo and urged nations to ignore it. The
vote in the General Assembly was 88-4, with 57 abstentions. The four
nations voting against the resolution were the United States, Israel,
Albania, and Paraguay.
Referring to the growing tragedy in Cuba, York and Coffey wondered,
"How does the public learn about U.S. government policies if they
are not mentioned by the media? What happened to the public's right
SSU Censored Researcher: Kristen Rutledge
COMMENTS: Jamie York and Emily Coffey, co-editors of The Cuba
Advocate, a monthly newsletter dedicated to providing "censored"
news about Cuba, both feel that the mass media have failed to provide
the U.S. public with an accurate, fair, and truthful account of life
in Cuba and U.S. policy on Cuba. "The Cuban Democracy Act of 1992
(The Torricelli Bill) is in effect preventing U.S. subsidiaries of foreign
countries from around the world from trading with Cuba," Coffey
said. "This turns the U.S. embargo into an economic blockade. Nothing
is said in the media about the blockade preventing food and medicine
from going to the Cuban people."
In response to who will benefit from better media coverage of the Cuban
situation, Coffey said, "Everybody will. Most U.S. citizens do
not realize that if we were free to travel to Cuba and trade with Cuba
this would be good economics for both people. Cuba has 10 million people
that would like to buy a lot of products from us."
York feels that the limited media "coverage of U.S. policy on
Cuba benefits a handful of wealthy, influential Cuban-Americans who
want the total capitulation of socialist Cuba to capitalism. This elite
group has the most to gain by returning Havana to its former status
as the gambling and prostitution playground of the Caribbean."
Both York and Coffey said there were a number of other stories that
would contribute to public knowledge and understanding of U.S.-Cuba
relations if they had not been censored by the media.