On Cuban Psychiatric Abuse

By Armando M. Lago, PhD.*


The practice of abuse of psychiatry for political purposes was pioneered in the Soviet Union in the 1960's when numerous Soviet dissidents, among them the prominent Vladimir Bukovsky were interned in Soviet psychiatric hospitals and subjected to large doses of mind-altering psychiatric drugs. In their path breaking study Soviet Psychiatric Abuse (Eastview Press, Boulder Colorado, 1985), authors Sidney Bloch and Peter Reddaway founded 300 cases of psychiatric abuse in a Soviet population of 350 million persons, that is a rate of 0.85 cases per million population.

These techniques of torture were imported into Cuba in the 1970's and three forensic wards at the Havana Psychiatric Hospital were turned over to the State Security Department for the internment of political dissidents. The wards in question were the Cordova forensic ward for women and the Carbo-Servia and Castellanos forensic wards for men. Abuse was also occurring at the Gustavo Machin Hospital in Santiago de Cuba. Patterns of psychiatric abuse in Cuba were documented by authors Charles J. Brown and Dr. Armando M. Lago (The Politics of Psychiatry in Revolutionary Cuba, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, NJ 1991). Brown and Lago found four distinct types of abuse, namely:

  1. dissidents with no prior history of mental illness were interned in psychiatric hospitals with criminally insane patients to terrorize them during the interrogation process and secure confessions. At least one assassination, that of auto-mechanic Angel-Tomas Quiñones at the Carbo-Servia ward in 1990, resulted from this dangerous place;

  2. dissidents with no prior history of mental illness were give large doses of electroshocks and psychotropic drugs as punishment for dissident behavior. One such case was the truck driver Jose Morales, who in 1981 was given electroshocks while submerged in a water tank;

  3. dissidents with low-grade of mental illness were subjected to large doses of electroshock and psychotropic drugs, far in excess of the required doses to torture them as punishment; and

  4. dissidents with histories of mental illness were either denied treatment or abused of their patient rights by having electroshocks administered to them without the usual muscle relaxants on bodies doused with water and on floor covered by urine and excrements.

Brown and Lago documented  30 such cases in their book, but book updates filed with the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva for 1992, 1993 and 1994, increased the number of cases to 72, which contrasted with a Cuban population of 11 million inhabitants led to a rate per person eight times higher than the Soviet rate. Examining patient surveys of the Havana Psychiatric Hospital, the authors found that four percent of patients were political dissidents.

As result of these findings, the Soviet Union resigned, previous to being expelled in 1983 from the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), and the Cubans followed, resigning in solidarity with the Soviets. But in spite of worldwide condemnations of these barbaric practices, psychiatric abuse is continuing in Cuba. In 1999 and 2000, two prominent dissidents the blind Milagros Cruz and dissident leader Dr. Oscar Bicet were interned in the Havana Psychiatric Hospital, the latter one on the explicit and public order of Fidel Castro himself, functioning as the chief psychiatrist of the Cuban Revolution. The research on psychiatric abuse in Cuba is now directed by the South Florida Psychiatric Association under the leadership of Dr. Rigoberto Rodriguez, M.D.


* Armando Lago is a founding member of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE), and served both as its President (1994-1996) and Treasurer (1990-94). He has authored numerous articles and monographs on regional, urban and transportation economics and co-authored The Politics of Psychiatry in Revolutionary Cuba (Transaction Publishers, 1991). Among his former undertakings are: President of Ecosometrics Inc., Adjunct Associate Professor of Regional and Urban Economics at Catholic University (1968-76), Economic consultant for the Stanford Research Institute and Operations Research Inc., Chairman of the Board of the Greater Washington Ibero-American Chamber of Commerce (1985-94) and member of the Board of Directors of Of Human Rights (1974-94). He has a Ph.D. (1966) and an M.A. (1964) in Economics from Harvard University. Presently, he is working on a book on the human and social cost of the Cuban Revolution from his home office in suburban Washington, D.C.



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