Asphyxiation in Havana – Havana, Cuba

Asphyxiation in Havana
Havana, Cuba

Girl with doll

Girl with doll in Havana

Like revolutionaries, a hurricane, the secret police, death when you least expect it, arbitrary and whimsical, La Fumigacion stalks Havana. Pouring out of upper floor windows, filling the streets and lungs of residents, the malodorous gray smoke from insecticide bombs is the tell-tale sign of the Cuban war against mosquitoes.

Several children died last December from Dengue Fever, a disease carried by mosquitoes. The government is staging an all-out attack against the insects. Kept under wraps to avoid loss of tourism, Cuba’s number one industry before sugar and tobacco, there are more billboards proclaiming “Lucha Contra Los Mosquitos” than “Viva la Revolucion!”

Statistics abound on the dangers of Dengue, but there are none on the dangers of the insecticide or which precise chemicals are being used. How many people are hospitalized, sick, dead from respiratory reactions? Nobody knows, or tells.

Habaneros accept the intrusion and bombardment of poisons and chemicals because they believe it will save their children. But none are content with the method of the mosquito campaign. No one seems to know where or when the fumigators will strike next and pump homes and workplaces full of toxic gas, although it seems to occur weekly. Teams of brave, macho or naive unmasked men on motorbikes come during meal preparation, even at dawn, when children are asleep in their beds.

Havana skyline

View of Havana

Sometimes they even cry, “Oye, aténcion! Everyone out!” right before unleashing the contents of their gas canisters. To the visitor and Habanero alike, there seems to be no plan, no schedule, no organization. One day it’s your neighbor. The next it’s across the street and down the block, and then it’s your home under siege. (Fumigators might be bribed with an American dollar, if one is to be had, to please pass by this time.)

When walking down a residential street, you can tell which buildings have recently been gassed by the surreal grey smoke floating from doors and windows of ancient, crumbling edificies. Folks wait calmly across the street until they surmise it’s safe to go back inside. It looks like the French film, “The City of Lost Children” – post-nuclear.

People might be subjected to fumigation at work, and then again when they get home the same day. One woman told me her office building was gassed from the bottom up. Employees had to descend the stairs through the evil fumes on their way out.

Crumbling buildings

Crumbling buildings

The official position is that the insecticide is harmless to everything but mosquitoes. Thus, people are calm about their own exposure, possible danger to their pets and houseplants, and potential contamination to food and water.

Told that by clearing out all of the debris and garbage from their property, the fight against Dengue will be helped, people complied, only to have the streets full of trash for days. Perhaps a lack of fuel for the trash trucks due to the embargo had something to do with that, or maybe it’s just more government disorganization.

It was unseasonably cold and wet in Havana this winter. Many people are coughing and are feeling ill. Is it the air they are breathing?