Experts Gone Mad

The increase in the number of Cubans suffering from insanity is a consequence of a crisis faced by the affected, which may be due to various reasons. Sometimes, alcoholism is to blame. Great talents have been lost on the island as a result.

Bety, la loca. Photo: Frank Correa
Bety, la loca. Photo: Frank Correa

In Jaimanitas there lives a lady known as Bety, la loca (“Bety, the mad”). This modestly dressed petite woman is known for her fast walk and a habit of hanging around cafes, looking for a compassionate individual whom she asks – with much respect – to buy her a coffee. No one suspects that when she was young, Beatriz Solar used to be an experienced economist in charge of multiple projects and had real power of decision. There are only few people who remember the period of her life when she was constantly immersed in the multitude of revolutionary tasks she was responsible for.

“That’s what gave her the final blow,” reckons Gertrudis, an old lady from the Jaimanitas senior citizen club who lives in the same block of houses and who has known Bety since childhood. Beatriz was a true prodigy and held senior posts, but after many of her plans failed (not through her fault), she set her mind upon rectifying the failures and finding their causes. Some officials around her who envied her and wanted her job took advantage of this situation and pulled the rug out from under her feet. That’s how it ended.

Mumbling a never-ending soliloquy, Bety rambles across Jaimanitas. Speaking in a sweet and polite voice, she seems to be running a meeting, giving advice, quarrelling. Although she appears to be always dissatisfied in her monologue, she is fully focused, as if she wanted to fix Cuba somehow. When she takes a break in her imaginary workday, she sits on the seashore, absorbed in her thoughts. Who knows what she’s thinking…

Another wasted talent of Jaimanitas is El Chapi, who studied Automotive Engineering in the former Soviet Union and became a car mechanic in charge of repairing official cars. A renowned panel beater, his advice used to be sought by all ministries. He was often on the brink of collapse due to the huge workload that barely allowed him to take a short break.

“No one really knows what happened to him,” says Cacato, his nephew. “My uncle went nuts overnight. Suddenly they brought him from work and we have never learned what happened. He took to drink and started talking to himself and walking shoeless, stopped washing himself and regressed into a world of his own in a way that I can’t explain. I can’t believe how he could change from the man he was yesterday to what he is today. Now he spends entire days rummaging through rubbish bins, drunk all the time. Of all that I’ve seen in my life, this seems to me to be the closest thing to sorcery.”

In the Paradero de Playa, there is another madman who has the habit of walking around and picking up all kinds of food scraps. He eats pieces of old bread and sweets from the rubbish bins, devouring them with strange greediness. Two young men, Alexis and Rolando, told me his story. Ten years ago, they say, this loony was their professor of Chemistry and Physics at the Food Polytechnic.

Alexis says that he used to be a real expert: “We called him Bernoulli, like the French mathematician. He was already half-mad from the university, where he allegedly taught many groups and was in charge of two departments. At the Polytechnic, his psychosis combined with the high workload and finished him off. His psychosis is related to the five areas of study at the Polytechnic: meat, dairy products, flour and derivatives, preserved fruit and vegetables, social alimentation.”

“His last name is Quintana,” says Rolando, “and he was a tremendous teacher. He was expelled from school when he kicked up a fuss about food in the canteen. He sat down at the end of the canteen and picked up trays from students, explaining the energy content of the leftovers they were discarding, the properties of amino acids and enzymes, things like that… He even started calculating lost calories in the peas or in the minced soya which some little girls refused to eat. I have met Professor Quintana several times, even in other places, and he always behaves the same: picks up food from the ground, devours it like crazy, talks to himself…”

Stories like these and even worse can be found in the street on a daily basis. Who knows what (and how much) is hidden behind the insanity of each one of these affected persons who wander among us…