By JUAN O. TAMAYO
Herald Staff Writer
June 18, 1998, in the Miami Herald
Cubans on the
island have the highest rate of suicide in Latin America. But Cubans in
Miami-Dade County kill themselves less often than other Miamians, and Cuban-born
women in Miami commit suicide least of all, according to a study.
And although Cubans on the island average one death per three attempts
serious enough to require hospital treatment, Communist Party members commit one
suicide per attempt, the study says.
If suicide is truly an act of desperation, then the just-published study,
Suicide in Cuba and Miami, shows that Cubans are dreadfully miserable in one
place and far less so in the other.
``The difference between the two places reflects different societal,
political and economic outlooks,'' said Maida Donate-Armada, one of the two
Cuba-educated academics now living in Miami who wrote the study, published by
the Cuban American National Council.
Using statistics from the Cuban Health Ministry and Donate-Armada's own
study of suicides in 1984, when she was working for the Health Ministry, the
study argues that the island's people have been emotionally shattered since the
failure of President Fidel Castro's plans for a record 10 million ton sugar
harvest in 1970.
``It was the first break in the collective conscience regarding the
revolution's ability to provide coherent answers to economic problems,'' said
Donate-Armada, a psychologist who left Cuba in 1993.
The island's suicide rate nearly tripled after that catastrophe, from 8 per
100,000 people in 1969 to 23.2 per 100,000 in 1982, the study reported.
So bad was the crisis that in 1979 the government classified suicide
statistics as state secrets, the study added, and began hiding them under other
categories like ``violent deaths'' or ``other unclassified physiological
Highest in Latin America
Donate-Armada estimates Cuba's current suicide rate at more than 20 per
100,000 -- about 2,500 deaths a year among 11 million people. That would put the
island well ahead of the average in Latin America, where the rates of suicide
hover between 8 and 12 per 100,000, Donate-Armada said. ``A level of 20 is
already an epidemic. In Cuba, anything higher would almost be a mass suicide,''
Donate-Armada's co-author in the 1984 study was Zoila Macias, a physician
who was director of national statistics at the Cuban Health Ministry from 1991
Their study showed that suicides in Cuba, as in most countries, often
involve people with family problems, low education levels and low or no incomes.
But the similarities appear to end there.
Cuban women kill themselves significantly more often than their foreign
counterparts, the study showed. While the world average is one woman for every
three men, the island's ratio is nearly 1-1.
That probably means that Cuban women have the highest suicide rate in the
world, the study said.
More successful attempts
Suicide attempts by Cubans are also more often successful. The world average
is 10 attempts per death, but Cuba's is 3-1. And Communist Party members,
Donate-Armada added, succeeded nearly every time they staged a suicide attempt
serious enough to require notifying a hospital.
The study said the higher death-per-attempt rate showed not only deeper
desperation but perhaps also a lack of effective medical care for those who try
to take their lives.
Cuba's suicide rates have clearly swung with history: From 2.2 per 100,000
in 1907, soon after Cuba won independence from Spain, it rose to 13.1 in 1957,
in the thick of Castro's guerrilla war against President Fulgencio Batista.
With hopes riding on the fledgling Castro revolution, suicides plummeted in
the 1960s and averaged 8 to 10 per 100,000 people, Donate-Armada said. But after
970 harvest failure, the rate rose, peaking at 23.2 in 1982 -- two years after
the crisis unleashed by the Mariel boatlift. That figure made Cuba fourth in the
world at the time, behind Hungary, Denmark and Austria.
That grim picture of Cuba contrasts sharply with the study's findings on
suicides among Cuban-born residents of Miami-Dade County as reported by public
health officials in 1980, 1989, 1990 and 1991.
In the most statistically significant difference, Cuban women in Miami are
far less likely to kill themselves than their male counterparts. There is one
female suicide for every five male suicides in Miami, compared with nearly 1-1
``It seems the Cuban woman is quicker to adapt to and assimilate the new
values of North American culture, the study said.
And although Cuban-born Miamians still lead all other Hispanic groups in
suicide, they kill themselves less often than the average Miamian: They make up
29.1 percent of Miami-Dade's population, but only 25 percent of the 300 Miamians
who kill themselves each year, the study showed.
The county's overall rate was 16.2 suicides per 100,000 people in 1991, and
the rate has tended to fall in the last couple of years, the study indicated,
for both Cubans and the rest of the population.
``Cubans are very normal in Miami, in terms of their suicide patterns,
Donate -Armada said. ``It would seem their social, economic and political
conditions here are to their liking.
Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald