Jacqueline Bustillo Lucas’ letter (10/27, “Hypocrisy from Cuba”) brought back an interesting memory.
In the early 1990s, a mysterious “epidemic” appeared in rural Cuba. Thousands of people had vision and neurological problems. Many possible causes were suggested.
Fidel Castro said (via the state-controlled media) that he had determined that it was caused by a virus that had been developed by the CIA, and smuggled into Cuba.
A group of scientists from UCLA traveled to Cuba to investigate. It was quickly determined that the “epidemic” was, in fact, caused by a lack of thiamine and vitamin B-12 in the rural diet, possibly combined with the poisonous effects of poorly distilled local rum. The dietary deficiencies were the result of the termination of donated food subsidies, following the breakup of the Soviet Union.
An international plea for help was issued. American and European pharmaceutical companies responded by donating many tons of inexpensive vitamin supplements.
Also, the Cuban government quietly asked the population to stop manufacturing rum at home. The “epidemic” quickly disappeared.
A few years later, Castro begrudgingly admitted that the donated vitamins had stopped the “epidemic.” They had “killed off the CIA virus,” he said.
John R.W. Taylor