, HAVANA, Feb 1 – Cuba handed lengthy prison terms to 13 workers at a mental hospital where 26 patients died in a cold snap a year ago that embarrassed a government that prides itself on its health care.
The Havana Provincial Court slapped the longest sentence, 15 years, on the director of the hospital, Wilfredo Castillo, for "misappropriation" and "dereliction of duty," an official statement read out on the state news broadcast said. The other sentences ranged from 5 to 15 years.
The court said prosecutors proved their case but regretted that the case resulted in "several people dying," the text said in part.
According to the official account, 26 patients died when temperatures on the tropical island plunged to 3.9 degrees Celsius (39 degrees Fahrenheit) beginning on January 9, 2010.
Cuba\’s outlawed human rights commission has estimated that more than 30 patients died because others perished later at other hospitals and were not included in the official toll.
Hospital employees told the press at the time that the patients were undernourished and had no blankets because the hospital\’s supplies had been stolen by people who worked there.
Clinical evaluations of the victims found signs of malnutrition, a high incidence of anemia and vitamin deficiencies, according to the official report, which said the hospital received enough food for 2,458 patients when there were only 1,484 patients, the official report said.
It added that an absence of controls "favored the misappropriation of resources destined fundamentally for the nourishment of the patients, as well as for clothing and bedding for their protection."
Health and education are free and available to all in Cuba, but the government has acknowledged that the system has deteriorated in recent years due to internal economic problems and the US trade embargo.