University of Minnesota

“If It Isn’t Fun.” – Batista Medicine Face to Face

One of my few formal contacts with Batista medical people was on a visit that Garfield Evans arranged for me to the Holguin General Hospital. My host, the appointed uniformed local medical officer, was a beefy middle-aged man with the most cynical regard I have ever encountered. I quickly got the impression that he intended to shock me with the awful reality of medicine under the dictatorship. He clearly did his best.

We toured Bedlam at length, walking through vast wards of the ill, the insane, and the mentally deficient, housed together in unsupervised squalor. I was impressed, nauseated, and angry.

Back in his office, presumably for the coup de grâce,  he asked if I would like to watch some minor surgery that he had scheduled, a circumcision.

Of course.

My host, almost smiling now, called in a boy of about 10 years and with no preparation asked him to step up and lower his trousers. Sans gloves, sans anesthetic, sans sterile technique, he grasped the boy’s foreskin in one hand and, with a forceps in the other, clamped down forcibly on the skin. He unsnapped the clamp as the boy screamed; then, in a horrible thrust, closed the clamp again, locking it and tearing off the crudely severed foreskin, dropping it with the clamp into a bowl. He then wrapped the wound in vaseline gauze, yanked up the boy’s underwear, and cuffed him on the buttocks and out of the office.

I have never seen, before or since, such an inhuman and brutal act committed under the guise of medical care. With a sardonic, sickening smirk on his face, my host appeared wholly satisfied to have so successfully shocked the annoying Yankee visitor.

Looking the monster in the eye, I hissed a very Anglo-Saxon curse, turned, and walked away. At that moment, I might well have joined Fidel Castro if I had known of him and if he were actually nearby in the Sierra Madre. The decadent mentality of Fulgencio Batista simply had to go.

How stupid it is that the United States squandered the Cuban Revolution, helping bring four decades of another totalitarianism to the poor, bright, good Cuban people.