The Euphemism for Suicide in Cuba

Posted: May 27, 2014 by jennroig in Commentary, English
Tags: , , , , ,

As I keep training myself to better understand data, and then learn to use some tools to visualize it, as part of the Data Journalism Course offered by the European Journalism Center (EJC), I thought I would dig -or rather only scratching the surface- on the issue of suicide in Cuba.

I’ve been told and I have repeated myself that Cuba’s level of suicides could be compared to those of Nordic countries, implying that it was very high. However, my findings contradict my preconceptions. One more evidence that one should always look for the information before spontaneously repeating stuff without making sure of its accuracy.

Thus, my first finding shows that Cubans, nor the Scandinavians, are the most suicidal people.

To provide some perspective about global trends, Greenlandics, or whatever the name is for that nationality, are the those with the highest tendency to end their own lives. Then Asian countries such as China -excluding Taiwan- or Japan. For some reason I can’t guess, Guyana and Suriname are in that same scale. But not the French Guyana… I’ll appreciate any clue on the matter, otherwise I could think the Dutch and British influence was really bad on those colonies. I’m again running to conclusions… These countries are followed by Russians and then it’s Cuba’s turn, along Scandinavia, South Africa, Uruguay, USA, Spain and Finland among others… If we believe this map, Danes, Swedes and Norwegians are even less suicidal than Cubans, despite the all that suffering for the abundance of rain and sun shortage.

Second thing I learned is that in Cuba, official statistics do not name “suicide” by its name. An euphemism is used, something that would translate into English as “Self-Inflicted Injuries”. That’s very tuned to our habit of ignoring reality and trying to sugarcoat out problems. There’s a very good essay by Cuban author Jorge Mañach –Indagación al Choteo– that criticizes our habit of creating jokes about serious issues, and specially mocking people who speak out about problems in serious terms. Mañach argues it is a sign of underdevelopment, something that constantly limit the Cuban society of facing the causes of their problems and therefore finding and implementing solutions. Now I’m running to digress

This is the chart I created to show the 10 main causes of mortality in Cuba. (The chart looks way better than the table, but for some reason I can’t embed it so you should really clic on the link).

Causes Units/Year
2009 2010 2011
Heart diseases 22225 23904 22178
Lethal tumors 21316 22294 21740
Cerebrovascular diseases 9401 9789 8641
Influenza and pneumonia 5320 4988 5469
Accidents 4785 4830 4663
Chronic Lower respiratory tract diseases 3116 3271 3471
Diseases of arteries, arterioles and capillaries 2573 2727 2543
Diabetes mellitus 2370 2680 2236
Self-Inflicted Injuries 1472 1557 1519
Cirrhosis and other chronic liver diseases 1087 1202 1061

Source: ONE

Numbers here bring good news and bad news. The number of suicides is high. And it’s sad that it is included among the 10 most frequent ways Cubans die. One could ask many questions. Why do Cubans -increasingly teenagers, which is terrible and worrying- commit suicide? Another interesting angle is political suicide.

Table created with Google spreadsheets

Table created with Google spreadsheets

Still, numbers are not as high as I initially expected, given all I’ve read and heard about the matter. Moreover, the trend is to increase, but not so dramatically. I will try to find newer stats to confirm.

I think the most ironically sad number in that chart is how many people die from heart diseases, within a population that sells to the world the image of lively music, nice beaches, awesome healthcare system… Why such burden on our heart?


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