OFFICIAL VOICE OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF CUBA CENTRAL COMMITTEE
Photo: Ismael Francisco

Given the ongoing increase in the production, availability, and consumption of drugs on an international level, Cuba has maintained its policy of zero tolerance when it comes to trafficking, and a focus on prevention within the population.

Achieving this balance of enforcement and preventative efforts has been possible thanks to the joint work of diverse institutions and society, aspects which were addressed during a recent Mesa Redonda, television news program.

Colonel Juan Carlos Poey Guerra, head of the Ministry of the Interior (Minint)

National Anti-Drug Directorate, highlighted the strengthening of preparation and participation of mass organizations and government bodies involved in the effort, as part of the National Commission on Drugs, which will reach its 20 years of existence in 2018.

This work implies ongoing analysis of the phenomenon and current trends, with a view toward minimizing its possible impact and carrying out active monitoring on the community level to identify people who need help, provide rehabilitation, and support their reintegration into society.

Colonel Juan Carlos Poey Guerra, head of the Ministry of the Interior National Anti-Drug Directorate. Photo: Roberto Garaycoa Martínez

Joining hands toward this end are the ministries of Education; Labor and Social Security; Culture; Higher Education; the National Institute for Sports, Physical Education and Recreation; as well as student and youth organizations.

Poey Guerra explained, "The action model is being perfected given events related to drugs in educational centers; the public police forces' preventative work is being strengthened; and a national warning system established to evaluate every incident in a timely fashion."

The integration of actors is vital to confronting drugs, he insisted, saying, "The leadership of the country's principal bodies, agencies, and mass organizations have received information on the risks, trends, and threats, with a view toward updating all strategies and impacting delinquency in all arenas.

"Minit's ministerial system of enforcement - in conjunction with the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), the General Customs of the Republic (AGR), and the people - have been strengthening our discovery and investigation skills in the principal arenas of delinquent behavior, which is centered along the coastline, mountainous areas, and the national borders," Poey Guerra continued.

He explained that the deployment of Border Patrol forces and equipment, with support from the population via "Mirando al mar" (sea watch) teams, has limited the influence of organized crime and drug traffickers in the country.

In 2017, 251 drug drops were intercepted, with 4.5 tons of drugs confiscated within national territory. These drop-offs represent a potential risk as supply sources, and were fully investigated, leading to the identification of those responsible in 18 cases, and the arrest of 65 Cubans involved, the Minit Colonel reported.

To better protect airport borders, technical equipment has been acquired to check passengers, which has been key to the detection of ingested drugs.

"The development of canine techniques has played a very important role, as well as the collaboration of Minit with Border authorities, and administrations. During 2017, practical exercises were conducted in international airports to stop the entry of drugs. Toward this end, ongoing training of troops intervening in the process is carried out," he said.

International cooperation with counterparts has been of great value, and penal assistance is being developed with organizations like Interpol, the World Customs Organization, and other institutions.

"Increased enforcement and response based on the integrated work of all actors in our country has been decisive in confronting drug trafficking and the organization of an internal market. This effort has prevented the use of our country as a bridge for international trafficking and the establishment of a domestic network to sell drugs. But the need for improvement continues because the threats and complexities are now greater," Poey Guerra explained.

ALL HANDS ON DECK FOR PREVENTION

The issue of drugs is of concern on a world scale, and youth are the main victims in countries where enforcement is not articulated effectively, commented

Susely Morfa González, first secretary of the Young Communists League, on the Mesa Redonda program.

She emphasized that our country can count on the unity of many actors, with institutions protecting children, adolescents, and youth against this scourge. In Cuba, she recalled, detox and rehabilitation services, that in other parts of the world are very expensive, are guaranteed as a right.

The national public health system has since 2013 implemented strategies directed toward children, according to Dr. Idelys Calvero Aris. We work on the perception of risk, educating about the risks associated with a first try, she said.

All the system's institutions within communities are involved in the active monitoring work in every neighborhood; the careful accounting of medications, at all levels, from prescription to their acquisition at a pharmacy. the greatest emphasis is, however, placed on the promotion of health and education, to foment the culture of never again, and not starting.

This first contact with drugs must be prevented, when adolescents are looking for the new, in a stage of life when they think they are indestructible, that nothing will happen to them. Many times it is curiosity that motivates trying alcohol, cigarettes, psychotropic substances, or even harder drugs.

Thus the need for families, the community, schools, and health care providers to be alert, Dr. Calvero stated, emphasizing that drug use is a multi-dimensional problem, and therefore requires an integrated preventive approach, with the participation of all, as the only way to avoid the damage drug abuse causes.

The country's educational centers play an important role given their mission of preparing students for life, stated Dr. Irene Rivera Ferreiro, deputy minister of Education.

Over the years, she said, we have gained experience in confronting this problem, even though it has not been considered a major issue in our society, it has not gone unnoticed.

The Ministry of Education (Mined), she explained, "proposes that the issue of drugs be given a preventative focus at all levels of learning. We promote a culture of rejection."

This academic year, the ministry is focusing on the training of teachers, families, and students. Along these lines, Dr. Rivera stated, "Teachers have the primary responsibility of sensitizing families, so that there is better coordination and coherence with the home, in terms of the youngest."

She continued saying that educational materials, available to all, have been produced, such as Luces para la vida, a book that "is not about drugs, but rather helps to develop basic life skills, such as managing stress and emotions. If they internalize these aspects, they will be able to say 'no' to drugs."

Contests, applications for cell phones, educational video games, and audio-visuals are among the materials the ministry has developed, to alert Cuban families to the dangers of illicit drug use.

Each school has its own strategy, Dr. Rivera said, although the ministry works closely with "regions or centers where specific cases emerge, or where criminal acts have occurred, to join the institution's leadership in protecting students."

The work is a joint effort involving the ministry, youth organizations, the justice system, youth protection authorities, and mental health departments.

YOUTH TAKING THE LEAD

"The UJC (Young Communists League) is not only a political organization, but also has the mission of promoting the highest values among adolescents and youth within our socialist system and our Revolution," stated Susely Morfa.

It is imperative to build consciousness about the situation in which we live, she said, a situation much different from that of our parents, marked by the development of new technology, be it in the form of television series or video games which legitimize the success of individuals tied to the world of drugs. This is part of the effort to influence the minds of our youth, manipulate them, and encourage harmful habits of consumption, she added.

The Ministry of Education, Dr. Rivera reported, is training promoters: youth and adolescents who within schoolrooms and on campuses help and educate their own classmates to avoid drugs.

The idea came from students themselves. A survey conducted by the ministry showed that 33% of adolescents and youth talk with their peers and friends about the issue.

Morfa noted that outstanding work has been done by organizations like the Federation of Secondary School Students (FEEM), which has made a significant effort to train more than 10,000 promoters, who effectively communicate their ideas via the language and media used by different social groups.

"The multi-dimensional work of these groups with different ministries allows their impact to be felt in thousands of educational centers throughout the country, reaching more than 160,000 students and more than 170,000 parents, to work jointly in consolidating family awareness and the education of our youth," she said.

"Confronting drugs is a task for the entire people, a task in which we must all act with skill and intelligence, amidst the crisis of values that characterizes the world today."