Cuba Funeral Crisis: Coffins Falling Apart, Families Digging Up Relatives to Bury More

Eduardo Antonio, Cuban singer, and friend of the late Cuban American singer and film actress Rosita Furnes kneels in front of her coffin during the funeral at Auxiliadora Funeria Nacional in Miami, Florida on June 12, 2020. - Family members and fans of Rosita Fornés, the "Cuban Marilyn Monroe" who …
EVA MARIE UZCATEGUI/AFP via Getty

Morgues, funeral homes, and cemeteries in Cuba are failing in almost every respect to provide adequate service to families – from coffin shortages to lack of refrigeration for bodies – the Cuban independent outlet 14 y Medio reported on Sunday, due to skyrocketing numbers of deaths on the island.

The Chinese coronavirus crisis has significantly worsened on the island this summer as a result of extreme government mismanagement. The Communist Party has actively promoted foreign tourism from some of nations most affected by the pandemic, including virus origin nation China and 2020 hotbed Italy, and forced citizens to spend hours on long, crowded ration lines to attain basic food goods and other home necessities. Following the July 11 national protests, the Party has also forced citizens to participate in crowded “acts of revolutionary affirmation” to give the world the false impression that the communist system retains popular support.

Cuba has also rejected offers from the international community – including from America – to send doses of some of the world’s most effective coronavirus vaccines, opting instead for several homemade, unproven vaccine candidates. As of Friday, Havana’s Public Health Ministry reported that 72 percent of recently detected cases in the city occurred in people who had received three doses of “Abdalá,” believed to be the most advanced Cuban coronavirus vaccine candidate.

The spike in coronavirus cases has sent the collapsed socialist healthcare system into a frenzy that has significantly impacted other patients, raising the death rate now that individuals with treatable conditions are not receiving the medical care they need. In Havana, central Ciego de Ávila, and eastern Santiago de Cuba in particular, the situation has resulted in an overwhelming number of bodies for the government to handle.

Family members report that funeral homes and cemeteries in many parts of Cuba have run out of lumber for coffins and any fabric to drape the coffins in. Typically, those building coffins in Cuba use black fabric to hide the raw wooden color, but many report running out of black-colored cloth and simply using white, a jarring contrast to tradition. Some reports in Havana indicate that all colors are running now, leaving builders to sloppily decorate coffins in multiple colors.

The material used to build the coffins has also devastated family members. The outlet 14 y Medio spoke to several people who had recently lost loved ones who said the wood used for coffins was of such low quality, it appeared to be closer to cardboard and was constantly on the verge of breaking, letting the body inside fall out.

“My brother got a white coffin, something that jarred us because it was not the most common, but they told us that that was the fabric available,” Margarita Luaces, whose brother the government listed as a Chinese coronavirus death in Ciego de Ávila, told 14 y Medio. “It also did not have any of the metal ornaments that they used to put on them [the coffins] before and when they lowered it into the grave, one of the corners opened up, it was a horrible sight.”

Luaces said the coffin “was barely carryable because it seemed like it was going to fall apart … we were afraid the body would fall out.”

Mónica Estrada, who lost a sister to non-coronavirus-related disease, told the outlet that finding a coffin was only the start of problems for families of the dead.

“When you get to the cemetery it’s a whole other problem,” she lamented, “there are families … going into family mausoleums to take out the remains of some relative who died a long time ago to make room for someone who recently died.”

“You have to take a dead person out to put another one in because there’s no space,” she added.

Ciego de Ávila is experiencing one of the worst shortages of burial space in the country. Reports from the area last week indicated that the government had begun to “expand” one of the largest local cemeteries into residents’ backyards without asking, resulting in piles of bodies in people’s homes flooding them with the scent of decaying remains.

The government “flooded us with bodies everywhere,” Moraima Lugo, a local resident, told 14 y Medio.

The surplus of human remains does not stop at cemeteries. Another independent outlet, Cubanet, reported on Sunday that hospitals and morgues are struggling to move bodies out to make room for more patients and keep medical areas sanitized. Cubanet published a video, reportedly taken at a hospital morgue in Manzanillo, Eastern Cuba. The video shows bodies on cots lined up in the hospital’s hallways, clearly unrefrigerated and apparently unlabeled.

Warning – Graphic:

In Santiago de Cuba, the largest city in the east of the country, some hospitals and funeral homes report failing to efficiently dispose of the bodies because the city’s hearses have broken down. Spain’s Diario de Cuba reported on Friday that only four of the 20 hearses the government keeps in Santiago are functioning. Some have broken-down lights, lack windshield wipers, or have had their windows broken and repaired with sheets of nylon and thus unsafe for transporting bodies.

Diario de Cuba also identified another hospital, this time in Santiago, that did not have refrigeration available for bodies of the diseased. The bodies “were piled up on cots or on the floor,” according to a nurse who relayed the information to the outlet anonymously.

The Juan González Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba is currently filling three mass graves, one for coronavirus patients and two others for general use, according to Diario de Cuba. Videos circulating of the mass graves on social media last week, and of relatives claiming the government lost the bodies of their loved ones in the desperate attempt to bury as many people as possible, prompted accusations of “fake news” on the part of Cuban government propaganda outlets. The denials came with the admission, however, that the government appeared not to know where to put so many bodies.

Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, admitted on Friday that the regime had taken “organizational measures” to transport a significant number of bodies to Juan González Cemetery because the neighboring Santa Ifigenia Cemetery was overcrowded.
“Due to these conditions, it was decided to inter those dead of any cause (not just COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus]) in Juan González Cemetery whose families did not have a private mausoleum or who were not cremated,” Granma alleged, leaving open the question of exactly how the government is burying those bodies.

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