Latin America & Caribbean

Cuba trial over hospital cold snap deaths begins

The trial has begun in Cuba of a number of people accused of responsibility for the deaths of 26 patients in a psychiatric hospital a year ago.

The accused are reported to include the hospital director and several doctors.

The patients died of hypothermia and other ailments during a spell of unusually cold weather.

The deaths exposed failings in Cuba's free public health system, which the communist government hails as one of the main achievements of its rule.

'Criminal negligence'

Few details of the trial are being revealed by the Cuban authorities.

"Once the judicial process is concluded the results will be made public," the official communist party newspaper Granma said.

The deaths occurred in January 2010 at the Psychiatric Hospital in the capital, Havana, which houses some 2,500 patients.

Human rights activists at the time blamed the deaths on "criminal negligence" and the dilapidated state of the hospital.

The independent Cuban Human Rights Commission said the hospital was in such a bad state that it could not protect people from the cold, citing problems including broken windows, missing doors and a lack of blankets.

The Cuban health ministry said an investigation had found "various deficiencies".

Cuba is proud of its free public healthcare system, which has helped secure health indicators comparable to much richer countries.

But an economic crisis has exacerbated shortages of medical supplies. The government also blames a decades-long US trade embargo for some of its problems.

The trial comes as Cuba is introducing major economic changes, encouraging greater private enterprise and laying off more than half-a-million state employees, including some in the health ministry.

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