Latin America & Caribbean

Cuban court sentences doctors for cold snap deaths

The director of a psychiatric hospital in Cuba where 26 patients died from hypothermia last year has been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Twelve other staff at the hospital in the capital Havana also received sentences of between five and 14 years.

Critics of the government say the deaths exposed failings in Cuba's health system, which the communist authorities hail as a top achievement.

The tribunal said the accused were guilty of neglect.

The patients died of hypothermia and other ailments during a spell of unusually cold weather in January 2010.

The independent Cuban Human Rights Commission at the time blamed the deaths on "criminal negligence" and the dilapidated state of the hospital, which houses around 2,500 patients.

The prosecutor had asked for a sentence of 14 years for the hospital director, Wilfredo Castillo Donate, but the tribunal gave him 15, citing aggravating circumstances.

The prosecutor said the hospital had sufficient recourses to prevent the deaths, but had failed to take precautions ahead of the cold snap - such as distributing extra blankets and moving patients to warmer rooms.

The 13 staff have 10 days to appeal against the sentence.

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