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2 more die from poisoned bootleg rum in Cuba; 2 state workers accused

By Patrick Oppmann, CNN
August 2, 2013 -- Updated 0040 GMT (0840 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Poisoned rum brewed in Havana neighborhood claims nine lives, state media say
  • Investigators trace the poison to two state workers, public safety office says
  • The chemical, methyl alcohol, is commonly found in varnishes and anti-freeze

Havana (CNN) -- The death toll from a batch of poisoned, bootleg rum climbed to nine people, Cuban state TV said Thursday.

Another 59 people were still hospitalized from drinking the toxic liquor, and five were released after treatment, a government newscaster said.

Late Monday, Havana hospitals were flooded with people complaining of dizziness and stomach ailments, a statement from the provincial public safety office said.

Authorities said they appeared to have consumed a black-market rum brewed with toxic methyl alcohol, commonly found in varnishes and anti-freeze.

On a Cuban state TV newscast, doctors said most of the patients were slowly recovering, including those who had temporarily lost their vision from drinking the poisoned rum.

"The vomiting has stopped and so has the great sickness they felt," said Dr. Efren Acosta. But Acosta said many patients still suffered from dizziness.

Patients interviewed by Cuban state media said they experienced blurred vision and nausea after one drink of what they described as an acrid tasting liquid. They said they sought treatment upon hearing that neighbors and friends had fallen ill.

"I couldn't see," Sandy Pons told Cuban government television. "It was all foggy. The headaches and dizziness are gone now."

According to the provincial public safety office, investigators traced the illegal alcohol sales to two workers for the government Pharmacy and Foods Institute. Authorities accuse them of stealing the chemicals from a government warehouse.

The workers provided the chemicals to a woman who brewed the alcohol and sold it in her neighborhood, the public safety office said.

Cuban authorities have not said what charges the people involved in producing the liquor could face, but Cuban President Raul Castro last month called for a greater crackdown on corruption and black market activities.

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