Dr. Marianela Zapata Romero, Director of Las Tunas "Guevara" Hospital
Dr. Marianela Zapata Romero (Nela), director of Las Tunas "Guevara" Hospital.

When the PCR announced positive, her mind was immediately diluted in the little head that was always waiting for her to grab hold of the piece of leg and white coat that remained within her reach. Contagion was inevitable. At home, the disease spread quickly and it was perhaps the first time that Nela, stripped of other "emergencies", experienced real fear for her family, but even then she could not escape the constant ringing of the mobile phone.

At night, her husband's pneumonia rested calmly and the little boy was the very owner of vitality; however, a sting, almost tangible, hollowed out the calm of the director of the Ernesto Guevara provincial hospital: "The oxygen has not arrived", "all the beds are full", "we lost another artificial ventilator", "we are trying, but they keep coming...”

Almost three years after the worst moments of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Marianela Zapata Romero hides from our microphones the imprint that still lingers, and she still carries, along with many other "demands", on her high heels.

"Living, in the front row, the worst epidemiological scenario in your province, feeling in many ways linked to the responsibility of saving lives or covering bodies, is a situation that changes you, from which you never get rid of... and now, more relaxed, you can recall one day or another, but the lump in your throat does not go away and leaves something positive, you learn, you become stronger".


She confesses to 26 that he opened his eyes to the “México” neighborhood, coined by the social imaginary as a complex area, and between the nuances of a neighborhood in conditions of vulnerability, full of overt phrases, violent behavior, and other behaviors that also underlie scenarios with marked disadvantages and few employment options.

"I grew up in the “México” district and I can assure you that I had a very nice childhood and youth there, healthy, surrounded by collective games, in the warmth of the humility of many good people. Of course, I had the guidance of my family, but from that stage, it was very easy for me to consider that I wanted to be a professional, to study a lot, and to do something else with my life.

"I remember that I was a very fearful child, who did not leave the house alone, nor did I go down dark alleys, perhaps because of the environment in which I lived. In the middle of the special period, I entered pre-school in the countryside intending to study. Not to mention the needs of my family or my own needs at that time, although they serve to remind me of where one comes from, and who the person is underneath the appearances.

"I have to say with great joy that I obtained a degree in medicine and it was a source of immense pride for my family and also for my neighborhood. There I was always called "the doctor" and they opened the door to every home and did not respect my post-guardianship when they had an emergency. With the roots you don't lose the links".


"I liked gynecology, but when I rotated, in my degree, through the specialty of Internal Medicine I met Professor Isora Sánchez and she showed me the path I wanted to follow. I always looked at her with great admiration, the comprehensive patient care, the rigorous physical analysis, the constant study to reach a diagnosis, and then the calmness in the patients' faces, the gratitude. I owe it to this teacher that I am here today.

"I knew that I would be imposing a heavy study load on myself, but I can even confess that the process was challenging and rewarding. I love being a clinician; even though the profession has a heavy care load, it is not for nothing that the specialty is called the mother of medicine".

In 2007, Nela became a specialist for the first time and unintentionally took on responsibilities as head of the emergency department, head of internal medicine, and deputy director in various branches until she reached the highest management position in the largest hospital in the province.

"I was telling you that I overcame my shyness. In the beginning, I didn't have the patience I have today or the diplomacy to deal with delicate situations. Everything is learned and I am still in the process of learning. My training as a cadre was gradual. Of course, I was always ready to face the challenge as well as I could, to not give up."


She says between serious and jocular that she took over the leadership of the Guevara with a four-year-old baby. She had to collegiate the decision with her husband because she was sure that she would need a lot of support for such a big task, in a context that was already profiled by the shortage of medical supplies, an issue that would continue to increase. She did not imagine the advent of the country's worst health crisis.

"In conversation with the previous director of the hospital, Dr. Rubén Pérez González, to whom I owe much of my training, we reflected that this stage is like no other and the challenges are greater and more pressing every day. It is no secret that there is a lack of important resources and medicines. Nor is it a secret that there is a lack of motivation in the sector because salaries do not meet the real needs of staff, who also face the daily challenge of saving human lives.

"But it would not be fair to stop there. Today we face shortages, but we also have a lot. When we presented our surgical activity figures to the Minister he was surprised because the limitations extend to the whole country, but in Las Tunas we look for alternatives, we draw up strategies and we are always thinking of the patients, let no one doubt that.

"We should be proud of the creativity and talent of this collective that has a great sense of belonging to the entity and an equally strong commitment to the people of Las Tunas. That keeps us vital.

"Of course, it's difficult to lead like this, but it can't be done behind a bureau. You have to walk around the services, talk to the staff, get to know their criteria and involve them in the decisions. Often, we are hit by a lack of information, which conspires against the best development of processes.

"You have to get people involved, that's the best key to success. At the same time, create a good team to lead. It doesn't matter if they are young and inexperienced, what is needed is commitment, With the will to do, the day-to-day obstacles are overcome.


"The possibility of becoming a member of parliament took me by surprise that is another important decision that I had to reconcile with my husband because I needed his help. The challenge has been immense. First, as a doctor, or citizen, one lacks economic and legal culture and so many other tools that are required to be able to feel at ease on the premises of the National Assembly.

"I have had to study a lot, read, ask questions, consult, and above all listen, and be attentive to the criteria that are formulated in any scenario. I am still learning to this day.

"The nomination process was fruitful. I learned a lot from this province through exchanges with companies, cooperatives, social development projects, and other potentialities of the region that often go unnoticed. The MP assures us that the weight on her high heels is once again intensifying.

Now the phone is still ringing constantly, but the issues that call on her are outside the scope of her hospital and she also carries with her very real and painful proposals from her voters, from the people who trust her to bring their voice to more privileged political arenas.

She says that the appointment has also come to shape her skills and behavior, without, of course, ceasing to be her. "It's scary, it's still a bit scary. Now I receive more problems, my concerns go further, but my group feels more protected because I can share first-hand information, and shed light on vital issues.

"At the same time, I am judged more harshly. Some people say 'but with a deputy director, how can this happen in the hospital' and the personal reckoning is twice as hard".


Marianela, Nela, is a strong woman, who has transgressed the stereotypes that could have marked her to the designs of a difficult neighborhood, a humble family, and so on. But she does not believe in stigmas.

"I owe everything to my family, from the lightest teachings to the support to face so many responsibilities now. Some people ignore it, but when I get out of the hospital or come back from the National Assembly, I start cleaning the house, washing, cleaning, and preparing food, just like any other woman.

Jony survived the first trials by fire and has grown into the partner that fits all my expectations and more. With him, it has been easy to have a family of my own and everything flows smoothly.

"I got pregnant in my forties, I was already late. I prepared for it, with the necessary resources. My relatives now confess to me that they were afraid that my time was running out. They didn't tell me at the time, but they asked questions about it.

Fortunately, my baby came along to give me more strength. I want to accompany him by example. I defend the legacy that human beings can do whatever they set their minds to, we have to impose ourselves, persevere, and take care of our essences, our affections, the cleanest things we have".


She speaks beautifully of her missionary days in English Guiana, of the times she brought a child into the world even though her hands and legs trembled, of the team they formed in the Mahaicony region, and how patients traveled hundreds of kilometers to see them because "the Cubans did it with more love".

His tone is harsher as he recalls how he witnessed the cruelty of racism against blacks and Indians, also perpetuated by blacks and Indians. He confesses that he learned to love Cuba more there.

"I was marked by the violence against women, the Muslim remnants limited the female universe, reducing it to objects, to things, to possessions. There I saw rapes and assaults with total impunity, and for a Cuban woman, the experience is very strong because of the solidarity that doesn't allow you to turn your head the other way and carry on as if nothing had happened.

"You have asked me several times if I have felt disadvantaged for being a woman in my professional life and I can assure you that I have not. Maybe because I have asserted myself. I learned it from my predecessors. I have an aunt who sometimes says that her prostate hurts, as a joke, because she is the head of her family. I have strong roots.

"I think you have to lead with a lot of respect, inclusively. But from the conviction that women do not carry weaknesses, on the contrary, they are a driving force for strength and life".