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Cuba: The vaccine vs the media blockade

 by Will Harney

A volunteer is administered the Soberana-01 vaccine

On 20 August the video streaming site YouTube, owned by tech giant Google, suspended the accounts of Cuban media – just as they were reporting rare good news in the Covid-19 global pandemic: the beginning of clinical trials of Cuba’s Soberana-01 vaccine, the first such trials in Latin America. Though the accounts were restored a day later, this censorship is a symptom of the US blockade which has reached fever pitch under the current US administration. Facing an uncertain re-election poll on 3 November, US President Donald Trump is depending more than ever on the support of the right-wing Cuban exile lobby to swing the vote in the key state of Florida. WILL HARNEY reports.

Soberana-01

Cuba has sent 3,700 medical personnel to work in 39 countries to combat the pandemic. Even in an economic crisis brought on by the US blockade, Cuba’s own public health response has been outstanding: at the time of writing, total infections in Cuba stood at 5,270 with 118 deaths and 4,462 recoveries; a death rate of 1 per 100,000 population. Britain’s rate is 63 per 100,000. At the same time, Cuban scientists have been working flat-out to produce a vaccine.1

On 17 July 2020, just five months after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the outbreak of Covid-19 a pandemic, scientists at the Finlay Vaccine Institute in Havana produced the first doses of a vaccine candidate they dubbed ‘Soberana-01’ (‘Sovereign-01’). The Finlay Institute, named after influential Cuban epidemiologist Dr Carlos Finlay (1833-1915), is a biomedical centre founded in 1991 by doctors who were instrumental in developing a 1988 vaccine against meningitis B which helped eliminate the disease from the island.

As of 20 August, there were 30 Covid-19 vaccine candidates in the world approved for clinical trials according to the WHO. The Soberana-01 vaccine candidate contains receptor-binding domain (RBD) protein, which is used by the S-protein ‘spikes’ on the surface of coronaviruses (which give the viruses their crown-like appearance under a microscope, hence the name ‘corona’) as a ‘key’ to allow it to enter human and bat respiratory cells. Besides a Chinese vaccine candidate, Soberana-01 is the only one to use RBD as an antigen; recent Chinese studies identify RBD as ‘as the most likely target for the development of virus attachment inhibitors, neutralizing antibodies, and vaccines’.2

As Cuba was prevented by the US blockade from buying various recombinant proteins vital to testing the vaccine, the Centre for Molecular Immunology (CIM) had to produce these domestically as well as isolating the RBD protein. CIM is equipped with the technology necessary for this work, and for mass production of a vaccine, because Cuba has spent decades investing in its biotechnology sector to be more self-sufficient in the production of medicine.3 The blockade makes it more vital that Cuba produces its own vaccine so that its strategy to fight the virus in Cuba and elsewhere is not dependent on agreements with other countries. Given Cuba’s internationalist approach to healthcare, the creation of a vaccine would benefit not only Cubans but people throughout the world.

In a mere seven weeks, Cuban scientists designed and produced a vaccine ready to be assessed for human trials. The phase I trials will administer Soberana-01 to 40 volunteers between 19 and 80 years old to establish whether it is safe. Phase II trials will establish if the antigen is producing sufficient antibodies in 676 volunteers, due to be complete by end of November. If these trials are successful, the trials will move to phase III, testing in a population of thousands of volunteers to see if it is effective in stopping the spread of the disease. If it is, the vaccine can be officially approved for use. In pre-clinical trials, Soberana-01 was observed to successfully produce an immune response in mice and rabbits. If Cuba develops the first, safest or most effective Covid-19 vaccine, US sanctions which prevent US citizens and others in the world from benefiting from it will look increasingly unsustainable.

Full-spectrum blockade

US imperialism can count on the traditional news media, including the British media, to both attack Cuba and ignore its achievements. Few will have heard of Soberana-01 from mainstream news outlets – instead we are told only of shortages, queues and other difficulties afflicting Cuba, problems which are rarely placed in the context of an intensifying blockade. On 5 September Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez denounced on Twitter the deafening silence of the media, particularly on the development of the first vaccine candidate for clinical trials in Latin America, the world’s worst-affected region with around 8.4 million coronavirus cases, and over 314,000 deaths: ‘Cuban scientists share their progress with the world, show protocols against the pandemic and results of their own vaccine candidate. However, little information about this is shared. The [coverage of Cuba] is biased. Ignoring or censoring successes is part of the media blockade’.

The internet and social media is a different battleground, both a threat and an opportunity in which the US state has invested heavily in order to dominate.4 Cuba has been developing its network infrastructure – in partnership with Google – allowing Cubans to access sites like YouTube affordably. Both Cubans and an international audience can watch Cuban media programmes on YouTube, including the three whose Google accounts were suddenly suspended on 20 August because, according to the messages they received from Google, they ‘violate export laws’: CubaDebate’s Mesa Redonda programme; the channel of Granma (newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party); and state channel Cubavisión Internacional. These outlets, which between them have 35,000+ subscribers, have provided regular updates on the Cuban government’s response to Covid-19.

This comes as a Washington DC- based PR firm, CLS Strat­egies, was found operating a disinformation network on Facebook and Instagram undermining Cuba’s allies in Latin America (The Grayzone, 6 September). CLS Strategies created fake accounts to promote Venezuela’s right-wing opposition and the fascist coup administration of Jeanine Añez in Bolivia. It is staffed by officials with links to the US government including a former director of Latin American policy in the Obama administration. It spent $3.6m on targeted ads to promote its propaganda on Facebook. A partner in the firm, Juan Cortiñas, has links to Florida’s Cuban exile lobby which is pushing Trump to suffocate Cuba further.

Satisfying the exile lobby

Minimising Cuba’s achievements and isolating it from the rest of Latin America are part of Trump’s strategy to strengthen US imperialism’s hold over ‘its hemisphere’. On 9 September, Trump, with a flick of his presidential pen, renewed the provisions of the Trading With the Enemy Act until 14 September 2021. Socialist Cuba is the only country in the world currently sanctioned under this 1917 law, resurrected in 1962, that allows the president to restrict trade with enemies in wartime. The six-decade US blockade of Cuba is like a constant state of warfare, but Trump’s presidency, itself up for expiry soon, has taken this to a new pitch (see FRFI 270). A Trump win in 2020 could see further tightening of the US blockade for at least another four years.

Trump is counting on the support of the right-wing Cuban exile lobby to win over Hispanic voters in Florida, a key swing state. Although he did not choose her in the end, Trump’s latest gesture to the exile kingmakers was to consider Barbara Lagoa as a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg who died on 18 September. Lagoa, a Court of Appeals judge, is a first-generation Cuban-American whose parents fled to the US following the socialist revolution; when appointed to the Florida Supreme Court in 2019, Lagoa told reporters that her father had to give up his ‘dream of becoming a lawyer’ because of Fidel Castro. She was on the legal team that worked pro bono on behalf of the exile lobby – unsuccessfully – to prevent six-year-old Elián González being returned to his family in Cuba in 2000 (see FRFI 153). ‘She’s an extraordinary person,’ Trump says. Mauricio Claver-Carone, another right-wing Cuban American, was nominated by Trump then elected on 12 September as president of the Inter-American Development Bank – the first US citizen to run the development finance institution in its 60-year history.

Isolate imperialism!

Democrat contender Joe Biden promises to ‘promptly reverse the failed Trump policies that have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights.’ In two interviews with Americas Quarterly (14 December 2018 and 4 March 2020), Biden set out his position on Cuba as just another version of the Monroe Doctrine, characterised by a concern that the US is isolating itself and should adopt a softer foreign policy to maintain exclusive ‘leadership in the Western Hemisphere’: ‘Our geopolitical rivals [China and Russia] are eagerly filling the vacuum of leadership as the United States pulls back’ … ‘It is the current absence of American leadership in the Western Hemisphere that is the primary threat to US national security.’

Due to Cuba’s committed internationalism, especially in the fight against Covid-19, Trump’s hostility and sanctions are not winning friends in the region or the world at large. Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, said of Cuba: ‘They are lifesavers. In some Caribbean countries, they constitute the backbone of the response to the pandemic.’ For 28 consecutive years, the UN General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly to condemn the US blockade of Cuba; though this year’s vote has been postponed until March 2021 due to alarming rates of Covid-19 in New York where the Assembly meets.

While a Biden win cannot be relied upon to halt other forms of attack on Cuba, such as sanctions against its ally Venezuela that started under the Obama administration, it might alleviate the economic and commercial blockade. But as long as Cuba remains socialist, the US will never respect its right to self-determination regardless of which ruling class party holds the White House. The best weapon against the media blockade is to spread information on Cuba’s achievements in fighting Covid-19 and defend its example of a socialist society wherever we can.


1. This article draws on information from OnCubaNews.com, 25 August 2020.
2. ‘Characterization of the receptor-binding domain (RBD) of 2019 novel coronavirus: implication for development of RBD protein as a viral attachment inhibitor and vaccine’ Cellular & Molecular Immunology volume 17, pages 613–620 (2020) cited at OnCubaNews.com, 25 August 2020.
3. For more information on Cuba’s biotechnology sector, see Helen Yaffe, We Are Cuba! Yale University Press (2020) available to order at www.frfi.org.uk
4. See ‘As Cuba goes online, the US plans subversion’, 27 May 2018 on our website.

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What Can We Learn From Cuba? Medicare-for-All is a Beginning, Not the End Point

BY DON FITZ

Photograph Source: NatalieMaynor – CC BY 2.0

As a coup de grâce to the Bernie Sanders campaign Joe Biden declared that he would veto Medicare-for-All. This could drive a dedicated health care advocate to relentlessly pursue Med-4-All as a final goal. However, it is not the final goal. It should be the first step in a complete transformation of medicine which includes combining community medicine with natural medicine and health-care-for-the-world.

Contrasting Cuban changes in medicine during the last 60 years with the US non-system of medical care gives a clear picture of why changes must be all-encompassing. The concept of Medicare-for-All is deeply intertwined with attacks on Cuba’s global medical “missions” and the opposite responses to Covid-19 in the two countries.

Going Forward or Going Backward?

Immediately after the 1959 revolution Cubans began the task of spreading medical care to those without it. This included a flurry of building medical clinics and sending doctors to poor parts of cities and to rural areas, both of which were predominantly black.

As the revolution spread medicine from cities to the country, it realized the need to expand medical care across the world. This included both sending medical staff overseas and bringing others to Cuba for treatment. Cuba spent 30 years redesigning its health care system, which resulted in the most comprehensive community-based medicine in the world.

Throughout the expansion of health care, both inside the country and internationally, Cuban doctors used “allopathic” medicine (based largely on drugging and cutting, which is the focus of US medical schools). But they simultaneously incorporated traditional healing and preventive medicine, as well as respecting practices of other cultures.

Today, the most critical parts of the Cuban health care system include (1) everyone receives health care as a human right, (2) all parts are fully integrated into a single whole which can quickly respond to crises, (3) everyone in the country has input into the system so that it enjoys their collective experiences and (4) health care is global.

In contrast, the call for Medicare-for-All by the left in Democratic Party is a demand for Allopathy-for-US-Citizens. It would extend corporate-driven health care, but with no fundamental change towards holistic and community medicine. Though a necessary beginning, it is a conservative demand which does not recognize that a failure to go forward will inevitably result in market forces pushing health care backward.

There is already a right-wing effort to destroy Medicare and Medicaid in any form and leave people to only receive medical treatment they can pay for. It is part of the same movement to destroy the US Post Office and eliminate Social Security. It is funded by the same sources trying to get rid of public education except for a few schools that will prepare the poor to go to prison or be unemployed. These are neoliberals who believe that Black-Lives-Do-Not-Really-Matter. They hate all the gains won during the last century and a half and want to overturn any form of environmental protection, any workers’ rights, the eight-hour work day, child labor laws, and civil rights, including voting rights.

Destroying Health Care Advances of the Cuban Revolution

What does the Cuban health care have to do with Medicare-for-All in the US? Cuba has a lower infant mortality rate and longer life expectancy than the US while spending less than 10% per person annually on health care. It has provided medical education to so many from other countries that in 1999 it opened the Latin American School of Medicine to bring students from impoverished countries to study and become doctors. By 2020 it had trained over 30,000 doctors. It had also trained huge numbers of other health professionals from beyond its shores.

Even before Cuba brought in students, it sent its own professionals on “missions” to help those in other countries. Over the past six decades more than 400,000 Cuban medical professionals have worked in 164 countries and improved the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

The US response to this incredible international medical revolution documents that it is not satisfied to stop medical care from improving but has an irresistable urge to reverse gains across the globe. The US government glommed onto complaints from physicians in multipe countries who whined because Cuban doctors would go to jungles and other dangerous areas where the the rich urban doctors refused to venture. Of course, the US had its own reasons to despise Cuban medical assistance.

Cuba has long done humanitarian work in education as well as medicine which puts its northerm behemoth to shame. Its actions expose that health care can be done vastly cheaper with better outcomes than corportate medicine, which traumatizes financiers of the sickness industry.

Republicans and Democrats are firmly united with corporate media in hiding Cuban medical accomplishments from the US population. They defnitely do not want other poor countries to replicate Cuba’s system. Horrifed at the prospect that Cuban health care would shine as an example, the US went to work to undermine and destroy Cuban medical internationalism in any way it could.

In August 2006 the George W. Bush administration began the “Cuban Medical Professional Parole” program to encourage Cuban medical staff on international missions to desert and move to the US, with no questions asked. Only 2-3% did so; but their departure left those poor countries with less care.

This is in line with any corporate goals to destroy local health care and replace it with profit-based health care across the globe. Driven by the same market factors that compel extraction, transportation and food production industries to go international, the US sickness industry likely feels the urge to create and control a global market of “health care providers.” One of its main obstacles will be community health systems, which actually work much better for poor people.

As the knowledge of the success of Cuba’s medical information spread, its detractors flew into a frenzy and clutched onto wild hallucinations. As accurately explained by Vijay Prashad, they fantasized that Cuba was engaging in “human trafficking” by forcing its doctors to work internationally. The accusation is blatantly absurd since Cuban doctors always have the choice of whether to broaden their medical knowledge by going abroad and treating diseases that have been eradicated in Cuba or to stay at home.

It is true that its doctors have incredibly low wages (as do all working people in Cuba) due to the destructive effects of the US embargo. In one of the great ironies of propaganda machines, the US seeks to criminalize Cuba in the eyes of the world by screeching that medical wages are low while itself being the cause of meager pay.

Results of this attacking Cuba during Covid-19 have been murderous. After Lenín Moreno became president of Ecuador in 2017 he abruptly veered from what he promised and ordered Cuban doctors to leave. At the same time Venezuela and Cuba had a total of 27 Covid-19 deaths, Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil, had an estimated death toll of 7,600. Similarly, when the neoliberal Jair Bolsonaro took power in Brazil in 2019, he threw out Cuban doctors. This left the country with rising infant mortality and so unprepared for Covid that even inviting them back was unable to undo the damage. Following the 2019 anti-democratic coup in Bolivia, the ultra right-wing Jeanine Áñez had herself anointed as president and expelled Cuban doctors, which devastated that country’s health care system. Although Bolivia is a physically isolated country with a population of only 8.7 million it had 2200 deaths by June 2020.

Who Coped with Covid-19?

The fact that Cuba had gone far, far beyond Medicare-for-All is what allowed it to have such spectacular control over Covid. Its politicians unified behind the ministry of health which developed a national strategy. That strategy was in effect before the island’s first victim had succumbed to the disease. Social distancing, masks and contact tracing were universally accepted. According to Susana Hurlich, medical students went door-to-door collecting data, distributing homeopathic medication (PrevengHo-Vir), and, most important, finding out what problems people needed help with.

Neighborhood doctors collected data to send to polyclinics and helped make certain that residents’ medical and other needs were met. Clinic staff met needs that neighborhood doctors could not provide and sent patients they could not care for to hospitals. Hospital doctors slept at hospitals for 14 day shifts before being quarantined for another 14 days so they would not infect their families or communities.

On July 18, deaths from Covid-19 numbered 140,300 in the US and 87 in Cuba. Though its population is only 30 times that of Cuba, the US had 1,612 times as many deaths.

As US politicians conspired with corporations to see how much profit could be made from the pandemic, Cuban health care went international. When northern Italy became the epicenter of Covid-19 cases, one of its hardest hit cities was Crema. On March 26, 2020 Cuba sent 52 doctors and nurses. A smaller and poorer Caribbean nation was one of the few aiding a major European power.

On March 12, 2020 nearly 50 crew members and passengers on the British cruise ship Braemar either had Covid-19 or were showing symptoms as the ship approached the Bahamas, a British Commonwealth nation. During the next five days, the US, the Bahamas, and several other Caribbean countries turned it away. On March 18, Cuba became the only country to allow the Braemar’s over 1000 crew members and passengers to dock.

The incidents of Crema and the Braemar were hardly without precedent. They resulted from 60 years of medical internationalism by Cuba. Just as Cuba’s actions during Covid-19 reflected its development, so the horrible expansion of the disease in the US, Brazil and India showed the lack of concern under reactionary rule.

Capitalism has exterminated hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people in order to consolidate growth and power. Whether enslaving Africans, or slaughtering native Americans to steal land, or experimenting with nuclear bombs during WWII, or destroying health systems that would prevent mass death during a pandemic, these are merely “costs of doing business” to capitalism. Driving native peoples off of land is not unique to US in the past, but continues today throughout Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands.

Trump has terribly bungled coping with Covid-19, but the approach of Democrats is not essentially different. Neither corporate party has any intention of providing Cuban-type care within the US. And they certainly do not even imagine putting protection of the world’s poor from Covid above profit potentials for US corporations. They never had any intention of telling US public that 72 countries had requested Cuba’s Interferon Alpha 2B for treating Covid-19. They wanted people to believe that only an American or European country could discover treatment.

Is Thinking Beyond Medicare-for-All Part of the Real World?

Is the idea of a radical health care transformation even worth talking about as right-wingers seem to be on the move across much of the world? Let’s remember our past. During the time the reactionary Richard Nixon was president (1969-1974), despite an overwhelming pro-war victory, the following were accomplished under his reign: declaration of an end to the Vietnam War, start of the Food Stamp program, decriminalization of abortion, recognition of China, creation of Environmental Protection Agency, passage of Freedom of Information Act, formal dismantling of FBI’s COINTEL program, creation of Earned Income Tax Credits, formal ban on biological weapons, and passage of the Clean Water Act.

We have never won as many gains since then, even when there was a Democratic House, Senate and president. The essential difference between then and now was the existence of mass movements. Perhaps it is the time for today’s movements to ask if a fair and just payment of reparations by the US and western Europe for the pain and suffering they have caused throughout the world should include providing medical care for those billions of people who Cuba cannot afford to help. Health care is not genuine health care if it fails to be health-care-for-the-world.

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Why Cuban Doctors Deserve the Nobel Peace Prize

by VIJAY PRASHAD

Photograph Source: Department of Foreign Affairs – CC BY 2.0

Five years ago, I read the story of Dr. Félix Báez, a Cuban doctor who had worked in West Africa to stop the spread of Ebola. Dr. Báez was one of 165 Cuban doctors of the Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade who went to Sierra Leone to fight a terrible outbreak in 2014 of a disease first detected in 1976. During his time there, Dr. Báez contracted Ebola.

The World Health Organization and the Cuban government rushed Dr. Báez to Geneva, where he was treated at the Hôpitaux Universitaires de Genève. He struggled with the disease, but thanks to the superb care he received, his Ebola receded. He was flown to Cuba. At the airport in Havana, he was received by his wife Vania Ferrer and his sons Alejandro and Félix Luis as well as Health Minister Roberto Morales.

At the website Cubasí, Alejandro—a medical student—had written, “Cuba is waiting for you.” In Liberia, the other Cuban doctors also fighting Ebola cheered for Dr. Báez. A Facebook page was started called Cuba Is With Félix Báez, while on other social media forums the hashtag #FélixContigo and #FuerzaFélix went viral.

Dr. Báez recovered slowly, and then, miraculously, decided to return to West Africa to continue to fight against Ebola.

No wonder that there is an international campaign to have the Cuban doctors be honored with the Nobel Peace Prize. This aspect of Cuba’s work is essential to its socialist project of international solidarity through care work.

U.S. Campaign Against the Doctors

When Dr. Báez returned to West Africa, his colleague Dr. Ronald Hernández Torres, based in Liberia, wrote on Facebook, “We are here by our decision and we will only withdraw when Ebola is not a health problem for Africa and the world.” This is an important statement, a reaction to the offensive campaign led by the United States government against Cuban internationalism.

The U.S. Congressional Research Service reported that “In June 2019, the [U.S.] State Department downgraded Cuba to Tier 3 in its 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report,” for, among other reasons, not taking “action to address forced labor in the foreign medical mission program.” This policy came alongside pressure by the U.S. government on its allies to expel the Cuban missions from their countries.

Strikingly, the UN Human Rights Council—under pressure from Washington—said it would investigate Cuban doctors. Urmila Bhoola (UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery) and Maria Grazia Giammarinaro (UN special rapporteur on trafficking in persons) wrote a letter to the Cuban government in November 2019. The letter made grand statements—such as alleging that the Cuban doctors suffered from forced labor; but there was no evidence in the letter. Even their statement of concern seemed plainly ideological rather than forensic.

In early 2020, the U.S. government intensified its attempt to delegitimize the Cuban medical mission program. On January 12, 2020, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted, “We urge host countries to end contractual agreements with the Castro regime that facilitate the #humanrights abuses occurring in these programs.”

U.S. allies in Latin America, such as Brazil, Bolivia, and Ecuador, expelled the Cuban medical missions. This would become a catastrophic decision for these countries as the COVID-19 pandemic developed across Latin America.

Human Rights Watch Channels the U.S. State Department

In July 2020, the New York-based Human Rights Watch published a document accusing the Cuban government of formulating “repressive rules for doctors working abroad.” It focuses on Resolution 168, adopted in 2010, that provides a code of conduct for Cuban doctors, including ensuring that the medical workers honor the laws of their hosts and do not exceed the remit of their mission, which is to take care of the medical needs of the population.

Human Rights Watch merely offers this resolution—and other regulations—as evidence; it accepts that it cannot prove that these regulations have ever been implemented: “Human Rights Watch has not been able to determine the extent to which Cuban health workers have broken the rules and law, or whether the Cuban government has enforced criminal or disciplinary sanctions against them.” It is stunning that a human rights organization would spend so much time with so little evidence assaulting a program that is widely recognized for bringing an improvement of living standards for people.

The organizing committee for the group Nobel Peace Prize for Cuban Doctors responded to Human Rights Watch with a stinging rebuttal. It pointed out that the HRW report said nothing about the attacks on the Cuban medical program, including the official U.S. government attempt to bribe Cuban doctors to defect to the United States and the expenditure by USAID of millions of dollars to create disinformation against the program.

Even more egregious, the HRW document misreads the evidence it does offer, including the transcript of a dialogue between the Cuban ministry of health and medical workers. The HRW report uses as factual a text by Prisoners Defenders, a Spain-based NGO led by an anti-Cuban activist; HRW does not declare the political opinions of this highly controversial source.

The HRW report reads less like a credible account by a human rights organization and more like a press release from the three Republican senators—Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Rick Scott—who recently introduced a bill to scuttle Cuba’s medical mission program.

But Nevertheless, They Persist

In a study published in April 2020, the Instituto de Comunicação e Informação Científica e Tecnológica em Saúde found that Mais Médicos (More Doctors) program of the Cuban doctors in Brazil improved health indicators of the population; this program brought medical care to remote areas, often for the first time.

Alexandre Padilha of the Workers Party (PT) was a minister of health under President Dilma Rousseff and a member of the team that created the Mais Médicos program. He said that after the Cuban doctors had been ejected, there was an increase in infant mortality and increased pneumonia among the Indigenous communities where they worked; all this was catastrophic during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In June 2020, President Jair Bolsonaro, who had expelled the Cuban doctors in December 2019, asked for them to start work again in Brazil; they were needed to compensate for Brazil’s catastrophic reaction to the COVID-19 virus. Even USAID money to compensate for the loss of the Cuban doctors was not sufficient; Bolsonaro wanted the Cuban doctors to stay.

Cuban Doctors to the Rescue

Cuban medical workers are risking their health to break the chain of the COVID-19 infection. Cuban scientists developed drugs—such as interferon alpha-2b—to help fight the disease. Now Cuban scientists have announced that their vaccine is in trials; this vaccine will not be treated as private property but will be shared with the peoples of the world. This is the fidelity of Cuban medical internationalism.

On August 21, Raúl Castro—the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba—spoke at an event for the 60th anniversary of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC). At the meeting, Castro mentioned that 61 percent of the medical workers in the Henry Reeve Brigade were women; since the start of Cuban medical internationalism in 1960, over 400,000 medical workers have worked in more than 40 countries. These medical workers believe in the twin missions of medical care and internationalism; it is a lesson that they learned from the teachings of Che Guevara, a doctor and an internationalist.

It is a lesson that should be learned in Oslo, Norway, as they adjudicate the Nobel Peace Prize.

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EVERYTHING TURNING POINT USA TELLS YOU ABOUT CUBA IS A LIE

In February of 2020 a video titled ‘Everything You’ve Ever Seen About Cuba Is A Lie’ was posted to YouTube and made the rounds on various social media platforms. Across these platforms, it has been viewed -at the time of writing this article- around 703,625 times in total. The description of the video outlines its basic premise, in which there is no attempt whatsoever of hiding its obvious bias:

“The Turning Point USA travelled to Cuba to investigate the true realities of what a generation of full Socialism has done to the once-thriving Cuban population.

What did we discover? Everything you have ever seen about Cuba is a lie. #CommunismKills”

The incredibly questionable title insinuates that the video that follows is going to be a series of ‘truths’ about Cuba; an unveiling of the ‘scary reality’ behind the supposedly popular and common ‘Utopian view’ of Cuba. The creators suggest that before taking their trip to Cuba, their research of the country gave them nothing but sunshine and roses.

I don’t know where they have been looking but a quick general search of Cuba on any news platform currently brings up not one positive or at least objective article until page 3. So, it is clear to see that from the very outset of this showcase, that we are in for a treat, a platter of pure and unadulterated, bias, drivel.

Just from their opening comments, their agenda is quite clear:

“to know that this is a socialist country…the pieces didn’t quite add up to me…we’re supposed to say socialism sucks…but how’re we gonna show that, if socialism doesn’t actually suck”

The agenda is even clearer with just a quick Google search of the content creators.

Turning Point USA is an American non-profit organisation with many affiliate groups such as Students for Trump. It was founded by Evangelical Christian, Charlie Kirk, whose track record of false statements sets the bar extremely low for the reliability of any material produced by the group. They state three main beliefs on their official web page which should highlight exactly why this video on Cuba was made:

WHAT WE BELIEVE

  • The United States of America is the greatest country in the history of the world.
  • The US Constitution is the most exceptional political document ever written.
  • Capitalism is the most moral and proven economic system ever discovered.

So, of course, they hate Cuba, they are Americas and Capitalisms number one fan club. Their open mission is “to educate students about the importance of fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government.

The organisation has been involved in multiple controversies, including potential illegal involvement in the 2016 presidential election, members making racist comments and even links to several White Supremacists.

The men that take part in the making of the video range from an ex-editor at Buzzfeed who was fired for plagiarism to a producer and owner of MagaCases.com.

THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA AND CUBA

As previously stated, one of the first lies in the video is that there are only positive things and only positive perceptions of Cuba when one searches ‘Cuba’ on the internet. Indeed, if one searches Cuba into Google Images beautiful Caribbean views will pop up, gorgeous Spanish buildings, the old vintage cars, as well as the rustic decaying buildings that have now become so solidly equated with the public image of Cuba. This is partly because these views are real. Cuba truly does have beautiful golden beaches; it truly does have beautiful buildings such as in Old Havana or the National Capital building. However, to state:

“Nothing in American establishment or corporate media

will prepare you for what you’re about to see. It’s all

lies, it’s Communist propaganda what you see”

It is an outright lie. For years we have been bombarded with propaganda against Cuba from such capitalist zealots as these. It was only on the 28th February that the Wall St Journal was telling us that ‘The Real Cuba is a land of extreme deprivation’. In reaction to Bernie Sanders support of Cuban healthcare, we were swarmed with anti-Cuba articles by fat cat bourgeois journalists. Needless to say, for as long as Cuba has been socialist there have been socialists defending it against these apologists of capitalism who still mourn the fall of the brutal dictator Batista. Furthermore, their claim is preposterous for the very fact that if one searches for Jamaica in Google images a beautiful tropical paradise pops up. Is this capitalist propaganda? To call pictures of beauty in a country, communist propaganda is McCarthyite and plain ridiculous.

CUBA’S DRONE POLICY

One of the first dramas the gang of TPUSA find themselves breaking down over is their containment at the airport over bringing a drone into Cuba. If they had bothered to look, Cuba has banned drones entering the country and will confiscate them at customs. Cuba is open about this and did not target the fools of TPUSA just because they felt like it but because they had specifically gone against this policy.

GAS IN CUBA

It is no secret that Cuba and the USSR held close economic relations. In fact, from 1976-1980 the Soviets invested $1.7 billion on the construction and remodelling of Cuban factories and industry. It is also no secret that this was a lifeline to Cuba after the massive embargo imposed by the U.S.A against Cuba in 1962. Therefore, after the Soviet Union fell, Cuba was dealt a severely harsh blow and entered what Fidel Castro called, ‘The Special Period’. Due to the embargo and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Cuba has had to undergo restrictions on things such as fuel. However, one of the allies to Cuba has been Venezuela especially in relation to fuel. Cuba and Venezuela made a bilateral pact in 2000 allowing Cuba to pay for oil through such things as medical services. This deal had sufficed until 2015-17 when the U.S.A had turned their sanctions onto Venezuela whilst they were once again pushing for power changes in South America. Faced with sanctions from all sides, Cuba has had to cope with many shortages of goods and equipment, these shortages were imposed by the U.S.A. Therefore, the bare-faced cheek of these Americans to visit Cuba and mock the long lines for fuel without ever once mentioning the American embargo and sanctions is ignorant and unintelligent. Cuba has had to cut public street lighting and air conditioning usage in some state institutions in order to deal with the embargo and the sanctions that the U.S.A are directly responsible for. We know that if the U.S.A ever faces shortages of fuel and oil they’ll have boots on the ground securing their supply through rivers of blood. Look no further than the Iraq War where a million innocent civilians died for U.S. share in oil. Look no further than the U.S relations with the head-chopping corrupt regime of Saudi Arabia, all for U.S wealth and oil.

CUBA BEFORE THE REVOLUTION

In order to understand what it is that the cast of this show want Cuba to be like, we must return to Cuba’s past. Fulgencio Batista had been a figure in Cuban politics since 1933 when he had taken part in The Sergeants Revolt. He had also taken the role as President in 1940 in which he had played a reformative role in Cuba. However, in 1952 Batista launched a coup and became a military dictator. In Batista’s Cuba, corruption was rife, and many households went without running water and many were unemployed. However, what Batista’s Cuba signified more than anything was the contrast between the rich and poor that capitalism creates wherever it goes. Mass prostitution, casinos and drugs ran rife through the streets of Cuba, all encouraged by Batista. Arthur Miller described it as ‘hopelessly corrupt, a Mafia playground, (and) a bordello for Americans and other foreigners”. Indeed, Batista’s deal and connections ran deep, and many were devastated to see him go, so devastated that many of them helped American forces in assassination attempts on Castro. Of course, where there is illicit money and profits to be had the vultures of American imperialism are never far behind. JFK himself revealed information about American involvement in Cuba in 1959, “At the beginning of 1959 United States companies owned about 40 per cent of the Cuban sugar lands—almost all the cattle ranches—90 per cent of the mines and mineral concessions—80 per cent of the utilities—practically all the oil industry—and supplied two-thirds of Cuba’s imports.” And on the despotism in Cuba under Batista, Kennedy had this to say “I believe that there is no country in the world including any and all the countries under colonial domination, where economic colonization, humiliation and exploitation were worse than in Cuba, in part owing to my country’s policies during the Batista regime. I approved the proclamation which Fidel Castro made in the Sierra Maestra, when he justifiably called for justice and especially yearned to rid Cuba of corruption. I will even go further: to some extent, it is as though Batista was the incarnation of several sins on the part of the United States. Now we shall have to pay for those sins.” So, would the capitalist worshipping members of TPUSA wish for the return of that ‘developed’ regime, a regime that even their U.S President described as corrupt, exploitative and evil. Batista was also ruthless and cracked down hard on any opposition especially amongst the young. It is suspected that 20,000 people were killed under Batista’s reign of suppression. When Castro, Che Guevara and the Rebel Army led their revolution in 1959, they undoubtedly changed Cuba for the better. The first things the revolutionaries did was reinstate all the workers who had been fired in the Batista years, drastically reduce rents, kicked the Mafia out of Cuba, redistributed the land stolen by the U.S.A back to the people, nationalised their healthcare (and as a result, it is one of the best in the world today, compared to those dying in their homes in America due to the prices of U.S private healthcare), and raised their literacy rates to 100%. Cubans today can boast of a longer life expectancy than that of the average American and a lower infant mortality!

FOOD IN CUBA

In the video, we see them mock and sneer at the standard and availability of food in Cuba. The truth of the matter is this, Cuba has a rationing system. This means that Cubans use a ration book, supplied to them through a government office that establishes the goods they can buy and the frequency. It also accounts for how many are in the family and their dietary requirements. The goods are then sent to the ‘bodegas’ which are the stores that specifically distribute the rationed goods, and meat is available at meat stores. The stores that are shown in the clip are the rationed stores. What they failed to show was the vegetable markets in Cuba where there are bountiful amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables. Even the World Bank has shown that Cuba is one of the most well-fed countries in the world and have some of the lowest malnutrition death rates. The long lines that were shown are once again the consequence of the U.S sanctions and blockades. In 2019, rations grew stricter, but this was done under the severe new conditions set by Trump and his lackeys, a decision that was vastly supported by the Cuban people. However, as the COVID 19 crisis has shown, the priorities of the Cuban government and the U.S capitalists could not be wider. Whereas the Cuban government has tried to make sure everybody is fed and nobody can selfishly profit off others misery, the U.S will let whoever hasn’t got the cash starve, or just increase its food bank numbers, to the point where 1 in 3 rely on them for food.

POVERTY

There are decaying buildings in Cuba, this is true. However, what they failed to show was the beautiful buildings that often lay right across the street, renovated and refurbished in sleek Cuban style. Furthermore, many buildings may look downtrodden but inside are wonderful and renovated as well. Cuba is trying to rebuild as many of these buildings as they can, but it is a task made difficult with sanctions on equipment and the resources needed to do so.

Homelessness in Cuba is also extremely low due to the cheap housing provided by socialism, which creates a large percentage of homeownership. Cubans will never have to worry about a private bank repossessing their homes for profit. However, this is not to say that there is plenty of housing, in fact, there is a housing shortage due to economic sanctions limiting construction materials. Despite this, the Cubans are very resourceful and often share housing with their family and friends and there are no longer any shantytowns and slums as seen in the time of Batista. “A 2002 Harvard study found that the percentage of urban housing units in bad condition decreased from 47% before the revolution to just 13% 40 years later”. Nevertheless, Cubans precisely because of socialist values, would prefer this situation to one where a large percentage of the population lives on the streets. The latter is in fact, the exact situation in America. In 2014 1.5 million sheltered homeless people were counted. In New York alone there are 114,000 homeless children and on Skid Row volunteers have estimated that there are 275 homeless people in only eight square blocks. These grotesque figures are even harder to read when we know that there are millions of vacant properties in America.

Cuba is economically a poor country, but this is misleading. Despite sanctions, blockades and natural disasters Cuba has provided its citizens with a roof over their heads, free healthcare (one of the best in the world), free education for all and enough nutritious food for everyone. Whilst in America, the richest country in the world, cannot provide a single one of these things and has subjected half of all Americans to a life of poverty, whilst making war zones out of other countries as it goes along.

SPIRIT OF CUBA

One of the most ignorant things about the video is the condescending way in which it approaches the Cuban people. In the same breath that they applaud the people of Cuba as the nicest people they’ve ever met, they soon suggest that if they support the country they live in, they must also be the least intelligent. The video portrays the people as kind but passive victims of the cruel regime that they are subjected to live under. They are kind, but ultimately, it is suggested that they live a life of misery. To perpetuate this grotesque representation of the Cuban people, the guys from TPUSA purposefully refrain from documenting the vast array of wonderful Cuban culture that exists in all corners of the country. From music to dance, the Cuban people have no shortage of their own culture, entertainment and cuisine. One of the remarkable things about Cuba is how it provided free training for ballet, an art form usually restricted to the elite in the West which provided black citizens, previously the poorest and subject to racism, with many opportunities and a way to engage in culture that they never had access to before. Free art and education and free public performances have also ensured mass public engagement in Cuban culture. Daily in Cuba, you can find music in the streets, shows, great nightlife and so on and so forth. There are struggles in Cuba but to assume that the people are miserable is not only patronising but also inaccurate. The vast amount of people that live in Cuba realise that any difficulties that occur in their country are not because socialism does not work but are because socialism is being suppressed directly by embargos and sanctions from the Capitalists outside.

SAFETY AND POLICE IN CUBA

How ironic it is to have to talk about troublesome or brutal police forces in Cuba, after the murder of George Floyd, an African American who was publicly lynched by American police forces in broad daylight. This kind of police brutality is commonplace in America. So common that we have seen weeklong riots and protests against police forces. The crew of TPUSA film (or stage) police forces evicting them out of their lodging. However, it is so absurdly obscure, there are so many questions as to how if the police were there with arms, they suddenly disappeared 2 minutes later, the utter ridiculousness of the scene is astounding and the only merit the scene has is that it will provoke a good chuckle. We are told there are a dozen men brandishing weapons, and our narrator explains over some highly ominous music that they were obviously about to be faced with confrontation. However, no such confrontation occurred and absolutely no more is said about the armed guards whatsoever. The cast simply packs their bags and leaves the building without any trouble…perhaps the guards were just a figment of their imagination. It is SO convenient that out of all his accusations about how they were treated this encounter is the only part of the trip they failed to have captured on camera.

CONCLUSION

The video concludes with a sweeping statement that their time in Cuba has shown them that “this is what happens when you live outside of the American Constitution”. This statement is entirely meaningless! The audacity they have to talk about the denial of human rights when capitalism and America have made a joke out of the notion ‘human rights’ as it cannot even provide the basics of healthcare, housing and employment. Nothing highlights this fact more than the events sweeping the country at this current time. Why is it that we never see these people going to countries that have been exploited and infected with the disease of Capitalism and Imperialism, where poverty is rampant, hunger is a widespread crisis and basic human rights such as water, health care are not accessible to the masses? You wouldn’t even have to step outside of America to find nearly all these conditions, but they can also be found in almost every capitalist country on the Globe. This is not an accident; it is not a broken system. This is the way Capitalism was designed and how it survives. These bourgeois demagogues at Turning Point USA are not anti-poverty, they are not pro-human rights, they are not pro-liberty, all they are is pro-capital. The poor are a burden to the elites at TPUSA, they are a nuisance and yet an integral part of the machine they need to keep turning. In the richest country in the world where not even healthcare is guaranteed unless you’ve got the cash, you will see the homeless, the decaying buildings, unprecedented police brutality all for the sake of capital. If TPUSA can sit there and accept this, love this, then you may be proud to be an American TPUSA, but you haven’t the foggiest of what it means to be human. This organisation is openly anti-worker, it is openly biased, it is openly ignorant. So why have they found themselves in Cuba? The truth of it all can be summed up as thus; in the crumbling world of the American Empire, the bourgeoise are beginning to tremble, “Let the ruling class tremble at a Communist Revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains” (Marx) Cuba makes the ruling class tremble! Let them tremble! Viva la revolucion!

RED YOUTH.

READ MORE ON CUBA!

Socialist Cuba shows real international solidarity during Covid-19 outbreak

Reflections on a first-time visit to Cuba

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Leading by example: socialist Cuba in the Covid-19 pandemic

 By: HELEN YAFFE

The response of socialist Cuba to the global SARS-CoV2 pandemic has been outstanding both domestically and for its international contribution. That a small island nation, subjected to hundreds of years of colonialism and imperialism and, since the Revolution of 1959, six decades of the criminal United States blockade, can play such an exemplary role is due to Cuba’s socialist system. The central plan directs national resources according to a development strategy which prioritises human welfare and community participation, not private profit. HELEN YAFFE reports.

Cuban authorities reacted quickly to Chinese information about SARS-CoV2 at the start of the year. In January, authorities established a National Intersectoral Commission for Covid-19, updated their National Action Plan for Epidemics, initiated surveillance at ports, airports and marines, gave Covid-19 response training for border and immigration officials and drafted a ‘prevention and control’ plan. Cuban specialists travelled to China to learn about the new coronavirus’ behaviour and commissions of the government’s Scientific Council began to work on combating the coronavirus. Throughout February, medical facilities were reorganised, and staff trained to control the spread of the virus domestically. In early March a science and biotechnology group was created to develop Covid-19 treatments, tests, vaccines, diagnostics and other innovations. From 10 March inbound travellers were tested for Covid-19. All of this was before the virus was detected on the island.

On 11 March, three Italian tourists were confirmed as the first cases of Covid-19 in Cuba. Cuban healthcare authorities stepped into action, organising neighbourhood meetings, conducting door-to-door health checks, testing, contact tracing and quarantining. This has been accompanied by education programmes and daily information updates. The population went under ‘lockdown’ on 20 March, required to abide by social distancing rules and wear facemasks when leaving homes on essential business. Business taxes and domestic debts were suspended, those hospitalised had 50% of their salaries guaranteed and low-income households qualified for social assistance and family assistance schemes, with food, medicine and other goods delivered to their homes. Workshops nationwide began to produce masks, bolstered by a grassroots movement of home production, and community mutual aid groups organised to assist the vulnerable and elderly with shopping for food as long queues became the norm. On 24 March, Cuba closed its borders to all non-residents, a tough decision given the importance of tourism revenue to the state. Anyone entering the country was required to spend a fortnight in supervised quarantine, under a testing regime. Civil Defence Councils in every province and municipality were activated.

In April payment of utility bills was suspended, likewise local and regional transport, while transport was guaranteed for medical staff and other essential workers. Havana and other cities were disinfected. Twenty communities in six provinces were placed under total or partial quarantine. A Cuban-designed mobile phone app, ‘Virtual Screening’, went live with an opt-in application allowing users to submit an epidemiological survey for statistical analysis by the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP). Measures were taken to keep the virus out of prisons, with active screening twice daily and no reported cases by 23 April.

By 24 May, a Cuban population of 11.2 million had reported 82 deaths and fewer than 2,000 confirmed cases; 173 confirmed cases per million people, compared to 3,907 per million in Britain. Not one healthcare worker had died, although 92 had been infected by mid-April.

Cuba’s exemplary response is based on five features of its socialist development. First, its single, universal, free public healthcare system which seeks prevention over cure, with a network of family doctors responsible for community health who live among their patients. Second, Cuba’s biopharma industry, which is driven by public health needs, produces nearly 70% of the medicines consumed domestically and exports to 50 countries.1 Third, the island’s experience in civil defence and disaster risk reduction, usually in response to climate-related and natural disasters. Its internationally applauded capacity to mobilise national resources to protect human life is achieved by a network of grassroots organisations which facilitate communication and community action. Fourth, the island’s experience with infectious disease (border) controls. For decades, Cuba has sent healthcare professionals to countries which have infectious diseases long-since eradicated on the island and has invited tens of thousands of foreigners from those countries to study in Cuba. It has well-developed procedures for quarantining people (re)entering the island. Fifth, Cuban medical internationalism, which has seen 400,000 healthcare professionals providing free healthcare for underserved populations in 164 countries; some 28,000 medical personnel were serving in 59 countries when the pandemic began. By late May, an additional 2,300 healthcare specialists from Cuba’s Henry Reeve medical brigades, specialists in epidemiological and disaster response, had gone to 24 countries to treat patients with Covid-19.

A commitment to high-standard public healthcare

In 1959, Cuba had some 6,000 doctors but half of them soon left; only 12 of the 250 Cuban teachers at the University of Havana’s Medical School stayed. There was only one rural hospital. The revolutionary government faced the challenge of providing a high-standard public healthcare system almost from scratch. To that end, in 1960, the Rural Medical Service (RMS) was established and over the next decade hundreds of newly graduated doctors were posted in remote areas.2 RMS physicians served as health educators as well as clinicians. National programmes were established for infectious disease control and prevention. From 1962 a national immunisation programme provided all Cubans with eight vaccinations free of charge. Infectious diseases were rapidly reduced, then eliminated. By 1970, the number of rural hospitals had reached 53. Not until 1976 was the pre-revolutionary ratio of doctors to citizens restored. By then, health services were available nationwide and indicators had improved significantly. A new model of community-based polyclinics was established in 1974 giving Cuban communities local access to primary care specialists. Training and policy emphasised the impact of biological, social, cultural, economic and environmental factors on patients. National programmes focused on maternal and child health, infectious diseases, chronic non-communicable diseases, and older adult health.

In 1983, the Family Doctor and Nurse Plan was introduced nationwide. Under this system, family doctor practices were set up in neighbourhoods, with either the doctor or the nurse living with their family above the practice, so medical attention is available 24 hours a day. Family doctors coordinate medical care and lead health promotion efforts, emphasising prevention and epidemiological analysis. They rely on history-taking and clinical skills, reserving costly high-tech procedures for patients requiring them, holding patient appointments in the mornings and making house calls in the afternoons. The teams carry out neighbourhood health diagnosis, melding clinical medicine with public health, and individualised ‘Continuous Assessment and Risk Evaluation’ (CARE) for their patients. Family doctors and nurses are also employed in large workplaces and schools, child day-care centres, homes for senior citizens and so on.

By 2005, Cubans had one doctor for every 167 people, the highest ratio in the world. Cuba now has 449 policlinics, each attending to 20,000 to 40,000 people and serving as a hub for 15 to 40 family doctors. There are more than 10,000 family doctors spread evenly throughout the island.

Primary Health Care as the backbone of Cuba’s response

An article in April 2020 Medicc Review describes Cuba’s primary health care system as a ‘powerful weapon’ against Covid-19.3 ‘Without early access to rapid tests, massive testing was clearly not on the cards as a first strategic option. However, primary health care was.’ Cuban authorities ensured that everyone in the healthcare system, including support staff, received Covid-19 training before the virus was detected. Senior medics from each province were trained at Cuba’s world-famous hospital for tropical diseases, Instituto Pedro Kourí. On returning to their provinces they then trained colleagues in the second tier – hospital and polyclinics directors. ‘Then they went on to the third tier: training for family doctors and nurses themselves, lab and radiology technicians, administrative personnel, and also housekeeping staff, ambulance drivers and orderlies. Anyone who might come into contact with a patient’, explained a polyclinic director, Dr Mayra Garcia, cited in the Medicc article.

Each polyclinic also trained non-health sector people in their geographical area, in workplaces, small business owners, people renting homes, especially to foreigners, or managing childcare facilities, telling them how to recognise symptoms and take protective measures. Senior medical professionals in the polyclinics were sent to family doctors’ offices as reinforcement. Medical staff were posted in local hotels to provide 24-hour detection and healthcare to foreigners residing there. Walk-in emergency services were re-organised to separate anyone with respiratory symptoms and to provide 24-hour assessment. Non-Covid-19 related appointments were postponed where possible, or shifted to home visits for priority groups.

The Medicc article underscores the importance of the CARE model for combating Covid-19. All Cubans are already categorised into four groups: apparently healthy, with risk factors for disease, ill, and in recovery or rehabilitation. Doctors know the health characteristics and needs of the community they serve. ‘The CARE model also automatically alerts us to people who are more susceptible to respiratory infections, the people whose chronic diseases are the risk factors most commonly associated with complications in Covid-19 patients’ explained Dr Alejandro Fadragas.

Throughout Cuba, CDRs, or street committees, organised public health information meetings for family doctors and nurses to advise neighbourhoods about the pandemic. Once the first cases were confirmed, the family doctors daily house visits were extended and became the ‘single most important tool’ for active case detection, to get ahead of the virus.4 Some 28,000 medical students joined them going door to door to detect symptoms. This procedure means the whole population can be surveyed.

People with symptoms are remitted to their local polyclinic for rapid evaluation. Those suspected of having Covid-19 are sent on to one of the new municipal isolation centres established throughout the island. They must remain for a minimum of 14 days, receiving testing and medical attention. If the case appears to be another respiratory illness, they return home but must stay indoors for at least 14 days, followed up in primary care. Hospitals are reserved for patients who really need them.

Primary healthcare professionals are also responsible for rapid contact tracing for all suspected cases; those contacts are tested and must isolate at home. In addition, the homes and communal entrances of patients sent to isolation centres are disinfected by ‘rapid response’ teams consisting of polyclinic directors and vice directors, alongside family members. Family doctors’ offices are also disinfected daily. Meanwhile, workers in hotels where foreigners are lodged are checked daily by medical staff. The polyclinic provides them with PPE and disinfectants. Polyclinics and family doctors are also responsible for 14 days follow-up for Covid-19 patients discharged from hospitals.

Home-grown medicine

The Cuban treatment protocol for Covid-19 patients includes 22 drugs, most produced domestically. The focus has been placed on prevention, with measures to improve innate immunity. Early on the potential of Cuba’s anti-viral drug Heberon, an interferon Alfa 2b human recombinant, was identified. The biotech product has proven effective for viral diseases including hepatitis types B and C, shingles, HIV-AIDS, and dengue. Produced in Cuba since 1986 and in China since 2003 through a Cuban-Chinese joint venture, ChangHeber, in January 2020 it was selected by the Chinese National Health Commission among 30 treatments for Covid-19 patients. It soon topped their list of anti-viral drugs, having demonstrated good results.

The drug has most efficacy when used preventatively and at early stages of infection. In Wuhan, China, nearly 3,000 medical personnel received Heberon as a preventative measure to boost their immune response; none of them contracted the virus. Meanwhile, 50% of another 3,300 medics who were not given the drug did get Covid-19. Interferon Alfa 2b is recommended in the medical protocols of several countries, by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Johns Hopkins Medical Centre and the World Journal of Paediatrics among others. The product was already registered in Algeria, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Jamaica, Thailand, Venezuela, Vietnam, Yemen and Uruguay. By mid-April requests for its use had been received from some 80 countries and it was being administered by Cuba’s Henry Reeve medical brigades treating Covid-19 patients overseas. On 14 April it was reported that 93.4% of Covid-19 patients in Cuba had been treated with Heberon and only 5.5% of those had reached a serious state. The mortality rate reported by that date was 2.7% but for patients treated with Heberon it was just 0.9%.

Other Cuban medicines reporting promising results include:

  • Biomodulina T, an immunomodulator which stimulates the immune systems of vulnerable individuals and has been used in Cuba for 12 years, principally to treat recurrent respiratory infections in the elderly.
  • The monoclonal antibody Itolizumab (Anti-CD6), used to treat lymphomas and leukemia, administered to Covid-19 patients in a severe or critical condition to reduce the secretion of inflammatory cytokines, which cause the massive flow of substances and liquid in the lungs.
  • CIGB-258, a new immunomodulatory peptide designed to reduce inflammatory processes. By 22 May, 52 Covid-19 patients had been treated with CIGB-258; among those in a severe stage, the survival rate was 92%. For those in a critical condition the survival rate was 78%.

Blood plasma from recovered patients.

Cuban medical scientists are producing their own version of Kaletra, an antiretroviral combination of Lopinavir and Ritonavir, used to treat HIV/AIDS. Domestic production will eliminate costly imports from capitalist big pharma and subject to the US blockade. Meanwhile, the homeopathic medicine Prevengho-Vir, which is believed to strengthen the immune system has been distributed for free to everyone on the island. Medical scientists are evaluating two vaccines to stimulate the immune system and four candidates for specific preventative vaccine for Covid-19 are under design.

By early May, Cuban scientists had adapted SUMA, a Cuban computerised diagnostic system, to detect antibodies for Covid-19 rapidly, allowing for mass testing at low cost. ‘The objective is to find new cases and then intervene, isolate, seek contacts, and take all possible measures to ensure that Cuba continues as it is now’, said Cuba’s top epidemiologist, Francisco Durán during his daily televised update on 11 May. This means the island no longer relies on donated tests or expensive ones purchased internationally. Cuba’s comparatively high rate of testing is set to soar.

BioCubaFarma is mass producing facemasks, personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical and sanitary products, as well as coordinating state enterprises and self-employed workers to repair vital equipment, such as breathing ventilators. Cuban efforts to purchase new ventilators have been obstructed by the US blockade which, for almost 60 years, has included food and medicines among its prohibitions.5

Leading the global fight

On 18 March, Cuba allowed the cruise ship MS Braemar, with 684 mostly British passengers and five confirmed Covid-19 cases, to dock in Havana after a week stranded at sea, having been refused entry by Curacao, Barbados, Bahamas, Dominican Republic and the United States. Cuban authorities facilitated their safe transfer to charter flights for repatriation. Three days later, a 53-strong Cuban medical brigade arrived in Lombardy, Italy, at that time the epicentre of the pandemic, to assist local healthcare authorities. The medics were members of Cuba’s Henry Reeve Contingent, which received a WHO Public Health Prize in 2017 in recognition for providing free emergency medical aid. It was the first Cuban medical mission to Europe. By 21 May, over 2,300 Cuban healthcare professionals had gone to 24 countries to treat Covid-19 patients, including a second brigade in northern Italy and another to the European principality Andorra.

The threat of a good example

Cuban medical internationalism began in 1960, but the export of healthcare professionals was not a source of state revenue until the mid-2000s with the famous ‘oil for doctors’ programme under which 30,000 Cuban healthcare workers served in Venezuela. US President Bush’s administration responded by attempting to sabotage Cuba’s medical export earnings with the Cuban Medical Parole Programme. This induced Cuban professionals, who had paid no tuition costs, graduated debt free and voluntarily signed contracts to work abroad assisting underserved populations, to abandon missions in return for US citizenship. President Obama kept the Programme, even while praising Cuban medics combating Ebola in West Africa. It was ended in his last days in office in January 2017.

The Trump administration has renewed attacks on Cuban medical missions, fuelling their expulsion from Brazil, Ecuador and Bolivia, and leaving millions of people in those countries without healthcare. The motivation was the same; to block revenues to a nation which has survived 60 years of US hostility. In the context of the pandemic, when the US government’s wilful failures have resulted in tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths, socialist Cuba’s global leadership has represented the threat of a good example. Lashing out, the US State Department has labelled Cuban medics ‘slaves’, claiming that the Cuban government seeks revenues and political influence. It has pressured beneficiary countries to reject Cuban assistance in their time of urgent need. These attacks are particularly vile; it is likely that Cuba is receiving no payment, beyond costs, for this assistance.

Meanwhile, the criminal US blockade, which has been punitively tightened under Trump, is preventing the purchase of urgently needed ventilators for Cuba’s own Covid-19 patients. A Chinese donation to Cuba of medical equipment was blocked because the airline carrying the goods would not travel to Cuba for fear of US fines. There is now a growing international demand for an end to all sanctions, not least against Cuba which has shown global leadership in combating the pandemic. We must all add our voices to this demand. There are also calls from organisations worldwide to nominate Cuba’s Henry Reeve Contingents for a Nobel Peace Prize. What is clear from its history of principled medical internationalism is that, with recognition or without, revolutionary Cuba will continue to fight for global healthcare wherever its citizens, and its example, can reach.


FIGHT RACISM! FIGHT IMPERIALISM! 276 June/July 2020

1. See Helen Yaffe, ‘Cuban medical science in the service of humanity’, FRFI 275.

2. See C. William Keck and Gail A. Reed, ‘The Curious Case of Cuba’, American Journal of Public Health, 2012.

3. Tania L. Aguilar-Guerra and Gail Reed, ‘Mobilizing Primary Health Care: Cuba’s Powerful Weapon against COVID-19’, Medicc Review, April 2020. https://mediccreview.org/wp-content/ uploads/2020/05/MR-April2020-1.pdf

4. ibid.

5. Rock around the Blockade, the RCG’s campaign in solidarity with socialist Cuba, contributed £600 to a Cubans in the UK fundraising campaign to purchase the parts the Cubans need to build ventilators.

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Washington’s twisted hypocrisy over Cuban embassy terrorist attack

RATB

At 2.10am on 30 April, the Cuban embassy in Washington was attacked by a hail of machine gun fire. 32 bullets from an AK-47 peppered the entrance to the building and a statue of Jose Marti. No one was injured, though seven people were inside the building. The terrorist was Alexander Alazo Baró, a Cuban-born man who moved to Mexico in 2003 before seeking asylum in the US in 2010. The attack was carefully planned: Alazo reconnoitred the embassy two weeks before; he draped himself in a US flag to avoid being gunned down by police; he attempted to burn a Cuban flag on which was scrawled ‘Trump 2020’. Instead of cooperating and condemning this terrorist attack on Cuba’s diplomatic mission, the US government has added Cuba to a list of countries that are not cooperating with US anti-terrorism activities.

The US shelters violent anti-Cuban terrorist groups and individuals, and sponsors propaganda against the Cuban state. This is the second time the Cuban embassy in Washington has been attacked, the first being the 1979 bombing by anti-Cuban terrorist group Omega 7. According to US media, Alazo claims he received psychiatric treatment on his family’s recommendation after hearing voices and that he acted from fear of non-existent ‘organised Cuban criminal groups’ and the Cuban government which he believed were pursuing him; court documents record that he had lived in his car for nine months and had even visited the offices of law enforcement agencies to make allegations that the Cuban government wanted to kill him. Following the attack, the Cuban government immediately sought answers as to what steps were taken by US agencies in response to Alazo’s alarming behaviour leading up to the attack. The US State Department waited almost five days before speaking to Cuban authorities about the event. At the time of writing, they have still made no public statement, and have stonewalled Cuban attempts to seek answers about the attack and reassurances that the US will publicly denounce it. Such denunciation and cooperation would be a minimum requirement for the US to fulfil international obligations to protect diplomatic missions on its soil. Compare: when the US embassy in Baghdad was stormed by protesters on 31 December 2019, the US’s apoplectic reaction led to the assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.

On 12 May, after almost two weeks of silence from the US, Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, publicly denounced the US’s lack of cooperation and questioned its failure to apprehend Alazo in advance of the attack: ‘We must ask ourselves and the United States government how an individual with normal, religious, peaceful behaviour can be transformed into someone with mental problems who, with scant economic resources, becomes the owner of an assault rifle, moves, travels from one state to another within the country and launches an armed attack on a diplomatic headquarters in the nation’s capital.’

Alazo had lived in Florida where he was associated with the Doral Jesus Worship Centre, known to have connections with right-wing Cuban exile organisations. There he had come into contact with Pastor Frank López, an associate of Senator Marco Rubio – a perennial supporter of US imperialism’s efforts to overthrow the Cuban state and the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela. Alazo is also connected on Facebook to anti-Cuban reactionaries who use this platform to incite terrorism and assassination against Cuban officials. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary (which the US refuses to provide), it appears Alazo was radicalised and incited to commit a terrorist attack by extreme right-wing members of Cuban exile organisations sheltered in the US, endorsed by US administration officials, encouraged by US foreign policy and which operate openly on US social media sites. ‘I directly affirm that this attack against the Cuban embassy, which is of a terrorist nature, is a direct result of an official policy of instigating hatred and violence against my country’, Rodriguez stated.

In a supremely twisted act, on the same day as Rodriguez’ statement, the US State Department notified Congress that Cuba (along with Venezuela, Iran, North Korea and Syria) is certified under Section 40A (a) of the Arms Export Control Act as ‘not fully cooperating’ with US anti-terrorism efforts. Cuba was removed from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list in 2015 under the Obama administration; Trump administration officials have signalled that they intend to reverse this due to Cuba’s continued support for Venezuela’s government (spuriously accused of ‘narco-terrorism’) and for giving refuge to Colombian National Liberation Army leaders when Cuba brokered peace talks with the Colombian government. Countries on the list are prohibited from receiving US economic aid and various exports, and the law commits the US government to opposing loans to them in institutions such as the IMF. This is only the latest hypocrisy of the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism and the Trump administration’s relentless efforts to bring down Cuba.

By: Will Harney

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Trump Hammers Cuba While Cuba Cures the Sick

by MEDEA BENJAMIN

A team of 85 Cuban doctors and nurses arrived in Peru on June 3 to help the Andean nation tackle the coronavirus pandemic. That same day, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced another tightening of the sanctions screws. This time he targeted seven Cuban entities, including Fincimex, one of the principal financial institutions handling remittances to the country. Also targeted was Marriott International, which was ordered to cease operations in Cuba, and other companies in the tourism sector, an industry that constitutes 10 percent of Cuba’s GDP and has been devastated globally by the pandemic.

It seems that the more Cuba helps the world, the more it gets hammered by the Trump administration. While Cuba has endured a U.S. embargo for nearly 60 years, Trump has revved up the stakes with a “maximum pressure” strategy that includes more than 90 economic measures placed against the nation since January 2019. Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s ambassador to Canada, called the measures “unprecedented in their level of aggression and scope” and designed to “deprive the country of income for the development of the economy.” Since its inception, the embargo has cost Cuba well over $130 billion dollars, according to a 2018 estimate. In 2018-2019 alone, the economic impact was $4 billion, a figure that does not include the impact of a June 2019 Trump administration travel ban aimed at harming the tourist industry.

While the embargo is supposed to have humanitarian exemptions, the health sector has not been spared. Cuba is known worldwide for its universal public healthcare system, but the embargo has led to shortages of medicines and medical supplies, particularly for patients with AIDS and cancer. Doctors at Cuba’s National Institute of Oncology have had to amputate the lower limbs of children with cancer because the American companies that have a monopoly on the technology can’t sell it to Cuba. In the midst of the pandemic, the U.S. blocked a donation of facemasks and COVID-19 diagnostic kits from Chinese billionaire Jack Ma.

Not content to sabotage Cuba’s domestic health sector, the Trump administration has been attacking Cuba’s international medical assistance, from the teams fighting coronavirus today to those who have travelled all over the world since the 1960’s providing services to underserved communities in 164 countries. The U.S. goal is to cut the island’s income now that the provision of these services has surpassed tourism as Cuba’s number one source of revenue. Labeling these volunteer medical teams “victims of human trafficking” because part of their salaries goes to pay for Cuba’s healthcare system, the Trump administration convinced Ecuador, Bolivia and Brazil to end their cooperation agreements with Cuban doctors. Pompeo then applauded the leaders of these countries for refusing “to turn a blind eye” to Cuba’s alleged abuses. The triumphalism was short lived: a month after that quote, the Bolsonaro government in Brazil begged Cuba to resend its doctors amid the pandemic. U.S. allies all over the world, including in Qatar, Kuwait, South Africa, Italy, Honduras and Peru have gratefully accepted this Cuban aid. So great is the admiration for Cuban doctors that a global campaign has sprung up to award them the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Trump administration is not just libelling doctors, but the whole country.  In May, the State Department named Cuba as one of five countries “not cooperating fully” in U.S. counterterrorism efforts. The main pretext was the nation’s hosting of members of Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN). Yet even the State Department’s own press release notes that ELN members are in Cuba as a result of “peace negotiation protocols.” Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez called the charges dishonest and “facilitated by the ungrateful attitude of the Colombian government” that broke off talks with the ELN in 2019. It should also be noted that Ecuador was the original host of the ELN-Colombia talks, but Cuba was asked to step in after the Moreno government abdicated its responsibilities in 2018.

The classification of Cuba as “not cooperating” with counterterrorism could lead to Cuba being placed on the U.S. State Sponsors of Terrorism list, which carries tougher penalties. This idea was floated by a senior Trump administration official to Reuters last month. Cuba had been on this list from 1982 to 2015, despite that fact that, according to former State Department official Jason Blazakis, “it was legally determined that Cuba was not actively engaged in violence that could be defined as terrorism under any credible definition of the word.”

Of course, the United States is in no position to claim that other countries do not cooperate in counterterrorism. For years, the U.S. harbored Luis Posada Carriles, mastermind of the bombing of a Cuban civilian airplane in 1976 that killed 73 people. More recently, the U.S. has yet to even comment on the April 30 attack on the Cuban Embassy in Washington D.C., when a man fired on the building with an automatic rifle.

While there are certainly right-wing ideologues like Secretary Pompeo and Senator Rubio orchestrating Trump’s maximum pressure campaign, for Trump himself, Cuba is all about the U.S. elections. His hard line against the tiny island nation may have helped swing the Florida gubernatorial campaign during the midterm elections, yet it’s not clear that this will serve him well in a presidential year. According to conventional wisdom and polls, younger Cuban-Americans – who like most young people, don’t tend to vote in midterms – are increasingly skeptical of the U.S. embargo, and overall, Cuba isn’t the overriding issue for Cuban-Americans. Trump won the Cuban-American vote in 2016, but Hillary Clinton took between 41 and 47% percent of that electorate, significantly higher than any Democrat in decades.

As an electoral strategy, these are signs that Trump’s aggression towards Cuba may not pay off. Of course, the strategy might not be just about votes but also about financing and ensuring that the Cuban-American political machinery is firmly behind Trump.

The strategy has certainly not paid off when it comes to achieving the goal of regime change. The Trump administration is arguably farther from achieving regime change in Cuba now than the U.S. has ever been in over 60 years of intervention. During Trump’s tenure, Cuba calmly transitioned from the presidency of Raul Castro to that of Miguel Díaz-Canel. In 2019, Cuban voters overwhelmingly ratified a new constitution. These aren’t signs of a country on the brink of collapse.

All Trump has achieved is making life more difficult for the island’s 11 million inhabitants, who, like people all over the world, have been battered by the economic impact from coronavirus. Tourism has collapsed. Income from remittances has tanked (both because of new U.S. restrictions and less income in the hands of the Cuban diaspora). Venezuela, once a major benefactor, is mired in its own crisis. But Cuba’s economy, which was forecast to contract by 3.7% before the pandemic hit, has been through worse, particularly during the 1991 to 2000 economic crisis known as the “special period” after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

A change in the White House would bring some relief, although Joe Biden has staked a rather ambivalent position, saying he would restore relations as President Obama did, but adding that he was open to using sanctions as punishment for Cuba’s support to the Venezuelan government.

It’s clear that from now until November, and perhaps for four more years, the Trump administration will pummel its island neighbor. Cuba will continue to seek global condemnation on the blockade (the 2019 UN vote was 187 against vs 3 in favor—the U.S., Brazil and Israel) and continue to show what a good neighbor looks like. It responded to these latest provocations in the way that only Cuba does: with more global solidarity, sending Covid-19 healing brigades to Guinea and Kuwait a day after the June 3 round of sanctions. A total of 26 countries now have Cuban medical personnel caring for their sick.

That is the kind of goodwill that money just can’t buy and it greatly presents a stark contrast to the Trump administration’s shameful behavior during the pandemic. Back in March, as Cuban doctors arrived in Italy, former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa tweeted: “One day we will tell our children that, after decades of movies and propaganda, at the moment of truth, when humanity needed help at a time when the great powers were in hiding, Cuban doctors began to arrive, without asking anything in return.”

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US Senate Initiates Legislation Which Would Categorize Cuba’s Medical Missions as “Human Trafficking Operations”

In an act of pure hypocrisy and obsessive cruelty, GOP Senators Marco Rubio, Rick Scott and Ted Cruz joined together to penalize developing nations who seek to take advantage of Cuba’s hands-on humanitarian work.

By Raul Diego

In what has already become a parody of a shrinking empire’s habit of clutching at the vestiges of its Cold-War era mistakes, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and fellow war-hungry reactionaries in the United States Senate, Rick Scott (R-FL) and Ted Cruz ((R-TX) have put a bill on the Senate floor meant to undercut Cuba’s medical missions program, which sends trained medics all around the developing world to assist in general healthcare services and emergencies in more than 60 countries.

The bill, if passed, will require the U.S. State Department to publish a list of nations contracting with the Cuban government for their medical services and consider that as a factor to include said nations in the Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report; opening the door for further economic sanctions and other measures against any country on that list.

class-action lawsuit brought against the D.C.-based Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in 2019 by four defectors out of the 50,000 Cuban doctors who participate in the program alleged that the “Mais Medicos” program run by the Brazilian government from 2013 to 2017 was an “illegal, forced labor enterprise,” which profited from the Cuban medical workforce in collusion with the Castro government, whom they accused of pocketing money they claim should have gone to them.

The lawsuit was filed in the Southern District Court Division of Miami, Florida – a bastion of anti-Castro sentiment and a republican stronghold led by generations of Cuban exiles with entrenched Cold War politics. Ramona Matos Rodriguez, Tatiana Carballo Gomez, Fidel Cruz Rodriguez, and Russela Margarita Rivero Sarabia are the plaintiffs named in court documents accusing PAHO of human trafficking and seek full compensation for what the organization allegedly paid for their services.

Coinciding with the filing that September, U.S. officials publicly urged “nations to stop using Cuba’s medical missions” and called the international medical programs a form of “modern slavery” following statements made by Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro a year earlier on the eve of assuming office when his invectives caused Cuba to withdraw thousands of doctors from the South American nation, who were serving that country’s most marginalized communities.

The political spat may have ended up costing thousands of Brazilian lives given the severity of that nation’s COVID-19 toll, which reportedly reached 1 million cases and 50,000 deaths yesterday. The Cuban government has deployed over 1,400 doctors to fight the pandemic and has been one of the brightest hopes for the world’s most voiceless nations, while the United States has targeted nations fighting and struggling with COVID-19 with crippling sanctions.

The Height of Hypocrisy

Cuba’s free healthcare system is funded largely by these international medical assistance programs and provides critical financial support for medical research projects in the Caribbean nation, which have yielded some important breakthroughs over the years and boasts one of the world’s lowest infant mortality rates, despite a multi-decade embargo imposed on the nation by the world’s most powerful economy.

The “Cut Profits to the Cuban Regime Act” proposed by Senators Rubio, Scott, and Cruz represent yet another attempt to sabotage Cuba’s historic efforts for self-determination in a political and economic landscape dominated by predatory capitalism. But, it is especially egregious when we consider the history of one of the bill’s sponsors, former Florida governor Rick Scott, who administered the largest case of Medicare fraud in the history of the United States, siphoning over $300 million into his own personal bank account.

Trump’s pick to lead the GOP’s healthcare reform, pled the fifth no less than 75 times during his deposition in the year 2000, including to the simple question of whether or not he was “employed.” Scott would reach a settlement with the federal government before it pursued criminal charges against his company Columbia/HCA, that eventually resulted in a $1.7 billion-dollar fine over convictions involving investors and physicians who bought equity stakes in the company and defrauded senior citizens who depended on its 380 hospitals, 200 home health agencies and 130 surgery centers.

Scott was able to walk away largely unscathed, later becoming governor of Florida supplanting termed-out GOP governor Jeb Bush and taking his place in the conveyor belt of arch-conservative, reactionary Cold War Republicans of that state.

The End of Duplicity

The accusations levied by Scott against the Diaz-Canel government in order to justify the absurd bill are the height of hypocrisy, to say the least. The “ultimate Medicare thief” claims that “Cuba is using the coronavirus pandemic for profit at the expense of […] hardworking physicians” and deems “any country that requests medical assistance from Cuba” to be aiding and abetting human trafficking.

The Canadian of Cuban-descent Ted Cruz, for his part, joins the chorus of duplicity and projection by painting Cuba’s genuine efforts to present an alternative to U.S. hegemony for the world’s poorest nations as “a tactic used by Raúl Castro and Miguel Díaz-Canel to exert power and fill government coffers.”

The same dynamic employed in the Cuban embargo, which the United States has enforced against Cuba and any nation doing business with it since the early 1960s, is at play with the bill now a vote in the Senate. As the power and influence of the world’s only superpower begins to wane and the imminent reality of capitalism’s total failure to provide for basic human needs like universal healthcare, the sheer political opportunism and crass hypocrisy of legislative proposals like these become more and more transparent.

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Saint Kitts and NevisSt. Kitts and Nevis: Team Unity Leads as Vote Count Continues

St. Kitts and Nevis PM Timothy Harris in Brussels, Belgium, June 10, 2015.

Country’s polls opened Friday to decide the country’s mandate for the next 2020-2025 period.

Team Unity, the coalition led by Saint Kitts and Nevis’ Prime Minister Timothy Harris, has a large lead over Denzil Douglas’ opposition party, winning six out of 11 parliamentary seats so far during the general elections’ ongoing vote count.

RELATED:  Saint Kitts and Nevis General Elections Kicks Off

“Team Unity won enough seats to form a second term of government. Thank you for your support and trust. Our achievements in the first term have been recognized. We will deliver on them again in our second term,” Harris tweeted.

Preliminary results show that Douglas’ Saint Kitts and Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) has won only one seat in parliament so far.

The counting of votes from the general elections held on Friday is still in progress, with two districts to be counted.

Although the Team Unity coalition is projected as the leader of the Caribbean country, it is yet to be seen whether Harris will remain in power or his party will select someone else to take over as Prime Minister.

Kevz Politics@KevzPolitics

#BREAKING – It is 1:21AM across SKN. We are projecting a LIKELY incumbent Team Unity Government – based on the returns received so far; however, due to the fact that Team Unity is a coalition, it remains to be seen whether or not PM Dr Timothy Harris will retain his position156:24 AM – Jun 6, 2020Twitter Ads info and privacy15 people are talking about this

Polls opened Friday to decide the country’s mandate for the next 2020-2025 period. With the official results of these elections, the 11 seats in Parliament will be renewed, eight of them belonging to Saint Kitts Island and three to Nevis Island.

The elections took place with no setbacks and under strict health and hygiene measures, to avoid COVID-19’s new cases.

Nearly 48,000 people took part in the elections, attending by their free will to the 129 polling stations.

“Team Unity’s victory will be resounding,” Harris said Friday as he attended the polls.

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How Che Guevara Taught Cuba to Confront COVID-19

by: DON FITZ

Beginning in December 1951, Ernesto “Che” Guevara took a nine-month break from medical school to travel by motorcycle through Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela. One of his goals was gaining practical experience with leprosy. On the night of his twenty-fourth birthday, Che was at La Colonia de San Pablo in Peru swimming across the river to join the lepers. He walked among six hundred lepers in jungle huts looking after themselves in their own way.

Che would not have been satisfied to just study and sympathize with them – he wanted to be with them and understand their existence. Being in contact with people who were poor and hungry while they were sick transformed Che. He envisioned a new medicine, with doctors who would serve the greatest number people with preventive care and public awareness of hygiene. A few years later, Che joined Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement as a doctor and was among the eighty-one men aboard the Granma as it landed in Cuba on December 2, 1956.

Revolutionary Medicine

After the January 1, 1959, victory that overthrew Fulgencio Batista, the new Cuban constitution included Che’s dream of free medical care for all as a human right. An understanding of the failings of disconnected social systems led the revolutionary government to build hospitals and clinics in underserved parts of the island at the same time that it began addressing crises of literacy, racism, poverty, and housing. Cuba overhauled its clinics both in 1964 and again in 1974 to better link communities and patients. By 1984, Cuba had introduced doctor-nurse teams who lived in the neighborhoods where they had offices (consultorios).

The United States became ever more bellicose, so in 1960 Cubans organized Committees for Defense of the Revolution to defend the country. The committees prepared to move the elderly, disabled, sick, and mentally ill to higher ground if a hurricane approached, thus intertwining domestic health care and foreign affairs, a connection that has been maintained throughout Cuba’s history.

As Cuba’s medical revolution was based on extending medical care beyond the major cities and into the rural communities that needed it the most, it was a logical conclusion to extend that assistance to other nations. The revolutionary government sent doctors to Chile after a 1960 earthquake and a medical brigade in 1963 to Algeria, which was fighting for independence from France. These set the stage for the country’s international medical aid, which grew during the decades and now includes helping treat the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the late 1980s and early ’90s, two disasters threatened the very existence of the country. The first victim of AIDS died in 1986. In December 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed, ending its $5 billion annual subsidy, disrupting international commerce, and sending the Cuban economy into a free fall that exacerbated the AIDS epidemic. A perfect storm for AIDS infection appeared on the horizon. The HIV infection rate for the Caribbean region was second only to southern Africa, where a third of a million Cubans had recently been during the Angolan wars. The embargo on the island reduced the availability of drugs (including those for HIV/AIDS), made existing pharmaceuticals outrageously expensive, and disrupted the financial infrastructures used for drug purchases. Desperately needing funds, Cuba opened the floodgate of tourism.

The government drastically reduced services in all areas except two: education and health care. Its research institutes developed Cuba’s own diagnostic test for HIV by 1987. Over twelve million tests were completed by 1993. By 1990, when gay people had become the island’s primary HIV victims, homophobia was officially challenged in schools. Condoms were provided for free at doctor’s offices and, despite the expense, so were antiretroviral drugs.

Cuba’s united and well-planned effort to cope with HIV/AIDS paid off. At the same time that Cuba had two hundred AIDS cases, New York City (with about the same population) had forty-three thousand cases. Despite having only a small fraction of the wealth and resources of the United States, Cuba had overcome the devastating effects of the U.S. blockade and had implemented an AIDS program superior to that of the country seeking to destroy it. During this Special Period, Cubans experienced longer lives and lower infant mortality rates in comparison to the United States. Cuba had inspired healers throughout the world to believe that a country with a coherent and caring medical system can thrive, even against tremendous odds.

COVID-19 Hits Cuba

Overcoming the HIV/AIDS and Special Period crises prepared Cuba for COVID-19. Aware of the intensity of the pandemic, Cuba knew that it had two inseparable responsibilities: to take care of its own with a comprehensive program and to share its capabilities internationally.

The government immediately carried out a task that proved very difficult in a market-driven economy –altering the equipment of nationalized factories (which usually made school uniforms) to manufacture masks. These provided an ample supply for Cuba by the middle of April 2020, while the United States, with its enormous productive capacity, was still suffering a shortage.

Discussions at the highest levels of the Cuban Ministry of Public Health drew up the national policy. There would need to be massive testing to determine who had been infected. Infected persons would need to be quarantined while ensuring that they had food and other necessities. Contact tracing would be used to determine who else might be exposed. Medical staff would need to go door to door to check on the health of every citizen. Consultorio staff would give special attention to everyone in the neighborhood who might be high risk.

By March 2, Cuba had instituted the Novel Coronavirus Plan for Prevention and Control. Within four days, it expanded the plan to include taking the temperature of and possibly isolating infected incoming travelers. These occurred before Cuba’s first confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis on March 11. Cuba had its first confirmed COVID-19 fatality by March 22, when there were thirty-five confirmed cases, almost one thousand patients being observed in hospitals, and over thirty thousand people under surveillance at home. The next day it banned the entry of nonresident foreigners, which took a deep bite into the country’s tourism revenue.

That was the day that Cuba’s Civil Defense went on alert to respond rapidly to COVID-19 and the Havana Defense Council decided that there was a serious problem in the city’s Vedado district, famous for being the largest home to nontourist foreign visitors who were more likely to have been exposed to the virus. By April 3, the district was closed. As Merriam Ansara witnessed, “anyone with a need to enter or leave must prove that they have been tested and are free of COVID-19.” The Civil Defense made sure stores were supplied and all vulnerable people received regular medical checks.

Vedado had eight confirmed cases, a lot for a small area. Cuban health officials wanted the virus to remain at the “local spread” stage, when it can be traced while going from one person to another. They sought to prevent it from entering the “community spread” stage, when tracing is not possible because it is moving out of control. As U.S. health professionals begged for personal protective equipment and testing in the United States was so sparse that people had to ask to be tested (rather than health workers testing contacts of infected patients), Cuba had enough rapid test kits to trace contacts of persons who had contracted the virus.

During late March and early April, Cuban hospitals were also changing work patterns to minimize contagion. Havana doctors went into Salvador Allende Hospital for fifteen days, staying overnight within an area designated for medical staff. Then they moved to an area separate from patients where they lived for another fifteen days and were tested before returning home. They stayed at home without leaving for another fifteen days and were tested before resuming practice. This forty-five-day period of isolation prevented medical staff from bringing disease to the community via their daily trips to and from work.

The medical system extends from the consultorio to every family in Cuba. Third-, fourth-, and fifth-year medical students are assigned by consultorio doctors to go to specific homes each day. Their tasks include obtaining survey data from residents or making extra visits to the elderly, infants, and those with respiratory problems. These visits gather preventive medicine data that is then taken into account by those in the highest decision-making positions of the country. When students bring their data, doctors use a red pen to mark hot spots where extra care is necessary. Neighborhood doctors meet regularly at clinics to talk about what each doctor is doing, what they are discovering, what new procedures the Cuban Ministry of Public Health is adopting, and how the intense work is affecting medical staff.

In this way, every Cuban citizen and every health care worker, from those at neighborhood doctor offices through those at the most esteemed research institutes, has a part in determining health policy. Cuba currently has eighty-nine thousand doctors, eighty-four thousand nurses, and nine thousand students scheduled to graduate from medical studies in 2020. The Cuban people would not tolerate the head of the country ignoring medical advice, spouting nonsensical statements, and determining policy based on what would be most profitable for corporations.

The Cuban government approved free distribution of the homeopathic medicine PrevengHo-Vir to residents of Havana and Pinar del Rio province. Susana Hurlich was one of many receiving it. On April 8, Dr. Yaisen, one of three doctors at the consultorio two blocks from her home, came to the door with a small bottle of PrevengHo-Vir and explained how to use it. Instructions warn that it reinforces the immune system but is not a substitute for Interferon Alpha 2B, nor is it a vaccine. Hurlich believes that something important “about Cuba’s medical system is that rather than being two-tiered, as is often the case in other countries, with ‘classical medicine’ on the one hand and ‘alternative medicine’ on the other, Cuba has ONE health system that includes it all. When you study to become a doctor, you also learn about homeopathic medicine in all its forms.”

Global Solidarity in the Time of COVID-19

A powerful model: Perhaps the most critical component of Cuba’s medical internationalism during the COVID-19 crisis has been using its decades of experience to create an example of how a country can confront the virus with a compassionate and competent plan. Public health officials around the world were inspired by Cuba’s actions.

Transfer of knowledge: When viruses that cause Ebola, mainly found in sub-Saharan Africa, increased dramatically in the fall of 2014, much of the world panicked. Soon, over twenty thousand people were infected, more than eight thousand had died, and worries mounted that the death toll could reach into hundreds of thousands. The United States provided military support; other countries promised money. Cuba was the first nation to respond with what was most needed: it sent 103 nurse and 62 doctor volunteers to Sierra Leone. Since many governments did not know how to respond to the disease, Cuba trained volunteers from other nations at Havana’s Pedro Kourí Institute of Tropical Medicine. In total, Cuba taught 13,000 Africans, 66,000 Latin Americans, and 620 Caribbeans how to treat Ebola without themselves becoming infected. Sharing understanding on how to organize a health system is the highest level of knowledge transfer.

Venezuela has attempted to replicate fundamental aspects of the Cuban health model on a national level, which has served Venezuela well in combating COVID-19. In 2018, residents of Altos de Lidice organized seven communal councils, including one for community health. A resident made space in his home available to the Communal Healthcare System initiative so that Dr. Gutierrez could have an office. He coordinates data collections to identify at-risk residents and visits all residents in their homes to explain how to avoid infection by COVID-19. Nurse del Valle Marquez is a Chavista who helped implement the Barrio Adentro when the first Cuban doctors arrived. She remembers that residents had never seen a doctor inside their community, but when the Cubans arrived “we opened our doors to the doctors, they lived with us, they ate with us, and they worked among us.”

Stories like this permeate Venezuela. As a result of building a Cuban-type system, teleSUR reported that by April 11, 2020, the Venezuelan government had conducted 181,335 early Polymerase Chain Reaction tests in time to have the lowest infection rate in Latin America. Venezuela had only 6 infections per million citizens while neighboring Brazil had 104 infections per million.

When Rafael Correa was president of Ecuador, over one thousand Cuban doctors formed the backbone of its health care system. Lenin Moreno was elected in 2017 and Cuban doctors were soon expelled, leaving public medicine in chaos. Moreno followed recommendations of the International Monetary Fund to slash Ecuador’s health budget by 36 percent, leaving it without health care professionals, without personal protective equipment, and, above all, without a coherent health care system. While Venezuela and Cuba had 27 COVID-19 deaths, Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil, had an estimated death toll of 7,600.

International medical response: Cuban medicine is perhaps best known for its internationalism. A clear example is the devastating earthquake that rocked Haiti in 2010. Cuba sent medical staff who lived among Haitians and stayed months or years after the earthquake. U.S. doctors, however, did not sleep where Haitian victims huddled, returned to luxury hotels at night, and departed after a few weeks. John Kirk coined the term disaster tourism to describe the way that many rich countries respond to medical crises in poor countries.

The commitment that Cuban medical staff show internationally is a continuation of the effort that the country’s health care system made in spending three decades to find the best way to strengthen bonds between caregiving professionals and those they serve. By 2008, Cuba had sent over 120,000 health care professionals to 154 countries, its doctors had cared for over 70 million people in the world, and almost 2 million people owed their lives to Cuban medical services in their country.

The Associated Press reported that when COVID-19 spread throughout the world, Cuba had thirty-seven thousand medical workers in sixty-seven countries. It soon deployed additional doctors to Suriname, Jamaica, Dominica, Belize, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kitts and Nevis, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. On April 16, Granma reported that “21 brigades of healthcare professionals have been deployed to join national and local efforts in 20 countries. The same day, Cuba sent two hundred health personnel to Qatar.

As northern Italy became the epicenter of COVID-19 cases, one of its hardest hit cities was Crema in the Lombardy region. The emergency room at its hospital was filled to capacity. On March 26, Cuba sent fifty-two doctors and nurses who set up a field hospital with three intensive care unit beds and thirty-two other beds with oxygen. A smaller and poorer Caribbean nation was one of the few aiding a major European power. Cuba’s intervention took its toll. By April 17, thirty of its medical professionals who went abroad tested positive for COVID-19.

Bringing the world to Cuba: The flip side of Cuba sending medical staff across the globe is the people it has brought to the island—both students and patients. When Cuban doctors were in the Republic of the Congo in 1966, they saw young people studying independently under streetlights at night and arranged for them to come to Havana. They brought in even more African students during the Angolan wars of 1975–88 and then brought large numbers of Latin American students to study medicine following Hurricanes Mitch and Georges. The number of students coming to Cuba to study expanded even more in 1999 when it opened classes at the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM). By 2020, ELAM had trained thirty thousand doctors from over one hundred countries.

Cuba also has a history of bringing foreign patients for treatment. After the 1986 nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl, 25,000 patients, mostly children, came to the island for treatment, with some staying for months or years. Cuba opened its doors, hospital beds, and a youth summer camp.

On March 12, nearly fifty crew members and passengers on a British cruise ship either had COVID-19 or were showing symptoms as the ship approached the Bahamas, a British Commonwealth nation. Since the Braemar flew the Bahamian flag as a Commonwealth vessel, there should have been no problem disembarking those aboard for treatment and return to the United Kingdom. But the Bahamian Ministry of Transport declared that the cruise ship would “not be permitted to dock at any port in the Bahamas and no persons will be permitted to disembark the vessel.” During the next five days, the United States, Barbados (another Commonwealth nation), and several other Caribbean countries turned it away. On March 18, Cuba became the only country to allow the Braemar’s over one thousand crew members and passengers to dock. Treatment at Cuban hospitals was offered to those who felt too sick to fly. Most went by bus to José Martí International Airport for flights back to the United Kingdom. Before leaving, Braemar crew members displayed a banner reading “I love you Cuba!” Passenger Anthea Guthrie posted on her Facebook page: “They have made us not only feel tolerated, but actually welcome.”

Medicine for all: In 1981, there was a particularly bad outbreak of the mosquito-borne dengue fever, which hits the island every few years. At the time, many first learned of the very high level of Cuba’s research institutes that created Interferon Alpha 2B to successfully treat dengue. As Helen Yaffe points out, “Cuba’s interferon has shown its efficacy and safety in the therapy of viral diseases including Hepatitis B and C, shingles, HIV-AIDS, and dengue.” It accomplished this by preventing complications that could worsen a patient’s condition and result in death. The efficacy of the drug persisted for decades and, in 2020, it became vitally important as a potential cure for COVID-19. What also survived was Cuba’s eagerness to develop a multiplicity of drugs and share them with other nations.

Cuba has sought to work cooperatively toward drug development with countries such as China, Venezuela, and Brazil, Collaboration with Brazil resulted in meningitis vaccines at a cost of 95¢ rather than $15 to $20 per dose. Finally, Cuba teaches other countries to produce medications themselves so they do not have to rely on purchasing them from rich countries.

In order to effectively cope with disease, drugs are frequently sought for three goals: tests to determine those infected; treatments to help ward off or cure problems; and vaccines to prevent infections. As soon as Polymerase Chain Reaction rapid tests were available, Cuba began using them widely throughout the island. Cuba developed both Interferon Alpha 2B (a recombinant protein) and PrevengHo-Vir (a homeopathic medication). TeleSUR reported that by April 20, over forty-five countries had requested Cuba’s Inteferon in order to control and then get rid of the virus.

Cuba’s Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology is seeking to create a vaccine against COVID-19. Its Director of Biomedical Research, Dr. Gerardo Guillén, confirmed that his team is collaborating with Chinese researchers in Yongzhou, Hunan province, to create a vaccine to stimulate the immune system and one that can be taken through the nose, which is the route of COVID-19 transmission. Whatever Cuba develops, it is certain that it will be shared with other countries at low cost, unlike U.S. medications that are patented at taxpayers’ expense so that private pharmaceutical giants can price gouge those who need the medication.

Countries that have not learned how to share: Cuban solidarity missions show a genuine concern that often seems to be lacking in the health care systems of other countries. Medical associations in Venezuela, Brazil, and other countries are often hostile to Cuban doctors. Yet, they cannot find enough of their own doctors to go to dangerous communities or travel to poor and rural areas as Cuban doctors do.

When in Peru in 2010, I visited the Pisco policlínico. Its Cuban director, Leopoldo García Mejías, explained that then-president Alan García did not want additional Cuban doctors and that they had to keep quiet in order to remain in Peru. Cuba is well aware that it has to adjust each medical mission to accommodate the political climate.

There is at least one exception to Cuban doctors remaining in a country according to the whims of the political leadership. Cuba began providing medical attention in Honduras in 1998. During the first eighteen months of Cuba’s efforts in Honduras, the country’s infant mortality dropped from 80.3 to 30.9 deaths per 1,000 live births. Political moods changed and, in 2005, Honduran Health Minister Merlin Fernández decided to kick Cuban doctors out. However, this led to so much opposition that the government changed course and allowed the Cubans to stay.

A disastrous and noteworthy example of when a country refused an offer of Cuban aid is the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. After the hurricane hit, 1,586 Cuban health care professionals were prepared to go to New Orleans. President George W. Bush, however, rejected the offer, acting as if it would be better for U.S. citizens to die rather than to admit the quality of Cuban aid.

Though the U.S. government does not take kindly to students going studying at ELAM, they are still able to apply what they learn when they come home. In 1988, Kathryn Hall-Trujillo of Albuquerque, New Mexico, founded the Birthing Project USA, which trains advocates to work with African-American women and connect with them through the first year of the infant’s life. She is grateful for the Birthing Project’s partnership with Cuba and the support that many ELAM students have given. In 2018, she told me: “We are a coming home place for ELAM students—they see working with us as a way to put into practice what they learned at ELAM.”

Cuban doctor Julio López Benítez recalled in 2017 that when the country revamped its clinics in 1974, the old clinic model was one of patients going to clinics, but the new model was of clinics going to patients. Similarly, as ELAM graduate Dr. Melissa Barber looked at her South Bronx neighborhood during COVID-19, she realized that while most of the United States told people to go to agencies, what people need is a community approach that recruits organizers to go to the people. Dr. Barber is working in a coalition with South Bronx Unite, the Mott Haven Mamas, and many local tenant associations. As in Cuba, they are trying to identify those in the community who are vulnerable, including “the elderly, people who have infants and small children, homebound people, people that have multiple morbidities and are really susceptible to a virus like this one.”

As they discover who needs help, they seek resources to help them, such as groceries, personal protective equipment, medications, and treatment. In short, the approach of the coalition is going to homes to ensure that people do not fall through the cracks. In contrast, the U.S. national policy is for each state and each municipality to do what it feels like doing, which means that instead of having a few cracks that a few people fall through, there are enormous chasms with large groups careening over the edge. What countries with market economies need are actions like those in the South Bronx and Cuba carried out on a national scale.

This was what Che Guevara envisioned in 1951. Decades before COVID-19 jumped from person to person, Che’s imagination went from doctor to doctor. Or perhaps many shared their own visions so widely that, after 1959, Cuba brought revolutionary medicine anywhere it could. Obviously, Che did not design the intricate innerworkings of Cuba’s current medical system. But he was followed by healers who wove additional designs into a fabric that now unfolds across the continents. At certain times in history, thousands or millions of people see similar images of a different future. If their ideas spread broadly enough during the hour that social structures are disintegrating, then a revolutionary idea can become a material force in building a new world.

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