US Keeps Bullying Venezuela and Threatens Shipping Companies

Foreign Affairs Minister Jorge Arreaza, Caracas, Venezuela, 2019.
Foreign Affairs Minister Jorge Arreaza, Caracas, Venezuela, 2019. | Photo: Twitter/ @El_Cooperante

While U.S. streets are burning, the Trump administration insists on intervening in Venezuela.

May 30 (teleSUR) Venezuela’s Foreign Affairs Minister Jorge Arreaza Friday denounced that the United States continues to threaten companies and ships so they do not do business with their country.

These intimidating actions will be attached to the case on arbitrary coercive measures that the Bolivarian republic maintains against the U.S. at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“More actions and confessions of the Donald Trump administration’s perverse responsibility for the gasoline shortage in Venezuela. It threatens sanctions against shipping companies, ports, and insurers that facilitate fuel shipments to our country,” Arreaza tweeted.

“The U.S. suffers the world’s worst humanitarian crisis with more than 100,000 deaths from Covid-19. Its streets burn with the fury and frustration from a segregated, excluded, and humiliated population. Meanwhile, the Trump administration insists on intervening in Venezuela’s internal affairs,” he added.

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On Friday, the U.S. forced two Liberian-flagged, Greek-owned ships to deviate from their original route and to cancel their deliveries under the threat of sanctions.

“The two vessels were the Bering and the Bella… They were supposed to arrive in Venezuela after a five-tanker flotilla that was scrambled to supply fuel, additives, and spare parts for Venezuelan refineries,” the Orinoco Tribune reported.

Since May 23, five Iranian fuel tankers have been arriving at Venezuelan ports to unload fuels. Due to threats by the US Government to prevent their arrival, all these vessels are being guarded by the Bolivarian navy and military aviation.

This energy cooperation between the Bolivarian nation and the Persian country happens amidst a trade and financial blockade whereby President Donald Trump’s administration tries to depose Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro.

The U.S. coercive measures have prevented Venezuela from acquiring spare parts and raw materials to produce gasoline at its refineries and supply its domestic market.​​​​​​​

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Cuban medical brigade nominated for Nobel Prize in South Africa

cuba medicos nobel

Pretoria, May 30 (Prensa Latina) The Cuban international medical brigade specializing in disasters and serious epidemics ‘Henry Reeve’ deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, said the prominent politician Phatse Justice Piitso in South Africa.

In a personal public letter, the current Chief of Staff of the office of the Secretary General of the African National Congress, explains that the initiative, supported in more than 50 countries, is a recognition ‘of the extraordinary humanitarian efforts of this brigade throughout the world in the fight’ against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Likewise, the nomination is a recognition of the leadership of the Cuban Revolution in our struggle for the advancement of human solidarity and internationalism, he added.

In fact, the so-called White Robe Army is planting the revolutionary seeds of solidarity and internationalism in the streets and homes of the world.

The Henry Reeve Brigade, Justice Piitso emphasizes, has repeatedly demonstrated over decades that quality health care can be definitively and permanently established internationally as an inalienable human right.

Since its creation, the Brigade’s medical staff, ‘now comprised of 7,400 volunteer health care workers,’ has fought to ensure that people around the world get better health care.


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How Cuba is succeeding in the fight against COVID

Havana Doctor Liz Caballero helps treat — and prevent — outbreaks. Photo by Reed Lindsay.

With a government-run medical system, the island has contained the virus to a tiny fraction of the cases in the US.


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One morning along a street with cracked sidewalks and houses with fading paint, Dr. Liz Caballero and two medical students stopped at every door in that part of Havana’s Vedado district. During normal times, these neighborhood doctors practice preventative medicine. Now, they participate in a full-blown campaign against the COVID 19 pandemic.

Dr. Caballero knocked on a door and asked if anyone in the house had a fever or other COVID 19 symptoms. The resident replied everyone was fine.

“My son and wife are doctors and they disinfect before entering the house,” she said. “We all have surgical face masks. Even my boy has one.”

Community health workers are assisted by the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the country’s neighborhood watch organizations, and by the Women’s Federation. The government requires everyone to wear face masks outside. So many Cubans make their own.

Cuba faces shortages of testing equipment and some medications. People wait in long lines for chicken and toilet paper. But what the island lacks in material resources, it makes up for with a sophisticated public health system.

Public health authorities use classic anti-epidemic techniques to identify those infected, quarantine and treat them, and then trace all their contacts. See this short video from the Havana-based Belly of the Beast:

So far, government efforts have severely restricted the pandemic’s spread since it was first discovered among foreign tourists on March 11. As of May 22, out of a population of 11 million, Cuba had 1,916 COVID cases and only 81 deaths. The Cuban infection rate is .71 people per 100,000 inhabitants. The US rate is 29, about 40 times higher.

Victor Wallis, a political science professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston, attributed Cuba’s success to its socialist medical system.

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“Cuba’s enormous investment in the health sector rather than the military is a new kind of priority,” he told me. “It focuses on human well being.”

Hugs and kisses

Cuba initiated a massive social distancing campaign, but Dr. Caballero admitted that enforcement can be hard in a Latin culture used to hugs and kisses on each cheek when greeting friends.

“Sometimes it is difficult to stop shaking hands,” she said. “But right now Cubans have internalized that the most important thing is social distancing.”

Here’s Dr. Caballero in a Belly of the Beast video:

Unlike the US, said Dr. Caballero, all medical care is free in Cuba, including dentistry, eye care and mental health services.

In Cuba, “people go to the doctor as soon as possible,” she said. “Sometimes in other countries they don’t go early because they don’t have health insurance; they don’t have money to pay.”

Cuba’s socialist medical system is different from anything politicians propose in the US. Even with the most progressive plans in the US, such as Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All, the government would act as an insurance company to pay private doctors and hospitals.

In Cuba, the state runs the entire medical system from medical schools, to neighborhood doctors, to local clinics and hospitals.

After the 1959 Cuban revolution, Afro Cubans and people from working-class backgrounds were able to attend medical schools for the first time.

Starting with their first med school class, doctors are educated to serve the people, not seek fame and wealth. Education is completely free, and upon graduation, doctors must practice for three years in underserved communities and rural areas.

Cuba has among the world’s highest doctor/patient ratios. And Cubans have a higher life expectancy than in the US.

Today, Cuba has sent 30,000 doctors to treat people mostly in poor countries. Today, 2,000 doctors and nurses are fighting COVID 19 in 23 countries from Mexicoto Italy.

See what these doctors and nurses say about US government criticism of their work in this short Belly of the Beast video:

Starting in the 1970s, Cuba built from scratch a sophisticated biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry. Cuba has developed a number of internationally recognized pharmaceuticals.

Cuban scientists are currently conducting joint research into a lung cancer drug with the Roswell Cancer Center in Buffalo. Doctors in Cuba and China are using a Cuban interferon drug to treat COVID 19.

Serious problems

Cuba’s health care system has plenty of problems, however. Isis Allen, a 60-year-old journalist, stood in line outside a pharmacy in her Havana neighborhood. Her mother needs medicine for circulatory problems. Sometimes the pharmacy has the drugs, sometimes not.

“You can spend a day waiting in line at a pharmacy,” she said.

Her mother’s medicine must be imported from overseas. Even when Cuba makes the drugs in Havana, the health ministry has a hard time getting the raw materials.

Allen attributed shortages to the US trade embargo, known in Cuba as the blockade. She called the unilateral blockade “an embarrassment for the United States, a powerful country that is making this island, with such a hard-working and dedicated people, suffer so much.”

Food and medicine are supposed to be exempt from trade restrictions under the official terms of the embargo, which the US first imposed on Cuba in 1962. However, many companies–even those outside the US–fear prosecution in US courts and won’t trade with Cuba.

Swiss medical equipment corporations refused to sell Cuba ventilators in late April. A few weeks earlier, China tried to send Cuba surgical masks, gloves, ventilators and other medical supplies. But Avianca, the Colombian-based airline originally contracted to make the delivery, cancelled the flight, fearing US sanctions.

In another case the Swiss NGO MediCuba found that its bank wouldn’t transfer money to pay for shipping medicine to Cuba. The bank eventually agreed to the funds transfer. But in another incident, the bank of a pharmaceutical supplier refused MediCuba’s payments because the medicine would be shipped to Cuba.

Since it inception the US embargo has cost the island almost a trillion dollars in economic damage, according to José Ramón Cabañas, Cuba’s ambassador to the US. But it has failed politically. “Some people think they finally can defeat the Cuban Revolution. It won’t happen.”

The US blockade isn’t the only source of Cuba’s problems, however. Cuba gets most of its hard currency from tourism and remittances from citizens living abroad. The Cuban government closed the country to tourism in March and has not indicated when it might resume. So Cuba lacks hard currency to purchase food, petroleum and many other products.

For over a decade, the government has promoted economic reforms. The state continues to control major industries, while encouraging the growth of small, private businesses. Even before the current crisis, however, Cuba saw a growing currency black market and hoarding of scarce consumer products.

As I wrote after a January trip to Cuba, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel had planned to raise state worker salaries and encourage provincial self sufficiency in food production. The growing world recession has made economic reforms all the more difficult.

To hug again

Despite these serious problems, the Cuban government has organized an impressive anti-pandemic campaign. The island’s heath care system is built on solidarity not profit, according to Professor Wallis.

“Cuban policies correspond to ancient medical precepts but have been ignored by US capitalism,” he said. “Treat people because they’re human beings in need. It’s their national policy.”

On a neighborhood level Dr. Caballero is optimistic about beating the pandemic. Cubans will return to normal lives, she said.

“When all this passes, we will hug again,” she said. “We will return to what we have always done.”

Reese Erlich has reported from Cuba since 1968 and is author of the book Dateline Havana: The Real Story of U.S. Policy and the Future of Cuba. Research for this article came from the Havana-based media outlet Belly of the Beast. 

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Cuba ratifies support to WHO in the face of US criticism

bruno oms

Havana, May 30 (Prensa Latina) Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez ratified this Saturday the full support to the World Health Organization (WHO) and its management in the confrontation with the Covid-19, in view of the criticism from the United States.

In this regard, the Foreign Affairs Minister said on Twitter that the decision of the United States to end its relationship with the WHO reflects the growing isolation of the northern country.

It also attacks multilateralism and undermines international efforts to ensure health and save lives, the Cuban diplomacy chief wrote on Twitter.

President Donald Trump announced the day before that his government will redirect the funds pledged to the agency and other entities responsible for global health.

In April, the Republican government froze funding for the agency for 60 days and then threatened to make the funding suspension permanent.

The decision received numerous criticisms, especially at a time when U.S. health authorities report 104,386 deaths from Covid-19 and 1,788,719 infections.

Such figures keep that country as the territory hardest hit by the pandemic worldwide, and although the number of new deaths and cases is decreasing, it is noted that the virus continues to circulate widely.


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Impact of U.S. measures on Venezuelan population denounced

larry davoe

Caracas, May 30 (Prensa Latina) The coercive measures of the United States government against Venezuela are intended to deprive the population of basic means of subsistence, denounced this Saturday the executive secretary of the National Council of Human Rights, Larry Devoe.

In an interview granted to the Xinhua news agency and reviewed by local media, Devoe described as a crime against humanity the formulas of economic asphyxiation applied by the U.S. executive, in order to prevent Venezuela from having resources to meet the needs of the people.

Such measures deprived the country of important assets abroad and froze funds that were intended for food, medicine and the maintenance of public services, currently affected by the impossibility of acquiring the necessary spare parts, he added.

He further noted that, as a result, it is prevented from marketing its oil on the international market, on which most of its income depends.

According to Devoe, in addition to the serious restrictions that the U.S. executive is undertaking against the South American country, informal mechanisms of persecution and blackmail are used against anyone who tries to maintain commercial relations with Venezuela.


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Debunking the New York Times Story on Mexico and COVID

Debunking the New York Times Story on Mexico and COVID

Powerful interests, both national and international, are attempting to use the COVID crisis as a means to step up their campaign against Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO).

By Kurt Hackbarth  –  May 9, 2020

(Orinoco Tribune) MEXICO CITY — The Mexican government is not reporting hundreds, possibly thousands, of deaths from the coronavirus in Mexico City, dismissing anxious officials who have tallied more than three times as many fatalities in the capital than the government publicly acknowledges, according to officials and confidential data.

Sounds damning — until we get around to asking the obvious question: “What confidential data?” Unfortunately, the piece never says. We simply have to believe on faith that the New York Times is sitting on confidential data to buttress its case that we don’t get to see.

In some hospitals, patients lie on the floor, splayed on mattresses. Elderly people are propped up on metal chairs because there are not enough beds, while patients are turned away to search for space in less-prepared hospitals. Many die while searching, several doctors said.

As you read this, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the country’s health service was just fine until COVID came along to screw it up. The sad fact is, this has been the state of public hospitals in Mexico for decades, thanks to the dilapidation of healthcare infrastructure and the ransacking of budgets, materials, and supplies by a succession of neoliberal governments. The context is important, because without it, there’s no way of being able to distinguish between the long-term assault on the nation’s healthcare system and the current effects of COVID. For Mexico City as a whole, moreover, beds with ventilators were at 64% capacity on Friday, the day the article was published. Aside from its anecdotal vagaries, if the Times has data to counter this information, it should publish it.

“It’s like we doctors are living in two different worlds,” said Dr. Giovanna Avila, who works at Hospital de Especialidades Belisario Domínguez. “One is inside of the hospital with patients dying all the time. And the other is when we walk out onto the streets and see people walking around, clueless of what is going on and how bad the situation really is.”

Avila is the only doctor on the ground to be quoted, and his hospital the only one to be mentioned. And while the quote is indeed unfortunate, it could apply to the state of public hospitals every day in the most critical areas in the country (Iztapalapa, where the hospital in question is located, is one of the poorest and most violent districts in Mexico City). Also, as Jorge Gómez Narredo points out, the quote has nothing to do with the government hiding statistics, purportedly the central argument of the piece. In fact, not one person in the piece goes on record saying that the government is doing this.

But the government did not respond to questions about the deaths in Mexico City. It also denied repeated requests by The Times over the course of three weeks to identify all deaths related to respiratory illnesses since January, saying the data was incomplete.

The insinuation here — that the government is hiding COVID death data under the names of other respiratory illnesses such as “atypical pneumonia”— has been a favorite talking point of the Mexican right since the beginning of the crisis. A number of supposed instances of this practice have been brought up and subsequently disproved. And Dr. Hugo López-Gatell, subsecretary for health prevention in the Health Ministry and the government’s point person on COVID, has gone on record as saying that all cases of pneumonia will be assumed to be COVID-related unless shown to be otherwise. (Incidentally, given Dr. López-Gatell’s media visibility, I find it highly unlikely the Times could not have procured an interview with him had they wanted one.)

One former health secretary, José Narro Robles, has accused Mr. López-Gatell of lying to the people of Mexico. And some state governments are beginning to draw similar conclusions: that, much like Mexico City found, the data presented by the government does not reflect reality.

Two very important things to mention here. Number one: until last year, José Narro Robles was a member of the PRI, the opposition party to López Obrador. And not just any member, but one who aspired to be the president of the party and even flirted with the idea of an independent run for the presidency in 2018. As health secretary under Enrique Peña Nieto, he was part of an administration that left over 300 hospitals abandoned and incomplete. In short, hardly an objective authority. But Ahmed seems to be banking on the fact that most people outside of Mexico won’t know who he is (why would they?) in order to set him up as a legitimate commentator on the situation. Within the country, mentioning Narro was seen as a giant joke.

Number two: it is state health departments (including Mexico City, which is also a state) that send their COVID data to the federal government. Nowhere is this key fact noted in the article, which would leave you to believe that the federal government compiles its own data separately from the states.

In Mexico City, the doubts started a month ago, when the city’s mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum, began to suspect that federal data and modeling on the epidemic were flawed, according to three people with knowledge of the matter.

She had already instructed her staff to call every public hospital in the Mexico City area to ask about all confirmed and suspected Covid-19 deaths, the people said. In the last week, that effort found that the deaths were more than three times what the federal government reported.

The disagreements have taken place largely behind the scenes, as Ms. Sheinbaum, who declined to comment for this article, has been loath to publicly embarrass President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, her close political ally. The city and the federal government continue to work together on a number of fronts, including getting ventilators.

Translation: the Times was unable to get anyone to go on the record to confirm this titillating bit of gossip. What they did get are three unnamed people “with knowledge of the matter.” Were they privy to the supposed conversations? Having “knowledge of the matter” does not even imply they were present in person.

But the data from Mexico City calls into question the federal government’s grasp of the crisis in the country.

Ah, the data, again. Where is it? And where, by the way, are all the dead bodies? Because if what the Times is saying is true, there are at least 1,800 dead bodies (2,500+ minus the 700 acknowledged) floating around Mexico City unaccounted for. Unless they were all conveniently reported as deaths from something else, that many bodies would be hard to hide. Ahmed and his team, however, do not appear to have found them.

One big reason for the competing death tolls in Mexico has to do with the way the federal government is testing, vetting and reporting the data. The official results include a two-week lag, people familiar with the process say, which means timely information is not available publicly.

More worrisome, they say, are the many deaths absent from the data altogether, as suggested by the figures from Mexico City, where the virus has struck hardest of all. Some people die from acute respiratory illness and are cremated without ever getting tested, officials say. Others are dying at home without being admitted to a hospital — and are not even counted under Mexico City’s statistics.

We have now moved from “people with knowledge of the matter” to “people familiar with the process.” Moreover, the idea of a two-week lag is supremely misleading. COVID figures, as reported by the states, are updated daily. There are also a number of suspicious cases in which testing could not be performed: in the cases of patients who arrived at hospitals in critical condition, for example, who died shortly after. For these suspicious cases, a technical commission goes over the patient’s clinical file in order to make a determination as to whether the death was caused by COVID. Only in those cases is there a lag.

“Their model is wrong,” said Laurie Ann Ximénez-Fyvie, a Harvard-trained Ph.D. at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, adding that symptomatic and severe cases could be significantly higher. “There is very good consensus on that.”

However reasonable the “Harvard-trained” Ph.D. (thank you for the clarification) sounds here regarding the supposed consensus that exists on the government’s model being flawed, Ximénez-Fyvie does not always strike precisely the same tone. In an op-ed published in the newspaper Reforma on May 5 entitled “The Fiasco of the Century,” she wrote: “Sooner or later the accounts will come due. History does not tend to treat kindly those scientists who, in favor a misunderstood common good and lacking the ethics their profession demands, sacrifice or risk the lives of people. Perhaps the case of Josef Mengele comes to mind?” Now call me crazy, but I would contend that someone who has publicly compared the federal government’s COVID czar to a Nazi killer is not precisely the ideal person to be commenting on its modeling strategy. Although she is “Harvard trained,” after all.

In short, undisclosed data, lack of context, the omission of key facts, innuendo, and a raft of either anonymous or hyper-partisan sources: the perfect cocktail for a piece no professor of journalism could give a passing grade. It may very well be the case that the Mexican government is underestimating the number of actual COVID deaths— López-Gatell himself has said as much. But this piece, in its aim to discredit the government by whatever means necessary, winds up discrediting itself far more.


P.S. It is to be noted that, in 2017, Azam Ahmed published a shamelessly favorable puff piece on the front page of the Times on Claudio X. González, the former head of Kimberly Clark Mexico and his son, Claudio X. González Guajardo. The piece, hardly more than warmed-over PR, breathlessly managed to call González Sr. “ a corporate chairman revered in Mexico” and “one of Mexico’s most venerated — and wealthiest — figures in the business world.” As the online news commentary program Rompeviento TV pointed out last year, Ahmed is friends with Darío Ramírez, the General Director of Communications of the organization Mexicanos contra la corrupción y la impunidad (Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity), whose president is Claudio X. González Guajardo. Both González father and son are among the fiercest opponents of AMLO. While I am not suggesting that direct corruption or a quid pro quo was at play in yesterday’s COVID story, I do consider it pertinent to point out the circles the Times correspondent in Mexico runs in. Outside of those circles, I can assure you, neither Claudio X. González nor his son is revered or venerated.

Kurt Hackbarth is a writer, playwright and journalist. English/espagñol. Writes on Mexico for Jacobin Magazine. Other bylines: The Nation, Revista Global, Animal Politico.

Featured image: A doctor talks to workers of the Central de Abastos, one of the world’s largest wholesale market complexes, while waiting to be checked for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outside a doctor’s office, in Mexico City, Mexico May 11, 2020., REUTERS/Gustavo Graf

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US sanctions are hindering the distribution of Cuban drugs combating Covid-19

Doctors from the Cuban Medicare Mission carrying out Covid-19 tests in Caracas, Venezuela, April 10 2020, Pedro Rances Mattey/DPA/PA Images
 | Pedro Rances Mattey/DPA/PA Images

As biotechnology labs in Havana develop drugs to thwart the pandemic, the US blockade threatens further research and production.

by Andy Robinson — Open Democracy 29 May 2020

“We joke in Cuba that if we discovered the remedy for the coronavirus, Donald Trump would choose to let all Americans die before buying it”, quipped Ernesto, a young Afro-Cuban waiter at the La Cava restaurant inside the restored Gran Teatro, in the center of Havana.

It was early March. Covid-19 had just arrived in the United States, and Donald Trump was frantically reacting to the incoming pandemic. Meanwhile, Cuba had readied its quarantine strategy, testing program and contact tracing scheme – alerting the cluster of biotechnology institutes in the Scientific Pole to the west of the city.

Eduardo’s dry humor made a crucial point. Although some in Florida might dismiss the claim as Castroite propaganda, Cuban biotechnology has indeed developed drugs that have already been effective in fighting the coronavirus in China and other countries. More could come. But the US blockade makes them unavailable in the US.

A chasm separates the philosophy behind biotech in the US and Cuba. Driven by the profits of global pharmaceutical giants, American biotech outfits do not guarantee general access to new drugs, let alone for the more than 30 million Americans who do not have health insurance. In Cuba, biotechnology belongs to the state and constitutes an auxiliary industry to a public and universal health system.

California based Gilead Sciences – owned by the two mega-investment funds Blackrock and Vanguard – helps illustrate the difference. Gilead – chaired between 1997 and 2001 by Donald Rumsfeld, who left the company to direct the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 – manufactures the antiviral Remdesivir, which has driven spectacular gains on the New York Stock Exchange in recent weeks due to its apparent success in treating Covid-19.

But Gilead’s business model does not guarantee that those Americans most vulnerable to the virus – those on the lowest incomes – will benefit from the new product. After all, in 2014 the same company marketed a new antiviral drug for the treatment of hepatitis C under the Harvoni brand. The price: $1,000 a pill.

The same thing happened with PrEP4, a retroviral to combat AIDS patented by Gilead. “Gilead’s abusive prices have prevented hundreds of thousands of Americans from accessing this drug”, said the activist group PrEP4all.

With Remdesivir, the same is likely to happen. As The Intercept has exposed, the decision by Gilead to donate 940,000 vials of Remdesivir to the US federal government, appears to be a marketing strategy. The price of the drug is likely to be hundreds of times greater than its cost of production of $10 for a 10-day course – despite the fact that Remdesivir “does not seem to do much for coronavirus patients”, says The Intercept. “A cocktail of generic drugs is proving more efficient.”

In Cuba’s universal public health system, everyone has access to drugs made in the Scientific Pole. “In the US a private laboratory develops a formula and sells it to another company for testing, which then probably sells it to a pharmaceutical giant for marketing; and each sale depends on whether there are profits to be made”, said Helen Yaffe, an economist at the University of Glasgow and author of the book We are Cuba. “In Cuba the institutes work in cooperation and not in competition; it is faster because the criterion is the national interest and not the private interest.”

Specializing in preventive medicine, the Cuban health system prioritized immunotherapy to deal with other epidemics, from dengue to meningitis. Because of that experience, Cuba’s response to coronavirus has used dozens of drugs already in the development stage “to improve innate immunity”, explained Francisco Durán, director of Epidemiology at the Ministry of Health, in an interview with Spanish news agency EFE.

Among these drugs is Interferon Alpha 2B, which was created in the 1980s in collaboration with other scientists in Helsinki to combat a dengue outbreak. Now it is produced by a joint venture with a Chinese company, while the institutes of the Scientific Pole develop new varieties of Interferon to try and improve its effectiveness against Covid-19.

The Cuban institutes also produce another home manufactured retroviral from the Kaletra range, and have adapted another drug, CIGB 258, which was already under development before the pandemic for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Like Interferon Alpha 2B, CIGB 258 is a product of the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) in Havana.

These and other drugs, almost all manufactured and patented in Cuba, are components of the island’s anti-Covid-19 cocktail. The results are positive. Cuba has registered a mortality rate of 4.2%, compared to 6% in the US and 12% in Spain, according to Johns Hopkins University. 87% of patients have already recovered from the virus, the highest recovery rate in Latin America

All that being said, the US blockade poses a serious problem for Cuban biotechnology. It makes it hard to import components of the drugs, hinders their commercialization and makes research difficult, since the institutes depend on the cross border exchange of ideas

“The embargo limits us a lot but we are specialized in optimizing scarce resources, working together and we have support from other countries, such as Spain”, said Maidalys Bravo Ramírez, a specialist at the National Genetics Center in Havana, who worked in Bolivia as a solidarity doctor.

Likewise, the embargo reduces Cuba’s ability to carry out the mass testing necessary to introduce their drugs on the international market and generate the funds required to finance the Cuban health system. “They need to create volume outside of Cuba; you can have a good product but if people don’t know they won’t buy it”, said Ricardo Torres, an economist at the Center for Economic Studies, during lunch in downtown Havana.

But as Eduardo’s joke makes clear, the blockade does not only harm Cubans. During that brief period of rapprochement before and after the historic meeting between Barack Obama and Raúl Castro in 2016, cooperation blossomed between Cuban and US medical researchers. The Roswell Park clinic in New York, for example, signed an agreement with the Cuban state to jointly develop the drug CIMAvax, an effective Cuban-patented vaccine in the prevention of lung cancer.

But Trump’s measures that ramp up the embargo in search of votes in Florida threaten to scupper the project. According to the directors of Roswell Park, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), will require a 10-year trial period for CIMAvax compared to 5 for new drugs from other countries.

For drugs combating Covid-19, such as Interferon Alpha 2B, 10-years is too long. “I’ve received desperate calls from doctors in New York hospitals asking how they can get hold of Interferon Alpha 2B”, says Helen Yaffe. It’s not going to be possible. Interferon is on trial or in use in 9 countries, including Spain, but the US is not one of them.

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Favourable scenario vs. Covid-19 in Cuba is due to joint effort

Havana, May 29 (Prensa Latina) Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez today stressed that the island maintains a favorable scenario in dealing with the Covid-19, as a result of the joint work of several sectors.

In his Twitter account, the Foreign Minister highlighted the professionalism and dedication of the health and science personnel, as well as the support shown by the people for the Government’s measures.

On Friday, the Caribbean nation reported, for the fifth consecutive day, zero deaths, while the number of patients recovered rose to 1,760, for 87.4 percent.

The day before, President Miguel Diaz-Canel, in a working meeting with directors of scientific and innovation centres, praised the sector’s capacities and its contributions to the fight against the pandemic.

The president said that the results of the investigations show the possibilities the island has in this field to face complex situations.

Cuba’s response to the new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus places the nation among the first in the region and the world in terms of the percentage of recoveries, while announcing a return to normalcy.

Since late in April, Cuba has experienced a decline in the number of new infections and an increase in recoveries, as a result of the protocol applied since the beginning of Covid-19 in the territory.


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Cuban foreign minister condemns death of African-American in US

Cuban foreign minister condemns death of African-American in US

Havana, May 29 (Prensa Latina) Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez on Thursday described as a brutal assassination the death of African-American George Floyd, who was a victim of a white police officer who pressed his neck with his knee in the US city of Minneapolis.

‘George Floyd ‘did not die’. He was brutally assassinated. Unfortunately it is a story that African-Americans know,’ the foreign minister wrote on his Twitter account.

According to Rodriguez, the 46-year-old man was unarmed and was shouting ‘I can’t breathe’, but that was not enough to prevent an injustice.

‘The color of the skin should not define us,’ the head of Cuban diplomacy added in his twit, which he published using the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag.

Videos posted on social networks show the arrest, during which the victim was complaining of difficulties to breathe.

The footage also shows Floyd begging due to the pain and that he cannot breathe until he closes his eyes. He was declared death shortly afterwards.

The incident has caused protests in Minneapolis and other cities of the country like Chicago, Los Angeles and Memphis.


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Reflections from the 2020 Spring Break Class Trip to Cuba: Yale University

Students and faculty in front of the Capitolio in Havana. (Photo by Daniel Juarez)
Students andFaculty in front of the Capitolio in Havana (Photo by Daniel Juarez)

Wednesday, May 27, 2020 – Yale University MacMillan Center

Written by Alison Kibbe, Teaching Fellow for the 2020 History and Culture of Cuba course, a doctoral student in African-American Studies & American Studies, and a CLAIS graduate affiliate. 

For the past five years, one of the cornerstones of the Council on Latin American and Iberian Studies (CLAIS) Program on Cuban Studies has been the undergraduate course History and Culture of Cuba that includes a class trip to Cuba during spring break. This year Professor Reinaldo Funes Monzote, CLAIS Visiting Professor and Professor of History at the University of Havana, taught the course with Teaching Fellow Alison Kibbe, doctoral student in American Studies and African American Studies.  ********************************************************************************** 

Like most things this year, the 2020 History and Culture of Cuba class trip turned out unexpectedly. This was the fourth spring break trip associated with the course, which is at the center of the Program on Cuban Studies.

This year marked a year of transition. It was Professor Reinaldo Funes-Monzote’s last year teaching on Yale’s campus, as he will return to Havana in June. But, this does not mark an ending, but rather a beginning. CLAIS Chair Claudia Valeggia joined the trip to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Fundación Antonio Núñez Jimenez, an agreement that has been years in the making and will make it possible to continue to expand Yale’s Program on Cuban Studies. 

The theme of transitions, endings, and new opportunities marked the trip for the students as well. We landed in Havana on Sunday, March 8 with plans to stay until March 20. As the COVID-19 pandemic escalated, it became clear that we would need to change our plans. On Wednesday, March 11, after three full days of lectures and cultural visits in Havana, CLAIS administration and faculty made the difficult decision fly home on Thursday, March 12.  

The Cuba trip has been led over the past four years by Professor Reinaldo Funes and Professor Albert Laguna. Although Professor Laguna was not able to join for this March trip, the spring break program he helped to design remained the much the same. The trip began in Havana with lectures by Cuban historians, economists, environmentalists, and sociologists, as well as cultural visits to places such as the Museum of the Revolution, the Museo de Bellas Artes, Old Havana, the colonial Morro Fort. The goal is to give students a chance to experience as much of the history, culture, art, architecture, and environment as possible, to expand and build on what we explore in the seminar. 

This year, some of the highlights included the opportunity to talk with Afro-Cuban activistsand scholars, such as Norma Guillardand Victor Fowler, attend the concert of a popular hip-hop group La Reyna y La Real, and visit Beyond Roots, a new Afro-Cuban store and community project in Old Havana. Students also had a chance to explore the city during their free time, walking the streets of the Vedado neighborhood, building relationships with their host families, and exploring music and cultural offerings. 

After this urban experience, the planned itinerary tookstudents outside of Havana to experience the differences between Havana and the rest of the island, a distinction that we explore throughout the 500 years of history and culture that we discuss in class. These experiences include visiting Finca Marta, a sustainable farm, environmental projects, and tobacco farms in Viñales, the 500-year-old colonial city of Trinidad, and walk through the ruins of 18th-century sugar plantations. We want to allow students to see, smell, hear, and taste the differences across these varied cultural and ecological scapes of the island. We were very sorry that we did not get to have these experiences with our 2020 group of students. 

Experiential learning is at the heart of the Cuba trip. It is a chance for students to step outside of the classroom, to practice observation, and to hold various complexities that resist dichotomies and easy answers. As a graduate assistant on the trip last year and as the Teaching Fellow this year, I always encourage students to “Experience now, analyze later.” As our wonderful tour guide, Niurkis always tells students upon their arrival, “Enjoy my country, but don’t try to understand it.” The point being, when we jump to categorize and analyze, we might miss the most important details. 

Cuba is a place that teaches us to listenand observe with openness. Our students dove in headfirst to the experience, asking astute questions and grappling with the complexities of both Cuba and their own biases and perspectives. Our readings, lectures, and discussion in class in combination with our time in Cuba pushed them to re-think and see their home countries and societies in a different light. This year, we had several students who were of Cuban heritage. Their experiences ranged from never having visited the island, to having traveled with their families to Cuba, and one student who was born and lived in Cuba until age 15.  

All of our students, no matter their previous engagement with the island, continually stated that the course and the trip allowed them to experience Cuba in new and unexpected ways, which required that they question their assumptions. As rising senior Jason Contino stated, ”Everything that I thought would be the same was different, and everything that I thought would be different was more similar than I had imagined.” Cuba is full of surprises, for all of us. 

The one surprise that we of course did not expect or want to experience was the COVID-19 pandemic. We all lamented our trip had to be cut short, even though we knew it was the best decision for everyone’s safety. As is always true of the trip, even in its full two-week format, it is meant to be an introduction, not a comprehensive experience. We hope the experience on the island sparks more questions and curiosities, and for those who hope to engage Cuba in their future studies and careers, we hope they plant seeds and begin relationships that they can expand upon in the future. 

Our 2020 group of 18eager, curious, and dedicated undergraduates had to leave just when they started to get fully immersed in their experience. Their Spanish was improving, their confidence in engaging with their host families and guest lecturers increasing, and their curiosity was piqued with every new complexity. While there were many parts of the planned itinerary we could notexperience, the group took full advantage of every moment they did have. As Eric Foster, Class of 2020, stated, “I actually think that we enjoyed some of the benefits of a two-week trip even in just four days because of the efforts we put into our relationshipswith Cuba, the hosts in our casas particulares, and each other. We treated each of those relationships like they were going to be the focus of our lives for the next few weeks.” This open-mindedness, respect, and commitment to building relationships are how I hope all students approach immersive learning experiences. It was a joy to spend the semester with this group and I look forward to continuing to learn from them as they continue with their journeys. 

With the agreement between Yale and the Fundación Antonio Núñez Jiménez, I hope that we can expand on the opportunities for students to engage Cuba in their research and studies. We will miss having Professor Funes on-campus teaching in New Haven, but we look forward to the opportunities that will be possible with him back at the University of Havana and the Fundación Antonio Jiménez, such as opportunities for Yale students to travel to the island for study abroad and research. 

To our students who had to fly back with us and finish the seminar via Zoom; I was inspired by the ways you took advantage of every moment you had in Cuba and used it to fuel your research questions and projects. Your flexibility and grace at adapting to new and unforeseen circumstances served as an example to us all.  

After the trip,our students completed research projects which they presented via Zoom at the end of the semester. Topics ranged from the history of the internet in Cuba, Cuban classical music, the history of the mob in Cuba, Cuban international relations, and historic and contemporary questions about race and identity. We hope that CLAIS and Yale can continue to support their curiosity and their desire to build connections and bridges. 

While our trip had to be cut short, it was not an ending, but just a beginning. I hope that the door has been opened and as CLAIS continues to expand the Program on Cuban studies, students will have even more opportunities for on the ground immersive learning experiences.  

As we continue to move through these difficult and unprecedented times, I send best wishes to all of our collaborators in Cuba and all of our students who are across the world. 

At the Fundación Antonio Jiménez listening to a lecture on economics and gender in Cuban society. (Photo by Daniel Juarez)
At the Fundación Antonio Jiménez listening to a lecture on economics and gender in Cuban society. (Photo by Daniel Juarez)
Professor Victor Fowler, historian, and Professor Norma Guillard, psychologist, lead a talk about race, gender, sexuality, and social change in Cuba. (Photo by Daniel Juarez)
Professor Victor Fowler, historian, and Professor Norma Guillard, psychologist, lead a talk about race, gender, sexuality, and social change in Cuba. (Photo by Daniel Juarez)

Professor Norma Guillard with T.F. Alison Kibbe, student Farah Emory-Muhammed, and Professor Reinaldo Funes outside the Fundación Antonio Jiménez. (Photo by Daniel Juarez)
Professor Norma Guillard with T.F. Alison Kibbe, student Farah Emory-Muhammed, and Professor Reinaldo Funes outside the Fundación Antonio Jiménez. (Photo by Daniel Juarez)
CLAIS Chair Claudia Valeggia, President of the Fundación Antonio Núñez Jiménez Liliana Nuñez Velis, and Professor Reinaldo Funes sign the memorandum of understanding between Yale andthe Foundation. (Photo by Daniel Juarez)
CLAIS Chair Claudia Valeggia, President of the Fundación Antonio Núñez Jiménez Liliana Nuñez Velis, and Professor Reinaldo Funes sign the memorandum of understanding between Yale andthe Foundation. (Photo by Daniel Juarez)