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Rubio, Cruz Bill Would Deem Cuba’s Medical Missions “Human Trafficking Operation”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 20/06/2020 - 7:33am in

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.

A 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.

Feature photo | Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, looks out from an elevator on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 5, 2020. Susan Walsh | AP

Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.

The post Rubio, Cruz Bill Would Deem Cuba’s Medical Missions “Human Trafficking Operation” appeared first on MintPress News.

Trump Hammers Cuba While Cuba Cures the Sick

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 17/06/2020 - 12:58am in

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 traveled 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.

A Cuban medical worker disinfectants his hands before he boards a bus at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba, June 8, 2020. Yamil Lage | AP

The Trump administration is not just libeling 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, the 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.”

Feature photo | The first Cuban medical brigade of the Henry Reeve Contingent returns from Italy at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba, June 8, 2020. The Cuban doctors had gone to Italy on March 22 to help with the COVID-19 emergency in the Lombardy region. Ismael Francisco | AP

Medea Benjamin is an author/activist, and cofounder of the peace group CODEPINK.

Leonardo Flores is a Latin American policy expert and a campaign coordinator with CODEPINK. For more on the Nobel Prize for Cuban Doctors campaign, see

The post Trump Hammers Cuba While Cuba Cures the Sick appeared first on MintPress News.

A Soft Power Ploy? Cuba Continues to Aid the Poorest and Least Influential Nations

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 28/04/2020 - 5:06am in

Amidst a worsening COVID-19 pandemic, Cuba has answered an urgent South African request for aid. 217 medical personnel, including family physicians, epidemiologists, health technology engineers and biotech workers touched down Sunday evening, eager to help their African ally. Dr. Reynaldo Denis de Armas, the head of the medical brigade, informed the press that they would first go through a quarantining period then be dispersed throughout each of the country’s nine provinces. Along with Egypt, South Africa currently has the highest number of confirmed positive coronavirus cases in Africa, although the scarcity of testing kits means numbers from the continent are likely only pale reflections of the gravity of the problem.

Despite the Caribbean island’s poverty (according to the CIA World Factbook, Cubans have less than a third of the GDP per capita of even their Puerto Rican neighbors), Cuba has sent over 1,200 healthcare professionals to more than 20 countries around the world – one of very few countries to export any doctors whatsoever during the global pandemic.

To many in the West, the connection between Cuba and South Africa may appear incongruous, but that is not the case to anyone from the Global South. Even as Western nations like the United States and Great Britain supported the white supremacist regimes of southern Africa, Cuba played perhaps the key role in decisively defeating apartheid, sending hundreds of thousands of troops to oppose South African annexation of its neighbors, resoundingly beating apartheid forces and dealing a mortal blow to the myth of white supremacy, ushering in the demise of the regime.

Dr. Helen Yaffe of the University of Glasgow, author of the new book “We Are Cuba!: How a Revolutionary People Have Survived in a Post-Soviet World”, told MintPress that she was “not at all surprised” to see solidarity between the two nations, noting,

 Cuba has a long and principled history of solidarity and practical assistance to the people of Southern Africa. Their military support to the newly independent Angolan nation, helped to weaken the racist apartheid regime in South Africa which invaded the country in the mid-1970s. This contribution was acknowledged by Nelson Mandela after his release from prison. Cuba was the first country outside of Africa which he visited.”

Yaffe explained that by the end of the apartheid regime in 1991, some 300,000 Cuban soldiers (a great number of them Afro-Cubans) and 50,000 civilians, including healthcare workers, teachers and construction workers, had served in defending the newly independent Angola from a white supremacist takeover.

Since the end of apartheid, Cuba has eschewed the guns but greatly increased its medical internationalism. As Yaffe explained:

 In 1999, the Cuban government set up the Latin American School of Medicine (known as ELAM for its Spanish acronym) to provide medical education to students from the region enabling them to graduate as healthcare professionals. Very quickly it opened its door to students from around the world, including South Africa. Over 1,200 South African students have been among its beneficiaries. Thus, the medical ties between these two countries are well established. In the field of medical science, South African is one of nearly a dozen countries in the global south with which Cuba has established a biotechnology joint venture.

ELAM is famous all over the world for educating doctors for free, on the understanding that they will go back to their communities and treat the neediest people first. By 2019, 29,000 doctors from 105 countries had graduated from the Havana-based medical school. Half of them were women and the majority from poor backgrounds. Former World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan applauded ELAM, stating that, “For once, if you are poor, female, or from an indigenous population, you have a distinct advantage [in admission]. This is an institutional ethic that makes this medical school unique.” Even young people from the United States – a country that has been crushing Cuba for decades with economic sanctions – can study for free. Last month, MintPress spoke with a number of American students and graduates from the school. Dr. Sarpoma Sefa-Boakye, a Ghanaian-American ELAM graduate practicing in San Diego, said her colleagues are always amazed when they find out she was paid by the Cuban government to study medicine and graduated debt-free, also estimating that more Africans train in Cuba to become doctors than in Africa itself, a testament to the island’s commitment to revolutionary medicine.

The country’s pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries are also playing their part. Interferon Alpha 2b, a Cuban drug developed to fight Dengue Fever, Hepatitis and shingles, has proved highly useful in boosting COVID-19 infected patients in China; 45 countries have now requested the antiviral drug for use themselves. Doctors have also volunteered to travel to hotspots such as Italy to help fight the outbreak. “Cuba’s sustained training to its medical and technical personnel, and to that of other nations, and its scientific research in the development of medicines, have allowed it to provide invaluable support to many other countries in the world,” said former Jamaican Prime Minister, P.J. Patterson. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines was so happy to see a contingent of Cuban staff come to his country that he met them himself on the airport runway.

However, the Trump administration has accused Havana of cynically using medical aid to deflect from its human rights record, putting great pressure on countries in the Global South, and even Europe, to reject Cuban aid. As right-wing governments came to power in Ecuador, Bolivia and Brazil, their governments quickly expelled the Cubans working within their borders, often accusing them of being terrorists or mercenaries. However, amid a worsening pandemic, the Brazilian Health Minister is now asking them to return. Meanwhile, without a functioning healthcare system, Ecuador has been transformed into perhaps the country worst affected by COVID-19, as MintPress reported earlier this month.

If medical internationalism is merely a cynical “soft power” ploy, as the U.S. government insists, then the Cubans are not doing it very well, focusing on the poorest, least influential countries in the world and working with the poorest people in those countries. That the Trump administration should see any gesture as a cynical attempt to bully, intimidate or increase their power is perhaps unsurprising, given their own actions. The U.S. currently leads the world in seizing and stealing medical equipment bound for other countries. It also tried to compel a German pharmaceutical corporation to move production to the U.S., in order to make sure that America alone had access to and control of any coronavirus vaccine it might produce. Trump reportedly wished to ensure that it would only be available on a for-profit basis.

Washington appears to see Cuba’s genuine solidarity in the face of such adversity as a threat: the threat of a good example to other countries, showing them that “another world is possible,” as the revolutionary phrase goes. People in other nations are often just happy they can see a doctor.

Feature photo | A brigade of Cuban health professionals who volunteered to travel to South Africa to assist local authorities with an upsurge of coronavirus cases, attend the farewell ceremony in Havana, April 25, 2020. Ramon Espinosa | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post A Soft Power Ploy? Cuba Continues to Aid the Poorest and Least Influential Nations appeared first on MintPress News.

During Coronvrius: Cuba to the Rescue, But Don’t Tell the American people

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/04/2020 - 11:42pm in

While Bernie Sanders paid a political price for uttering something positive about Cuba’s literacy program, the current pandemic has shown the whole world the heroic side of Cuba’s health care system.

I saw this heroism firsthand when I worked with Cuban doctors in poor, remote villages in Africa. It was the 1970s and I was a young woman employed as a nutritionist with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. My colleagues were good people who were helping to feed hungry children. They also made hefty salaries and lived a wealthy lifestyle they could never afford back home. The Cubans were different. They lived simply, worked under the harshest conditions and earned almost nothing for their services. Their motivation was purely to help people in need.

They called it internationalism and said it was their revolutionary duty to repay their debt to society. They quoted Che Guevara: “The life of a single human being is worth a million times more than all the property of the richest man on earth.”

I was inspired, and ended up moving to Cuba. Four years, a marriage and a baby later, I was accused by the Cuban government of writing articles critical of the revolution and deported. Certainly, I saw and experienced aspects of the Cuban system I disliked, but I never lost my admiration for the country’s public health system and its commitment to international solidarity.

It is truly inspiring that this small, poor island has basic health indicators equal, or better, to those of the world’s richest countries. This is even more remarkable after it has faced a brutal US blockade and sanctions for sixty years. Cuba’s infant mortality rate of 4 per 1,000 live births is lower than in the United States — and that’s according to the CIA! There’s little food on the store shelves and shortages in the pharmacies, but, as Cubans say, “We live like poor people, but we die like rich people.” That’s because their life expectancy of 79 years is the same as in the United States, despite the fact that Cuba spends less than about $800 per person per year on healthcare compared with $11,000 in the United States.

Like most of the world, Cuba is now grappling with coronavirus. As of April 20, there were 1,137 confirmed cases, with 38 deaths. But Cuba’s free and universal health care system, including a robust cadre of health professionals, puts the island in a better position to deal with this crisis than most countries. With its intense focus on training health professionals, Cuba has the highest density of physicians in the world. Its ratio of medical professionals to patients is roughly three times higher than in the United States.

Cuba not only trains its own doctors, it trains doctors from all over the world. The island of only 11 million people is home to the world’s largest international medical school, the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM). Since its founding in 1999, the school has trained over 35,000 young people from 138 countries, including the United States. And here’s the kicker: it’s free.

 Pastors for Peace, the group that selects US students coming from the “humblest and neediest” communities, says the scholarships include full tuition, dormitory housing, three meals per day, textbooks, school uniforms, and a small monthly stipend. While graduates from U.S. medical schools leave saddled with six figure debts, the only debt ELAM students have is a commitment to practice medicine in low-income and medically under-served communities. That’s why you’ll find ELAM graduates like Dr. Melissa Barbar on the frontlines in the Bronx fighting coronavirus today.

If that doesn’t make you teary-eyed, just look at the brigade of doctors taking off for international missions to the most COVID-19 affected area of Italy, Lombardy. “We are not superheroes,” intensive care specialist Leonardo Fernandez told Reuters as the first brigade left Havana. “We are revolutionary doctors.” As of April 1, Cuba had sent 800 medical personnel to fight COVID-19 in 16 countries, from Angola to Andorra, and more are on their way.

For Cuba, medical assistance has been a hallmark of the revolution: helping Chilean earthquake victims in 1963; Nicaraguans and Hondurans devastated by Hurricane Mitch in 1998; Indonesia tsunami victims in 2004; Haitians after the disastrous 2010 earthquake and subsequent cholera outbreak. Teams were also dispatched to Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone to fight Ebola in 2014.

Gradually, this “army of white coats,” as Fidel Castro called them, not only responded to emergencies overseas but began serving as family doctors in poor communities around the world. Poorer countries pay only the medical teams’ expenses or seek international support to compensate Cuba; wealthier countries pay more.

But the Trump administration poses a significant challenge to Cuban social programs . When he came to power, his administration launched an all-out attack on the Cuban economy: placing new restrictions on U.S. travel to the island, reducing the amount of remittances Cuban-Americans could send back home, interfering with the transport of Venezuelan oil to the island, and trying to sabotage Cuba’s medical collaborations.

Anti-Cuba zealots in the Trump administration have been enticing Cuban doctors working overseas to defect, paying journalists to write negative stories, slapping sanctions on Cubans in charge of the program, and strong-arming countries to expel Cuban doctors.

The crux of the attack has been to paint the program as a form of modern slavery because the doctors only receive about a quarter of the money the countries pay for their services. But Cuban health professionals volunteer for these assignments — they want the experience, they earn much more than they would back home, and they know the rest of the money goes to support Cuba’s national health care system.

The Trump administration has been successful in convincing the right-wing governments that came to power in Bolivia, Brazil, and Ecuador since 2018 to send about 9,000 Cubans packing. In a tragic twist, these same countries are now overwhelmed with coronavirus and lamenting the loss of experienced professionals.

As we move through this crisis, we see the tragedy of the rich superpower with its privatized, dysfunctional health care system failing its people, while its impoverished neighbor — under constant attack from the superpower — reaches out to help the world. We see Trump desperate to deflect from his catastrophic bungling of this pandemic, including defunding the WHO in what a prestigious medical editor called “an appalling betrayal of global solidarity,” while Cuba’s army of white coats have become the embodiment of global solidarity.

But if you are an American with political ambitions, you might think twice before saying something good about Cuba’s health care system.

Feature photo | An emergency contingent of Cuban doctors and nurses arrive at Italy’s Malpensa airport after traveling from Cuba to help Italy in its fight against the coronavirus. Daniele Mascolo | Reuters

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The post During Coronvrius: Cuba to the Rescue, But Don’t Tell the American people appeared first on MintPress News.

Solidarity in a Time of Pandemic, While the US Capitalizes on Disaster

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 13/04/2020 - 11:57pm in

Like most everyone else, I don’t get out much lately due to shelter-in-place. But when I walk around my community, I am heartened by neighbors asking if there is anything we might need. I suspect this scenario is taking place everywhere.

Around the world amidst the pandemic, people step out at a mutually designated evening hour to make noise in a collective show of gratitude for heroic frontline healthcare workers. In New York City and Rome, they bang pots and pans. They’re cheering from rooftops in London and Vancouver. Elsewhere they sing in harmony. Here in Marin County, just north of San Francisco, we emerge at dusk to howl like coyotes.

What we are seeing is not social distancing but people coming together… while maintaining the prescribed 6-foot physical distancing. Our enforced physical isolation has paradoxically awakened a deeper appreciation of our commonality and mutual dependence, echoed by the response of nations other than the US.


International solidarity

Cuba has sent over 700 health professionals all over the world to fight COVID-19. The antiviral recombinant Interferon alfa-2b, developed in Cuba, has been successfully used in China to treat the virus in its early stages and is being exported widely. The Cuban approach is: “we don’t just give what we have left over but share what we have.” In a word, solidarity.

The Venezuelan air force mobilized to carry Cuban medical brigades to Caribbean counties fighting COVID-19. Venezuelan soldiers mustered not to their guns but to sewing machines to stitch surgical masks for civilians to protect them from the virus. This is being done in the context of ever-tightening sanctions on Venezuela by the US, blockading Venezuela at a cost of over 100,000 lives.

China, having contained its own outbreak in an effort the World Health Organization (WHO) praised as unprecedented, sent critically needed respirators and other medical equipment to 35 other countries and regions. Responding to shortages in the US, China flew in tons of medical equipment to New York,  Illinois, Ohio, and other US states. Russia airlifted 60 tons of needed ventilators, masks, and respirators to the US and has aided other countries in the global effort to contain the pandemic.

In the same spirit, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for a global ceasefire: “There should be only one fight in our world today, our shared battle against COVID-19…[to] end the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world.” Over 70 nations have endorsed the ceasefire, as did Pope Francis and religious leaders of diverse faiths, but not the US.

“The war on this virus can only be successful if all nations can win this war together, and no affected nation is left behind,” wrote Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in an open letter to the American people.

“This is the other side of the globalization coin; a signal that happiness and calamity are both globalized.”


Washington sees an opportunity

The virus does not discriminate, attacking oppressed and oppressor alike. Unfortunately, the US government does more than discriminate. Washington has seen the pandemic as an opportunity.

The US government is exploiting the pandemic as an opportunity to increase misery in Iran, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, Syria and other countries the world’s hegemon doesn’t care for. And these besieged states are not alone. One-third of humanity is under ever-increasing US sanctions. These unilateral coercive measures, illegal under international and domestic law, are explicitly designed to cause the targeted people to suffer so much they will reject their leaders for those chosen for them by the US.

Filmmaker Oliver Stone and human rights law professor Dan Kovalik describe the US conduct as “weaponizing the virus” against targeted countries. As the US Peace Council reports, the countries targeted by the US “are finding it prohibitively difficult to protect and save the lives of their citizens in the face of the ongoing global emergency. These sanctions constitute crimes against humanity.” In short, sanctions kill.

The US has blocked medical aid to targeted countries. A shipment of test kits, masks, and respirators donated by the Chinese Alibaba group to Cuba had to be aborted, when the US transport company refused to deliver, fearing breaking the US blockade. Correspondingly the US has waged a campaign to force recipient countries to refuse Cuban medical assistance.

Venezuela, with COVID-19 already threatening, applied for an emergency $5 billion loan to combat the virus from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Under US pressure, the IMF denied the request.

Trump threatened to suspend the US contribution to the WHO, the main international body fighting the pandemic. WHO had appealed to the US to lift its sanctions preventing Iran from purchasing drugs and medical equipment. But the US had already rejected the binding but unenforceable ruling of the International Court of Justice (aka World Court) to lift sanctions on medical and humanitarian aid to Iran.

Likewise, the appeal by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet for the US to suspend sanctions amidst the pandemic, because the “impeding medical efforts in one country heightens the risk for all of us,” fell on deaf ears.

The punitive policies of the US government are having the effect of spreading the coronavirus. In response, even close US allies such as the UK, France, and Germany have used the alternative trading tool, INSTEX, to circumvent the US sanctions and deliver humanitarian medical supplies.

At a time when resources are supposedly inadequate to respond to the health crisis in the US, the US Navy is being sent off the Venezuelan coast in the largest regional US military deployment in 30 years. Washington’s bogus claim, that Venezuela is conspiring to “flood the United States with cocaine,” is contradicted by the government’s own statistics that prove that the illicit drugs are coming overwhelmingly out of US client state Colombia, which has received over $10 billion of US aid.

The positioning of the US armada of Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, among the world’s most expensive, is overkill for drug interdiction. But the warships, each armed with 56 Tomahawk cruise missiles, land-attack missiles, and anti-ship missiles, along with the deployment of ground Special Forces would be appropriate for threatening an invasion of Venezuela.

US officials claim that this spare-no-expense military exercise is necessary to “send a message” to Venezuelan President Maduro. But given Trump’s undeniable skills in the area, wouldn’t it be far more parsimonious to tweet him? Apparently not, because the US is also using the pandemic as a morbid backdrop for offensive actions in Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, and Yemen, to name a few of the more prominent flashpoints engaging the US military. Besides tweeting might not work so well. Twitter, in service of the empire, has suspended the accounts of the minister of health and other top Venezuelan officials.


Gone viral: now a description of the human condition

The critical difference between an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer and a ventilator used to treat COVID-19 is that there is no shortage of warships. This will remain the case so long as our bipartisan foreign policy persists. Working people will be neglected, come pandemics, economic collapse, or both.

The larger question for our times, when “gone viral” is more than a figure of speech but is a description of the human condition, is posed by the New York Times: “Everything is awful. So why is the stock market booming?” The wealthiest member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and its chair, Jerome Powell, is similarly bullish: “There is nothing fundamentally wrong.”

Heidi Shierholz with the Economic Policy Institute looked at precisely the same indicators as did Powell, but from the perspective of the other 99% of humanity, and exclaimed:

I don’t usually look at data releases and just start shaking…This is a portrait of disaster…It represents just incredible amounts of grief and suffering.”

The answer to the Times’ query is that the US empire, as leader of the capitalist world, finds ways to exploit disasters while failing to meet human needs.

Feature photo | Cuban doctors form up during a farewell ceremony as they get ready to leave for Italy to help with the new coronavirus pandemic, in Havana, Cuba, April 12, 2020. Ismael Francisco | AP

Roger D. Harris is with the Task Force on the Americas, a human rights group working in solidarity with the social justice movements in Latin America and the Caribbean since 1985.

The post Solidarity in a Time of Pandemic, While the US Capitalizes on Disaster appeared first on MintPress News.

Meet the Americans Studying Medicine on the Cuban Government’s Dime

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/04/2020 - 2:22am in

It’s a medical school like no other: the largest of its kind in the world. The Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) in Havana, Cuba hosts students from well over 100 countries and every year, dozens of American students are paid to go there to train as doctors. Paid, that is, by the Cuban government on the proviso that they return to the U.S. and serve underprivileged communities. Generally, students come from underprivileged backgrounds themselves and would not have been able to attend medical school in the U.S. for financial reasons. The average cost of in-state training at am American public college runs to nearly $35,000 per year, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, with private universities charging well over $50,000. Women and people of color make up the clear majority of applicants.

Cuba is constantly demonized by both the U.S. government and the media. Washington made its opposition to the 1959 revolution immediately clear, attempting an ill-fated invasion at the Bay of Pigs in 1961. Decades of illegal blockades have since sapped the country’s strength and wealth. Nevertheless, it remains ideologically committed to opposing American imperialism and providing similarly poor countries with medical relief. While the U.S. sends troops to other countries, Cuba invariably sends medical professionals.

ELAM is the centerpiece of this policy. Amid a global COVID–19 pandemic, the island of 11 million has been punching above its weight, leading the fight back. A Cuban drug, Interferon Alpha 2b, has proven successful in boosting the immune systems of coronavirus patients. Fearing a public relations defeat, the United States government is actively trying to pressure countries to refuse aid from Cuba. Despite this, last week, 140 medical personnel left the country to travel to northern Italy, the current hotspot of the virus. “This is a global battle and we have to fight it together,” said Carlos Armando Garcia Hernandez, a nurse who volunteered for the mission. Doctors have also been sent to many neighboring islands, as well as Venezuela, Suriname and Nicaragua.


“It was like going to the UN”

MintPress News spoke with two American attendees of ELAM to understand why they chose Cuba and how they found themselves on the tiny Caribbean island that has been shunned by American media and foreign policy. “It was like going to the UN,” said Sarpoma Sefa-Boakye, a Ghanaian-American who studied there between 2002 and 2009.

Dr. Sefa-Boakye now practices family medicine in San Diego. Walking to school every day, she said, she passed dorm rooms filled with Africans, Latin Americans and students from other Caribbean islands, all speaking different languages. “The teaching [here] is of the highest quality,” Olive Albanese assures me, with class sizes similar to those in American medical schools. Albanese is a fifth year student from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, currently studying at ELAM. “They actually recruit for students from the most humble communities around the world, people whose families would never be able to afford them a medical education, because we are the ones who will make the most humble and conscientious doctors,” she adds.

Cuba medical school

Students study human brains during an anatomy class at the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana. Javier Galeano | AP

While Albanese applied to study because she wanted a university experience that would challenge her in more ways than just academically, Dr. Sefa-Boakye had no idea about the existence of such a possibility until she was spending time in Ghana and was shocked to meet Cuban doctors speaking her parents’ language of Twi. She was even more astonished when they told her that as an American, she could study for free in Cuba. Within weeks, she had enrolled.

Bernie Sanders was roundly condemned for praising the country’s health and medical prowess. “These are flat-out dictators, period, and they should be called for it, straight-up,” former vice-president Joe Biden told him at the most recent Democratic debate in Miami. Cuba preaches the idea of socialist medicine, which can be traced back to the revolutionary Che Guevara, himself a doctor. But the island, beset by poverty and by decades of U.S. sanctions, has had to develop unique methods for dealing with public health.

After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba was cut off from a major trading partner and a vital source of oil. In a similar fashion to its current actions against countries like Iran and Venezuela, the U.S. greatly increased sanctions on the island, imposing a unilateral (and illegal) embargo. With no oil and without the ability to pay for imported food or goods, the economy was devastated, and Cuba entered what it euphemistically calls “the special period.” Across the country there was widespread hunger, with caloric intake sharply decreasing and a generalized loss of weight among the population. The death rate among the elderly greatly increased.


Necessity meets invention

Out of necessity, Cuba abandoned oil-thirsty, mechanized agriculture and embraced local, organic gardening, small-scale farming, permaculture, and a more vegan diet. As such, the changes, forced upon the population out of desperation ultimately led to positive changes in diet, industry, and lifestyle. Today, Cubans enjoy a longer life expectancy than Americans. The period is explored in the documentary “The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil.”

The health industry was also forced to change to a cheaper system of preventative medicine. Health professionals across the country were assigned local neighborhoods and instructed to visit and consult with every resident, nipping problems in the bud before they developed into costly diseases. Thus, teenage obesity was dealt with cheaply through advice on cooking, diet and exercise courses before it could metastasize into extremely expensive heart surgery.

Dr. Sefa-Boakye arrived at the tail end of the Special Period. “We spent six months on diabetes my first year in medical school because authorities were like ‘we CANNOT have a diabetes epidemic here,’ so whatever was needed in the community [to fight the extremely costly lifelong condition], that was a special focus in our training,” she said. To combat Dengue Fever, she noted, local community doctors and students like her made home visits to ensure no one was keeping large stores of water that could be a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

The benefit of this, Albanese says, is that medical authorities have incredibly detailed statistics about health problems in every neighborhood. Every neighborhood has its own local doctors and consultation offices, meaning everyone can see a physician for free, and one who lives within a short walk, too. “No one slips through the cracks,” she says.

This has developed into a much more integral system. “We had to learn about the biological, psychological social determinants of a human being. That meant that you not only had to treat the person by themselves, you had to treat them within [the context of] the community. And within the community was the ability to use medicine like acupuncture, plant-based foods, acupressure and more,” Sefa-Boakye adds.


A different kind of health care

There are certainly downsides to studying in Cuba, not least the intensive Spanish-language courses non-speakers must take. The internet is still infuriatingly slow and patchy on the island; the government continues to be highly mistrustful of it. Perhaps they have reason to be; the U.S. government was secretly behind multiple friendly-looking social networks aimed at Cubans, that were, in fact, attempts to foment regime change from within, sending users anti-communist propaganda and prompting them to attend anti-government demonstrations. The result is that “it requires a huge effort to maintain long-distance relationships with friends and family back home,” according to Albanese. Because of the embargo, there are also still shortages of testing kits and other equipment, meaning that practicing in Cuba does have its challenges.


Med students walk down the stairways after classes at the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana. Javier Galeano | AP

Nevertheless, there is no need to constantly check and confirm if insurance companies will allow doctors to treat patients with certain drugs. Because there is no profit motive, doctors can also spend as long as they feel necessary consulting with patients. Indeed, Dr. Sefa-Boakye claimed she knew the names of all her patients and their families and was taught to treat them like they were loved ones. And of course, the system is free for both doctors and patients. “Imagine getting sick and not having to worry about insurance and hospital bills!” said Albanese.

In the U.S., one of the most common conversation topics between doctors is student loans. Sefa-Boakye says her colleagues look at her with amazement when she tells them she has no debt because Cuba paid for her studies.

The country not only brings in students from around the world but exports its own doctors to poor countries too. Tens of thousands of Cuban doctors work in dozens of countries, generating significant income for the cash-strapped island. While they are often described as little more than slaves in the U.S. press, the defection rates for those abroad appears to be minuscule. The effect they have had is not. Cuba, for instance, helped Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez build a nationalized healthcare system from the ground up. “You cannot talk about Latin America’s healthcare without talking about Cuba,” said Sefa-Boakye, estimating that there are incredibly more Cuban or Cuban-trained doctors in Africa currently than domestically-trained African doctors.

Cuba, like most countries, is in the midst of a growing COVID-19 problem. The government confirmed 139 cases on Sunday. The Guardian also reported that it faces a shortage of soap. Nevertheless, Albanese believes it is more equipped than most to deal with a pandemic: “I am very confident of Cuba’s public health and epidemiology system, it is all very organized: nationally, provincially, regionally and locally,” she said.

“I wish every U.S. citizen could experience the social qualities of Cuba. I have noticed that despite all the day to day difficulties of living in a blockaded country, that there is generally less anxiety and depression here, that people are, in general, social, outgoing, friendly, easygoing, laugh often and find time to relax and enjoy life. There is not so much social isolation and fear of strangers here as there is in the U.S.”

Americans can apply for ELAM through the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization.

Feature photo | Medicine students look through microscopes at a laboratory of the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana. Javier Galeano | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Meet the Americans Studying Medicine on the Cuban Government’s Dime appeared first on MintPress News.

Images of Cuban Doctors Helping Italy Go Viral, Burst Media Narrative

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 24/03/2020 - 3:15am in

Only one week ago Joe Biden was excoriating Bernie Sanders for his praise of Cuba’s medical system. “These are flat-out dictators, period, and they should be called for it, straight-up,” the former vice-president stated during the Democratic debate in Miami. But as the world applauded 140 Cuban medical personnel arriving in Northern Italy last night, that view appeared already antiquated.

Almost 5,500 people on the Italian peninsula have already died, including 651 yesterday. Yet the videos of Cuban doctors volunteering to travel halfway across the world to put themselves in mortal danger for the good of people they have never met stirred the heartstrings of even the most cynical observer, going viral all over social media. As the doctors left the departure lounge in Havana, they were given a standing ovation from their countrymen and led to positive press even from the avowedly anti-communist New York Times.

In contrast to the United States, who reportedly attempted to bribe a German pharmaceutical company to give it exclusive control over a coronavirus vaccine it is working on, ensuring it would only be available on a for-profit basis, Europe has primarily received help from countries like Cuba, China and Vietnam; states that have not bought into the neoliberal method of organizing society. China has also sent tons of medical equipment, including lifesaving ventilators, to Italy, while Vietnam has sent locally made test swabs. In comparison, 500,000 COVID-19 test kits made by an Italian company in Lombardy – the epicenter of the outbreak – mysteriously found their way to the U.S. aboard a military plane last week.

Despite facing an uncertain future, Cuba has also sent medical workers to Nicaragua, Venezuela, Suriname and Jamaica over the past weeks, but to less fanfare. Upon greeting 140 Cuban professionals at Kingston International Airport Saturday, Jamaican Health Minister Christopher Tufton lauded their neighbor’s generosity; “In a time of crisis, the Cuban government, the Cuban people … have risen to the occasion, they have heard our appeal and they have responded,” he said. Prime Minister Andrew Holness was equally thankful; “Jamaica is grateful for the support of Cuba as we fight this COVID-19 pandemic,” he wrote. The United Kingdom also thanked the Caribbean island for its welcoming of the British cruise liner M.S. Braemar into a Cuban port. The ship had multiple confirmed COVID-19 cases aboard and had been refused entry by many other countries.

The doctors putting themselves in harm’s way were far from blind to the risks. “Obviously I am scared. But when we went to fight Ebola in West Africa in 2014 we were scared too. But we fulfilled our mission there and we all came back,” said Dr. Leonardo Fernandez, speaking to journalists in Havana. “He who says he is not afraid is a superhero, but we are not superheroes, we are revolutionary doctors.”

For many decades, medical internationalism has been at the heart of Cuban ideology. There are currently tens of thousands of Cuban doctors in over 100 countries around the world. MintPress spoke recently with Sarpoma Sefa-Boakye, a doctor practicing in San Diego, CA. Dr. Sefa-Boakye is one of many Americans paid by the Cuban government to train as a doctor and serve underprivileged communities in the U.S. Most of those applying for the program are from poor backgrounds themselves and would not be able to otherwise study.

“You don’t hear of Cuba’s health contributions in the United States,” she said, noting that, remarkably, more African doctors have trained in Cuba than all African states put together. She first came across Cuban doctors while studying in her parents’ home country of Ghana. She also said that, “You cannot talk about Latin America’s healthcare without talking about Cuba. They are in these countries and in the Caribbean islands as well.” With the aid of Cuba, states with leftist presidents like Venezuela and Bolivia have managed to construct comprehensive nationalized healthcare systems.

Cuba Coronavirus

Some of the Cuban doctors that will depart for Italy pose for a photo in Havana, before they depart, March 21. Ismael Francisco | AP

The Cuban government has confirmed 35 cases of COVID-19, including one death and two full recoveries so far. Dr. Sefa-Boakye believes the island is better placed than its neighbors because of its culture of regular quarantining. “The only way to really tackle a virus that you don’t know, where transmission is questionable, or even how this virus came to be, quarantining has to be the only way that we can get a hold of transmission” she said. “The science will tell you, you talk to any biologist or anyone who has taken a basic science class: viruses replicate. That is how they move. They need a host and a source. I learned that in Cuba… We don’t have options. You can’t go against science.”

The images of Cubans marching to their possible deaths might stir public sentiment against the decades-long policy of sanctions. Perhaps the greatest danger to the island currently is serious difficulties with food production, owing to a tightening of the blockade under the Trump administration, who described Cuba as belonging to a “troika of tyranny.” Despite price controls, staples like black beans are in short supply. More worryingly, so is soap. But the Trump administration has been using the pandemic to ramp up sanctions against enemy states, hoping for regime change.

Public opinion might be changing, however. Sanders actually won the Cuban-American vote during the Florida primary, with many Miamians who criticize the communist government are quietly returning to their ancestral homeland for medical treatment. Regardless of the sanctions, medical personnel will continue to fight disease around the world, according to Carlos Armando Garcia Hernandez, a nurse traveling to Italy; “This is a global battle and we have to fight it together.”

Feature photo | Medics and paramedics from Cuba pose upon arrival at the Malpensa airport of Milan, Italy, March 22, 2020. Antonio Calanni | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Images of Cuban Doctors Helping Italy Go Viral, Burst Media Narrative appeared first on MintPress News.

Fresh audio product

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 20/03/2020 - 8:04am in

Just added to my radio archive (click on date for link):

March 19, 2020 David Himmelstein of Physicians for a National Health Program and CUNY on how US health policy got us to this desperate pass • Helen Yaffe on Cuban interferon and COVID-19, and the country’s biotech industry and health system (YUP article here)

How Cuba is Leading the World in the Fight Against Coronavirus

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 17/03/2020 - 5:50am in

While the United States government is complicating efforts to treat coronavirus across the world and is using the pandemic to increase pressure on countries already struggling under U.S. sanctions, including Iran, Syria, and Venezuela, the small island of Cuba, itself a target of Washington’s ire, is leading the fight against the spread of COVID-19.

And while the Trump administration slashes the Center for Disease Control’s budget amid an imminent pandemic, China appears to have gotten to grips with the coronavirus outbreak. Beijing reported only 16 new cases of the virus today, and there are now more total cases outside mainland China than inside it.

Integral to reducing the number of deaths is a Cuban antiviral drug, Interferon Alpha 2b. The drug, according to Cuban biotech specialist Dr. Luis Herrera Martinez, “prevents aggravation and complications in patients, reaching that stage that ultimately can result in death.” It has been produced in China since 2003 in a partnership with the state-owned Cuban pharmaceutical industry. Interferons are “signaling” proteins, explains Dr. Helen Yaffe of Glasgow University, an expert on Cuba. These proteins are produced and released by the body in response to infections and alert nearby cells to heighten their antiviral defenses. It is not a cure or a vaccine to COVID-19, but rather an antiviral that boosts the human immune system.

Cuba has used it to fight outbreaks of Dengue Fever, a common occurrence on the mosquito-plagued island. The Castro government was forced to develop a strong pharmaceutical industry because of the constant U.S. embargo. Cuba estimates the decades-long sanctions, continually declared illegal by the United Nations, have cost it over $750 billion.

Today, the Cuban government offered haven to the stranded cruise ship, MS Braemar. The ship has five confirmed COVID-19 cases on board and had been turned away by both Barbados and the Bahamas. 

Despite confirming its own first cases, the island is continuing to export medical professionals to the rest of the world. Yesterday, Jamaican Health Minister Christopher Tufton announced that 21 nurses from its neighbor would arrive imminently, the first of more than 100, he hoped. But they have also sent doctors to more advanced nations, such as Italy.

Sarpoma Sefa-Boakye, a Ghanaian-American doctor who studied for free in Havana and now practices in California told MintPress: “You don’t hear of Cuba’s health contributions in the United States,” claiming that there are more Cuban doctors in Africa than African doctors and that the Caribbean island trains more Africans in medicine than all of Africa does. She first heard of the possibility of scholarships for Americans while studying in Ghana. She notes that Cuba is well placed to combat the coronavirus because of its culture of quarantining for viruses and its experience fighting Dengue.

Despite inadequate testing, the United States has over 4,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. There has not been one centralized plan from the government; instead, different authorities have enacted different laws, with varying degrees of severity. New York City, for example, will go into lockdown tomorrow, closing all schools, universities and non-essential stores. On the other hand, other cities remain almost completely normalized.

Dr. Sefa-Boakye advised that stringent measures were urgently needed to fight the virus’ spread; “Quarantining has to be the only way that we can get a hold of transmission,” she said. “The science will tell you, you talk to any biologist or anyone who has taken a basic science class: viruses replicate. That is how they move. They need a host and a source. I learned that in Cuba.” She also warned that the United States is “facing an increase in transmission because of our lack of infrastructure.”

Worldwide, the number of confirmed cases reached over 175,000 today, with 6,717 deaths. COVID-19 has now reached a large majority of countries. Medical professionals urge everybody to reduce their contact with other people to the minimum necessary, regularly wash their hands with soap and water, avoid touching their face, and cover their mouths with their elbow when they cough or sneeze. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) advised countries should check all potential cases. “You cannot fight a fire blindfolded. We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test,” said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia. “This amazing spirit of human solidarity must become even more infectious than the coronavirus itself. Although we may have to be physically apart from each other for a while, we can come together in ways we never have before…We’re all in this together. And we can only succeed together,” he added. It is that ethos that has driven Cuba’s revolutionary healthcare system for 60 years.

Feature photo | A woman wears a mask as a precaution against the spread of the new coronavirus at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba, March 12, 2020. Ramon Espinosa | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post How Cuba is Leading the World in the Fight Against Coronavirus appeared first on MintPress News.

As Coronvirus Grips the US, Americans Get a Taste of Life Under Sanctions

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 17/03/2020 - 4:18am in

Across fifty states, Americans are collectively bracing for the incoming COVID-19 pandemic to hit. In the face of the virus, people are resorting to panic buying, stocking up on vital foods and goods, leading to pressing shortages of key products like hand sanitizer and toilet paper.

Perhaps more concerning, however, is that health experts all agree that the country is ill-equipped for the coming medical emergency. “We are not prepared, nor is any place prepared for a Wuhan-like outbreak,” said Dr. Eric Toner of Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “And we would see the same sort of bad outcomes that they saw in Wuhan – with a very high case fatality rate, due largely to people not being able to access the needed intensive care.” Chief among the problems is a lack of ventilators, a crucial machine to help critically ill patients breathe properly. New York City, for example, has barely one sixth of the ventilators it would need for a critical outbreak. If things get truly bad, the city has drafted laws to compel prisoners at Rikers Island jail to dig mass graves.

Two sisters preparing for Coronavirus shutdown

This is Rebecca and Fina — two sisters stocking up on groceries at Walmart that I spoke to with two very full carts. They are terrified from Trump's coronavirus response and the potential for martial law. They currently can't visit their sick mother who is in a nursing home because the nursing home has shut down.

Posted by Mnar A. Muhawesh on Saturday, March 14, 2020

One of the principal reasons why the U.S. is so unprepared is that it spends so little on public health in comparison with what it spends on war. The U.S. military’s projected budget is $934 billion per year, the Pentagon’s is $712 billion. In contrast, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) costs the taxpayer only $6.6 billion. At a time of crisis, many Americans are reassessing which organization they feel is truly protecting them from danger. While increasing the military budget, President Trump has consistently argued for cuts to the CDC. Amazingly, the Trump administration confirmed last week that it intends to slash funding from the body, even as the country begins reeling from the impact of COVID-19. 

The crippling shortages, inability to move and the likely overwhelming of medical services will give Americans a taste of what it is like to live under sanctions that it imposes on a number of countries worldwide. U.S. sanctions on Venezuela, declared illegal and a “crime against humanity” by the United Nations, are conservatively estimated to have killed more than 40,000 people between 2017 and 2018 alone. Diabetics, for example, have been unable to get insulin because of the embargo, leading to mass deaths. The Cuban government estimates that the American embargo has cost it over $750 billion. Meanwhile, Iran, wracked by the virus that has caused more than 850 confirmed deaths, has been decimated by Trump’s increased sanctions. 

The Iranian rial lost 80 percent of its value, food prices doubled, and rents and unemployment soared. Because of the sanctions, patients with conditions like leukemia and epilepsy have been unable to get treatment. After the coronavirus hit it, no country would sell the Islamic Republic basic medical supplies like masks, fearful of reprisals from the world’s only superpower. The shortages are so bad that doctors are being forced to share facemasks with other hospital staff. Eventually the World Health Organization stepped in and began supplying Iran directly. The Iranian government also invented an app to deal with COVID-19, hoping to share information with its citizens to help fight its spread but Google removed it from its app store citing the sanctions that prevent it from promoting anything Iranian-made. The effect of the sanctions in helping spread COVID-19 across Iran and beyond is immeasurable.

Despite the circumstances, countries under American pressure are trying their best to stem the outbreak. In Venezuela, doctors have begun going door-to-door with sanitation workers and medical students, checking temperatures and providing information and consultation to the population for free. Cuba, meanwhile, is actually exporting medical professionals, sending them both to less advantaged neighbors like Jamaica and to advanced countries like Italy. The Cuban pharmaceutical industry is world-renowned, and a local antiviral drug, Interferon Alpha 2b, has proved crucial in limiting deaths in China. The Cubans were forced to develop their industry due to U.S. sanctions limiting what they could import. China, Cuba and Venezuela are working together with Italy to try to halt the virus’ spread.

Iran appears willing to do everything to slow the epidemic within its borders. Last week it announced it was even releasing 70,000 prisoners from its jails. In contrast, incarcerating more people seems to be a priority for American authorities. ICE recently launched a huge new crackdown, attempting to “flood the streets” with agents. Last night, it used the chaos caused by the pandemic to fly six detained children from Dallas to New York.

The Trump administration is also attempting to pressure a German pharmaceutical company to provide it with an exclusive coronavirus vaccine “only for the United States,” something that was met with utter disgust in Europe. “Germany is not for sale,” roared its economy minister, Peter Altmaier. Meanwhile, American pharmaceutical giant Gilead is trying to block China’s use of a potential coronavirus treatment, arguing that China would give it away free to the rest of the world, hurting the company’s profits. This is despite the fact Gilead used people in Wuhan as guinea pigs for research.

Despite being praised by the World Health Organization for its response, Washington appears to be very angry at China. At the Democratic presidential debate last night Senator Bernie Sanders was asked, “What consequences should China face for its role in this global crisis?” – a question that suggested sanctions were in order for Beijing. Perhaps given they now have a taste of what the reality of sanctions entail, the American public may not be as supportive of them as they have been in the past.

Feature photo | A patron at a local grocery store walks past empty shelves usually stocked with toilet paper due to the coronavirus pandemic, March 15, 2020, in Phoenix. Ross D. Franklin | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

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