CubaBrief: Lies, Damn Lies, Statistics, China, Cuba and the coronavirus

The past couple of months should have been a wake up call on the international community’s credulity regarding health data provided by communist regimes, such as China, and Cuba. 

Now Communist China is trying to spin conspiracy theories to draw attention away from its own culpability in making a bad situation worse, and with their Cuban and Venezuelan allies they are spinning a yarn of Cuban medicine saving thousands of Chinese lives with a pioneering treatment, but that in fact arose out of research surrounding SARS and MERS years ago patented by private firms. However that doesn’t stop Venezuelan tyrant Nicolas Maduro and the propaganda organ teleSur from repeating the talking points.


It is in this upside down environment that Marion Smith of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation has published an article in National Review titled ” Why Do Global Medical Institutions Trust China?” in which he describes the role played by international organizations in the initial cover up of what now has become a pandemic.

“As the coronavirus spread from China across the world in January and February, the World Health Organization repeatedly praised Beijing’s efforts to contain it. The agency did so despite China’s censorship of medical professionals and evidence of undercounting deaths. As the second-largest donor to the United Nations, which oversees the WHO, China, it appears, has induced the agency to provide a veneer of legitimacy while it engages in cover-up, thereby worsening the global crisis.”

Context must be provided to the unfolding global tragedy that began in China. The Roman orator Marcus Tullius Cicero observed in Oratio Pro Animo Milone. XVI that “Maxima illecebra est peccandi impunitatis spes.” (The hope of impunity is the greatest inducement to do wrong.) Communist China has been able to act with impunity invading and occupying Tibet in 1950, killing tens of millions of Chinese in the Great Leap Forward (1958 – 62), the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), crushing the Tiananmen Square protests (1989), and forced organ harvesting (2000 – present).

Looking the other way at the crimes visited on tens of millions of Chinese nationals is now threatening many more lives around the world following the coronavirus coverup and the active complicity of the World Health Organization. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was right “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” 

This is the same World Health Organization (WHO), who has a subsidiary, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), profiting of the trafficking of Cuban doctors in a questionable arrangement with Cuba’s dictatorship.

The Castro regime, that also has a history of committing crimes and covering up epidemics with impunity is once again being given the benefit of the doubt with regards to its claims that it has been coronavirus free. This despite the February 2020 announcement by the Castro regime that there is a shortage of soap and detergent in Cuba that will not be alleviated until April 2020 or later, due to decisions made by the central planning authorities. This means that Cubans will not have access to soap to wash their hands. Secondly that tens of thousands of travelers from Europe, China, and other areas heavily impacted by the coronavirus have been entering Cuba throughout this outbreak.  At least 147,900 Italian tourists and 49,781 Chinese tourists traveled to Cuba in 2018 and Cuba’s military run tourism industry sought to double the number of Chinese tourists.

The claim that Cuba does not have coronavirus in larger numbers under these circumstances is highly unlikely, but then North Korea continues to claim that they have no cases of coronavirus, despite having a border with Communist China, and South Korea having 7,979 cases.

However two days ago the Cuban government reached a point where they had to acknowledge that the situation had changed and that Cubans were finally being impacted by coronavirus, after denying its presence for weeks. Reuters reported the Cuban dictatorship’s official press on March 11, 2020 that “four Italian tourists who were staying at a hostel in the southern town of Trinidad after arriving at Havana airport on Monday had presented respiratory symptoms and were taken to a hospital on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the hospital confirmed that three of the tourists had tested positive for the coronavirus, the broadcaster said.”

It is important to note that Panama’s Ministry of Health, a day earlier, on March 10th had reported that two Panamanians, ages 55 and 29 who visited Cuba had tested positive for the coronavirus when they returned home.

Despite this, the Cuban dictatorship’s military run tourism industry continues to pitch Cuba as a travel destination and posted a tweet on March 13, 2020 at 11:01am claiming that Coronavirus does not replicate at high temperatures and that the island is now 29-32 degrees Celsius. Havanatour is owned and run by the Cuban military.


However even non-Cuban tour operators have demonstrated a callous indifference for the lives of their clients. In September 2017 when Hurricane Irma, a deadly category five storm with 180 mile per hour winds was bearing down on Cuba and a hurricane watch already issued, tourists were still being flown into the island by British and Canadian travel agencies.The British travel agency “Thomas Cook defended itself saying the company followed the Cuban government’s emergency instructions to the letter,” BBC News reported.

Cayo Coco suffered the full impact of Hurricane Irma and was destroyed by the storm. They were flying tourists into Cuba to Cayo Coco a day prior to the storm’s arrival, as reported by The Independent (United Kingdom).CBC News (Toronto) reported that Canadian tour operator Sunwing had elderly tourists flying into Cuba 24 hours before the Hurricane smashed into Cuba, forcing them to flee for their lives.

Needless to say, there is a no money back policy.

Meanwhile, the Castro regime sought to shut down a markets in Villa Clara, where merchants would sell products not available in government stores, leading to a large scale demonstration for communist Cuba with protesters shouting, “We want commerce! We want a solution! We want answers! We are not delinquents!”  Rumors are circulating that they were going to shut them down to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Returning to the issue of data and statistics, but shifting from health data to educational data. USA Today has published an important article on the literacy rates in Cuba pre-1959 and post-1959 that is a must read, but would also recommend reading Herald columnist Fabiola Santiago’s essay on the subject that challenges a couple of assumptions that bear further scrutiny.

USA TODAY, March 13, 2020

Cubans who lived through Castro’s literacy program frustrated by Bernie Sanders’ praise

Alan Gomez USA TODAY

MIAMI – There were brief moments when Ana Garcia felt she was doing something good by teaching illiterate people how to read in the Cuban countryside.

It was 1961, and the 17-year-old had been sent out to small, rural towns in a green shirt, green pants and black boots as part of Fidel Castro’s literacy campaign that was promoted as a way to eradicate illiteracy on the Caribbean island.

But Garcia knew something was strange the moment she picked up the training materials produced by the government. The teacher’s manual included 76 pages of chapters outlining the glories of Castro’s revolution and the dangers of imperialism and just 20 pages of suggested vocabulary words. Instead of the usual ABCs, the student’s manual featured “F” for Fidel, “R” for his brother, Raúl, and “V” for victory.

Within three months, Garcia’s father had seen enough and arranged for her to be pulled out of the literacy campaign.

“In those moments, when people were learning, of course it felt good. I love teaching and that’s what I wanted to do,” said Garcia, 76, who left Cuba years later and became a teacher in Miami. “But everything was designed to introduce communism. That was it.”

The history of that program will be revisited as the presidential campaign makes its way toward the critical swing state of Florida.

After losing Michigan and other states on Tuesday, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is desperate for a win in the Sunshine State. But he’s already being pummeled there by former Vice President Joe Biden in the polls — a Florida Atlantic University poll conducted last week had Biden up 61-25 over Sanders in the state. 

And now Sanders is preparing to face the Cuban American exiles that he angered when he repeated his praise for Castro’s literacy program. During a Feb. 23 “60 Minutes” interview that has become required viewing in South Florida, Sanders said Castro “totally transformed the society” in Cuba in part through his literacy campaign.

“Is that a bad thing?” he said.

Those who were living in Cuba at the time say Sanders’ assessment is wrong on multiple counts. They say Cuba’s literacy rate was already among the highest-ranking in Latin America when Castro took over. And more importantly, they say the literacy campaign Castro implemented in 1961 was more political indoctrination than basic education.

“You can’t divorce (the literacy campaign) from the political agenda that Castro had,” said Yuleisy Mena, a Cuba native and high school history teacher in Miami who has been interviewing participants in the 1961 literacy campaign as part of her Ph.D. dissertation at Florida International University. “This was a mass mobilization used for indoctrination.”

That viewpoint explains why so many Cuban Americans in Florida — and Venezuelans and Nicaraguans who fled socialist dictators in their homelands — are suspicious of any political candidate who even mentions socialism. And it explains why Sanders has won the Hispanic vote in California and Texas, but is trailing Biden among Hispanics in Florida 48% to 37%, according to a Telemundo poll released Wednesday.

When Castro’s bearded guerrillas marched into Havana on New Year’s Day 1959 to claim power over the island, Cuba’s education system was fractured but doing well when compared with other Latin American nations.

Carmelo Mesa-Lago, a professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh who has studied Cuba for decades, said the last census in Cuba in 1953 revealed that 76.4% of the population was literate. He estimates literacy rose to about 79% by 1958, the year before Castro took power, which placed Cuba fourth in Latin America.

He said Cuba ranked equally high on a number of other health and education indicators, including the lowest infant mortality rate in all of Latin America. While there was room for improvement in each area, Mesa-Lago said those metrics show how Sanders’ assessment of a country in desperate need of reform was flawed.

“That story is not true,” he said. The data “shows that Cuba was positioned very high in Latin America in terms of education and health care.”

The literacy data did show one glaring gap in Cuba’s educational system. The 1953 census found that 88.4% of people living in Cuba’s cities were literate, but only 58.2% of people living in rural areas could read and write.

That’s where Castro focused his efforts, a sentiment that was lauded by the United Nations and others in the international community. But for those who experienced it in Cuba, the educational push was confusing from the start.

Jaime Suchlicki was studying at the University of Havana in 1959 when he realized that the history books were quickly being rewritten. Cuba’s Independence Day was no longer in 1902, the year that the island broke free from a military government established by the United States. It was suddenly Jan. 1, 1959, the day Castro took power.

“They transformed Cuban history,” said Suchlicki, director of the Cuban Studies Institute and a professor emeritus at the University of Miami.

Mario Soto was an 10-year-old living in Havana when Castro took power. By the start of the next school year that fall, he said the government had even changed the math textbooks.

“Instead of ‘two cows plus two cows equals four’ it was ‘two guerrillas plus two guerrillas equals four,'” said Soto, a retired engineer and telecommunications executive who now lives outside Atlanta.

Sergio Rodriguez Puig, who grew up in Ciego de Avila in central Cuba, found similar changes in his workbooks. Just eight years old at the time, he was no longer asked to count up balloons or butterflies, but guns and tanks instead.

“You see the insidiousness of their brain-washing already, in a seemingly innocent math book,” said Rodriguez Puig, 67, whose family left Cuba in 1960 after seeing how quickly the revolution was shifting toward communism. He lived and worked for 50 years in New Orleans before retiring to Miami.

The literacy campaign started in earnest in 1961, which the Cuban regime dubbed “The Year of Education.” At the core of the program was enlisting 100,000 young Cubans — from age 10 to 19 — to trek into the countryside and teach the farmers, ranch hands and others far from Havana the basics of reading and writing.

But it was clear from the materials used that literacy was only part of the goal. Manuals distributed by the Cuban government, some of which are stored at the University of Miami’s Cuban Heritage Collection, show exactly what kind of literacy the government was trying to instill in the population.

The majority of the instructor’s manual given to the teenage teachers were chapters that echoed the proclamations coming from the government. The first chapter is titled “Revolution.” The second proclaims “Fidel is our leader.” Later chapters praise the Soviet Union and bash the “Yankee imperialism” that had exploited Cuba.

“Fidel Castro brings together the best qualities of his people and has immense faith in the wisdom, strength, and courage of the people,” reads the second chapter. “We Cubans respect and love the chief who raised the people in arms against tyranny and foreign domination.”

The final section of the manual provides 20 pages of vocabulary words and phrases that could be used during lessons. Some are basic: democracy, resources, tourism. Some are militaristic: the art of war, blockade, foreign aggression. Some are surprising: the Associated Press, freedom of the press.

And many are focused on the organizations and people of the United States: the FBI, the Klu Klux Klan, the State Department and “gringo.” 

The definition for the former Soviet Union describes it as a, “Nation formed by the union of several republics, which have a socialist regime and where there is no exploitation of man by man, since in it the goods of production belong to the people.”

While the Cuban government said all the teenagers who participated in the literacy program were volunteers, many Cubans laughed at that assertion, calling it “involuntary volunteerism.”

Soto said there was pressure on students to participate in the program and to accept the new lessons being taught in schools. He said that after speaking out in class too many times and being suspected of destroying a picture of Fidel Castro that hung in a classroom, his principal called his mother into the school and delivered a thinly-veiled threat. 

“They said, ‘If you want, he could also choose to go to a technical school and we can send him to the Soviet Union or East Germany to study engineering,'” Soto said.  “That’s when my mom got really scared.”

Within weeks, the family fled to Florida. 

Garcia, the former 17-year-old who taught mostly elderly people in their homes in central Cuba, said she sometimes strayed away from the curriculum, teaching her students to read with whatever other books or newspapers were lying around. But for the most part, she felt she had to stick to the script.

“I was scared,” she said. “Imagine, I was a kid. You were dominated by fear.”

The most disturbing part for those teachers was the final exam. Mena, the history teacher who has been interviewing teachers in the literacy campaign, said that for many, that meant writing a “thank you” letter to Castro himself.

In the end, those who participated in the literacy program were left torn by what they did. Mena said they all said they enjoyed teaching people the basics of reading and writing. But as the days and months wore on, they realized they were taking part in something different.

“It was a farce and the disillusionment was real,” Mena said. “They had to reevaluate the larger context of what they did. Their naivete went away. They saw Cuba for what it was and they saw the new government for what it was.”

National Review, March 13, 2020

Why Do Global Medical Institutions Trust China?

By Marion Smith

With the Communist country’s bloody record of forced organ harvesting, can we believe anything it says about its coronavirus efforts?

Why are international medical bodies accepting the Chinese Communist Party line? As the coronavirus spread from China across the world in January and February, the World Health Organization repeatedly praised Beijing’s efforts to contain it. The agency did so despite China’s censorship of medical professionals and evidence of undercounting deaths. As the second-largest donor to the United Nations, which oversees the WHO, China, it appears, has induced the agency to provide a veneer of legitimacy while it engages in cover-up, thereby worsening the global crisis.

Yet the coronavirus is not the only instance of the WHO’s credulity when it comes to Chinese claims. The same is true with China’s organ-transplant system. The evidence overwhelmingly indicates that China forcibly harvests organs from prisoners of conscience, most notably Falun Gong practitioners and Muslim Uighurs. Yet the WHO and the Transplantation Society (TTS), the profession’s global governing body, refuse to acknowledge this. Their silence has also given pause to human-rights organizations that may otherwise condemn China’s exploitation of innocents.

The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation highlights this in a new report on China’s organ-harvesting system, released Tuesday. Drawing from internal and public Chinese archives and sources — many unearthed and translated for the first time — as well as undercover investigations, the report shows that none of Beijing’s explanations about where it obtains organs are credible. The report is authored by Matthew P. Robertson, a published scholar who has studied this issue both inside and outside China for nearly a decade and whose work using statistical forensics has previously demonstrated the falsification of Chinese organ-donor-registry data by the Chinese Communist Party.

Beijing has claimed since 2015 that all organs come from voluntary deceased donors. But the growth of the voluntary figures is highly questionable — rising from 34 in 2010 to 6,316 in 2016 — and follows a quadratic equation to the 99.9 percent level. Nor does it make sense that China can provide organs on demand, often within hours or days, from such a small population. Only forced organ harvesting of blood-typed prisoners can meet that timeline.

The report also shows that China transplants far more organs than authorities admit. Some 173 Chinese hospitals are currently authorized to do transplants, yet just ten hospitals account for nearly 14,000 annual procedures. The total number of transplants is likely at least several times larger. Beijing is falsifying both the number and the source of the organs it sells for profit.

These findings give further credence to the 2019 findings of the Independent Tribunal into Forced Organ Harvesting from Prisoners of Conscience in China and of the 2016 report Bloody Harvest / The Slaughter: An Update. When confronted with the evidence, the WHO and TTS invariably defend Beijing. Both organizations supported China’s transplant “reforms” in 2015 and regularly declare that China’s system is now ethical and unobjectionable.

The WHO’s leading transplant official said in 2019 that “China’s organ transplant reform has achieved remarkable results in a short period of time, and China’s experience can serve as a model for the entire Asian region and the world.” Dr. Francis Delmonico, chairman of the WHO transplantation task force, said in 2016 that “the media has to challenge those who are making such assertion[s]” about forced organ harvesting. He has praised the Chinese system several times since.

As for TTS, at a 2018 panel with a leading Chinese transplant doctor, then-president Dr. Nancy Ascher dismissed concerns of widespread abuse. Absent the condemnation of these global bodies, medical journals have been publishing large numbers of Chinese papers with research that likely relied on organs from prisoners of conscience.

The silence has also emboldened Beijing. Free from global criticism, Communist officials hardly bother to explain the discrepancies and shortcomings in their transplant data or to provide real figures. China is also becoming less worried about people linking transplants to the oppression of the Falun Gong and the Uighurs. At the TTS 2018 conference in Madrid, one of the featured speakers was China’s third-most-prominent transplant official. His other job was to head the Communist agency that devises the propaganda against Falun Gong. As he wrote in a book, the group is “a public nuisance to mankind and a cancer on society.” China can now trot him out for public praise from the very organization that should be condemning him.

Historically, human-rights organizations would speak out where global bureaucracies might not, but that is not the case with China’s organ-harvesting scheme. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch appear to be deferring to the WHO and TTS. Neither has devoted serious resources to researching it, while issuing carefully worded statements that make it unclear if they believe the allegations or not.

With the evidence mounting, including this new report, hopefully these groups will embrace their historic role as defenders of the oppressed. But the World Health Organization and the Transplantation Society are unlikely to admit the truth anytime soon. Their current leaders have a career investment in proclaiming that their efforts to reform China were a success. But their claims to the contrary cannot mask the Communist Party’s murder of countless prisoners of conscience every year. The victims need the international medical community’s moral clarity, not its cowardice.

Marion Smith is the executive director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, an educational and human-rights non-profit authorized by a unanimous act of Congress. @smithmarion