CubaBrief: China, Cuba and the Coronavirus; and the Castro regime’s crackdown on journalists at home

Yoel Bravo Lopez, a citizen journalist from Villa Clara who last week reported over social media an increase in COVID-19 cases at a retirement home in Santa Clara, was arrested on Monday, April 20, 2020 by State Security, interrogated for several hours, fined 3,000 pesos ($120) and threatened with “going to prison just like Jose Daniel Ferrer” if he continued disseminating information the government considers “contrary to the public interest.” This is not an isolated case. Mónica Baróon was detained on Friday, April 17, 2020 was also interrogated, fined 3,000 pesos ($120) under the Decree Law 370 rule that regulates the use of the internet in Cuba, and also threatened with prison. Mónica Baró Sánchez was awarded the Gabo Prize 2019 for her article ’The blood was never yellow.’ Other journalists targeted in recent days are Yoe Suárez and Waldo Fernández Cuenca, of DIARIO DE CUBA; and Camila Acosta and Julio Antonio Aleaga, of Cubanet. Little wonder that Cuba in 2020 is among the 10 worse countries for press freedom in the world according to Reporters Without Borders.

Yoel Bravo Lopez

Yoel Bravo Lopez

Alessandra Pinna,  Freedom House’s senior program manager for Latin America and the Caribbean on April 20th published an article that exposes the reality of the doctors being sent to abroad in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic titled “International Medical Aid to Italy: Solidarity or Propaganda? Italians should be wary of autocrats bearing gifts.”

“The brigade of Cuban doctors and nurses who arrived brandishing a photo of Fidel Castro was perhaps the most warmly welcomed by Italian media and politicians. However, Havana’s medical diplomacy has a complicated history that deserves scrutiny. While the Cuban government touts its international medical program as a show of ongoing solidarity with people in need around the world, more than 100 doctors who defected and filed testimony as part of a complaint at the International Criminal Court (ICC) have reported working conditions characteristic of modern-day slavery. According to the complaint, half of the doctors did not voluntarily join the overseas missions, and most had no prior knowledge of where they would be posted. Once the doctors had arrived at their destinations, their passports were confiscated by a Cuban official, nearly all were monitored by Cuban security personnel and asked to pass on information, and between 75 and 90 percent of the salaries paid by host countries was reportedly kept by Cuban authorities.”

Meanwhile the Castro regime is engaged in a dangerous marketing campaign abroad, working hand in glove with the Chinese communist regime, to promote a treatment that has not been shown to benefit COVID-19 patients. Worse yet, there is evidence that it can harm them.

WLRN  journalist Tim Padgett reported on April 20th that “China has reported some success treating COVID-19 patients with interferon alpha 2B. But communist China has a stake in that success: It’s helping its ally Cuba develop the drug. Either way, most scientists also question alpha 2B as a COVID medicine.’There’s no single clinical trial showing the benefit of interferon [alpha 2b],’ says Dr. Alfonso Rodríguez Morales, a Venezuelan who is vice president of the Colombian Association of Infectious Diseases and a leading Latin American epidemiologist.”

Two prestigious scientific journals offer an even more cautious assessment that the treatment could do more harm than good. Susanne Herold, an expert on pulmonary infections at the University of Giessen interviewed in Science warns “but the use of interferon-beta on patients with severe COVID-19 might be risky If it is given late in the disease it could easily lead to worse tissue damage instead of helping patients.” The Lancet reported, “In animal models designed to understand the temporal profiles of the SARS and Middle East respiratory syndrome diseases, the authors showed that interferon α and interferon β action early in the disease was beneficial, but it was damaging in the later stages.”

Despite this the Castro regime, Mainland China and their ideological allies have pushed Interferon alpha 2b as a “wonder drug”, and even a “a vaccine”. This topic was included in the webinar hosted and moderated by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in the presentation given by CFC executive director John Suarez on April 21st titled “China, Cuba and the Coronavirus: How are Cuba and China connected in the context of coronavirus?” It can be viewed in the embedded video below.

Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation is hosting the “Understanding China” online event series to help Americans understand the nature of the People’s Republic of China, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and key issues in U.S.-China relations.

Join us for virtual talks from experts on the impact of the CCP’s misinformation campaign surrounding the coronavirus, cultural genocide and internment camps in China, high tech totalitarianism, religious liberty, trade and economics, and more. Visit www.victimsofcommunism.org/events for more information.

Freedom House April 20, 2020

International Medical Aid to Italy: Solidarity or Propaganda?

Italians should be wary of autocrats bearing gifts.

Written By Alessandra Pinna

Senior Program Manager, Latin America and the Caribbean

A field hospital set up in a former industrial plant in Turin, Italy. Editorial credit: MikeDotta / Shutterstock.com.

A field hospital set up in a former industrial plant in Turin, Italy. Editorial credit: MikeDotta / Shutterstock.com.

Since late February, Italy has been grappling with one of the world’s most severe outbreaks of COVID-19. To date it has reported the largest number of deaths in Europe, despite extreme mitigation measures including a nationwide lockdown that was imposed on March 10.

This unusual suffering in a wealthy European democracy has drawn the attention of authoritarian powers, which see an opportunity to insinuate the superiority of their systems and the failure of Italy’s traditional allies to come to its aid. The delivery of much-needed supplies and other aid by China, Russia, and Cuba has resonated with the Italian public and fed into a narrative that blames Europe for a lack of solidarity during the crisis. Upon closer examination, however, it is clear that these authoritarian aid initiatives were more about propaganda than solidarity.

Swift, misleading, and self-serving

As the huge number of infections rapidly overwhelmed the Italian health care system, China, Russia, and Cuba promptly responded with concrete emergency actions. China first sent nine medical personnel along with 30 tons of equipment on March 13; additional doctors and supplies arrived in several tranches over the following weeks. On March 22, a Cuban medical brigade comprising 37 doctors and 15 nurses arrived in Lombardy, and four days later the Russian government arranged at least 15 military flights carrying medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, and military medical personnel—including nuclear, biological, and chemical protection troops.

For Beijing, which notably blurred the lines between purchased and donated equipment, the shipments to Italy provided a chance to flip the existing narrative and present itself as a leader in the fight against COVID-19 rather than a censorship-prone contributor to the problem. Official propaganda was accompanied by disinformation campaigns on social media: doctored videos of grateful Italians singing China’s national anthem from their balconies went viral, and tweets using the hashtags #GrazieCina (#ThanksChina) and #forzaCinaeItalia (#GoChina&Italy) were artificially promoted—37 percent and 46 percent of them, respectively, were proven to have been generated by bots. These efforts showed results, with SWG polling data indicating that 52 percent of Italians regarded China as a friend of Italy in March, up from 10 percent in January.

At the same time, Chinese state media outlets manipulated the words of an Italian physician to suggest that the coronavirus originated in Italy and not in Wuhan.

Moscow’s aid program, labelled “From Russia with Love,” also had suspiciously self-serving elements. Given that the donated equipment arrived in military planes and was accompanied primarily by military personnel, many observers suggested that the purpose was to place military agents in Italy, or simply to establish a military relationship that might drive a wedge between Rome and its NATO allies. Sources within Italy reported that up to 80 percent of the equipment flown in from Russia was useless and was being used as a pretext for intelligence operations. After the newspaper La Stampa published reports that were skeptical of the aid packages from Moscow, a spokesperson for the Russian Ministry of Defense threatened the journalist and the paper itself in a written statement. Considering the gravity of such open intimidation, politicians from across the political spectrum in Italy denounced the remarks and sought an apology from the Russian government.

The brigade of Cuban doctors and nurses who arrived brandishing a photo of Fidel Castro was perhaps the most warmly welcomed by Italian media and politicians. However, Havana’s medical diplomacy has a complicated history that deserves scrutiny. While the Cuban government touts its international medical program as a show of ongoing solidarity with people in need around the world, more than 100 doctors who defected and filed testimony as part of a complaint at the International Criminal Court (ICC) have reported working conditions characteristic of modern-day slavery. According to the complaint, half of the doctors did not voluntarily join the overseas missions, and most had no prior knowledge of where they would be posted. Once the doctors had arrived at their destinations, their passports were confiscated by a Cuban official, nearly all were monitored by Cuban security personnel and asked to pass on information, and between 75 and 90 percent of the salaries paid by host countries was reportedly kept by Cuban authorities.

The long-term democratic response

While the Chinese, Russian, and Cuban missions garnered considerable media attention, Italy’s democratic allies have also begun to provide aid. For example, despite having been hit hard by the coronavirus itself, France donated a million masks and 20,000 protective suits. Germany reserved 85 intensive care beds for Italian patients and delivered seven tons of medical equipment, including ventilators and anesthetic masks. To date, European countries have donated more medical supplies to Italy than has China. Countries including Albania, Norway, Poland, and Romania also sent teams of doctors and nurses to support Italian health care facilities. The United States deployed a makeshift hospital with eight intensive-care units and announced plans to send $100 million in medical supplies. Finally, European Union finance ministers recently agreed on a €500 billion rescue package for member states severely affected by COVID-19, although many details still need to be worked out.

These responses by Italy’s neighbors have been welcomed, but they may have come too late to swiftly correct the false narrative that China, Russia, and Cuba are more responsible and reliable partners. The idea that European allies dragged their feet and failed to show solidarity has been amplified by Eurosceptic politicians within Italy. SWG polling data indicate that trust in the European Union among Italian citizens dropped from 42 percent in September 2019 to 27 percent in April 2020.

Nevertheless, the final outcome of the pandemic will be shaped by the choices made from this point forward. European countries, in partnership with other democracies, should respond to the global emergency by promoting genuine and coordinated efforts to develop and produce vaccines and treatments, to support struggling workers and economies, and to defend themselves against disinformation campaigns aimed at political destabilization and social division. Prompt action is needed to avoid a deeper crisis that authoritarian actors can exploit. Democratic unity based on the values of transparency and accountability is imperative not just for mounting an effective response to the pandemic, but also for preserving freedom at a time of great vulnerability.

https://freedomhouse.org/article/international-medical-aid-italy-solidarity-or-propaganda

14ymedio, April 19, 2020

A 3,000 Peso Fine for Monica Baro for Texts on Facebook

Mónica Baró Sánchez obtained the Gabo Prize 2019 in the Text category for the report ’The blood was never yellow.’

Mónica Baró Sánchez obtained the Gabo Prize 2019 in the Text category for the report ’The blood was never yellow.’

14ymedio, Havana, 18 April 2020 — After a two-hour interrogation, the independent journalist Mónica Baró was fined 3,000 pesos under the rule of Decree Law 370 that regulates the use of the internet in Cuba. The reporter was summoned despite the Covid-19 pandemic and the authorities’ call for Cubans not to leave their homes.

The fine is called for in Article 68 subsection (i) of the decree, which punishes “disseminating, through public data transmission networks, information contrary to social interest, morality, good customs and the integrity of the people.”

In statements to 14ymedio Mónica Baró said that for her “it is a tremendously vague, imprecise paragraph, and it lends itself, as recent events have shown, to violating the fundamental freedoms of people, whether or not they are journalists, but above all, that of journalists.”

The reporter for the magazine El Estornudo (The Sneeze), who has collaborated with other media such as Periodismo de Barrio, believes that it is also a violation of privacy. “A profile on Facebook is highly personal, although its content is often public,” she said.

In a post that she published on her networks on leaving the police unit where he was questioned, Baró said that the officers showed her as evidence of her “crime” a folder with dozens of sheets printed with captures of her Facebook posts published over the course of several months.

The reporter didn’t accept the accusation and replied that she was “willing to assume the consequences” of her actions from the moment she decided to become an independent journalist.

“Major Ernesto expected me to say that I was in error, but I did not meet his expectations. Then he sent for two inspectors from the Ministry of Communications, who appeared and immediately spoke to me of Decree Law 370, in particular of subsection ( i) of Article 68,” she added.

The young journalist made clear her disagreement with the fine imposed on her. “I did not want to sign it, nor do I intend to pay it. They explained to me that if I did not pay it, it doubled, tripled, and that the thing could end up in prosecution.”

The officer who identified himself as Major Ernesto told her that “soon” they would see each other again. Baró insisted that she is “prepared for everything” but fears that the next step for the authorities is to go to her home and confiscate her work equipment, a measure that is part of the sanctions established by Decree Law 370.

“And no, I will not stop saying or writing what I think because I receive threats or attempts at intimidation. They will not shut me up. I simply cannot stop being who I am and I am a free woman journalist. Free, first of all.”

Baró Sánchez won the 2019 Gabo Prize in the Text category for the report “The blood was never yellow” and in which she reported on lead poisoning in a community in the municipality of San Miguel del Padrón, in the province of Havana.

Independent journalist Niober García Fournier also received a fine of 3,000 pesos this week, in Guantánamo, also under Decree Law 370 and after being questioned.

In the midst of the crisis that Cuba and the world are experiencing due to Covid-9, several journalists have been summoned to be questioned by State Security, in a clear violation of the measures announced by the Government, which asks everyone not to go into the street to avoid contagion.

Decree Law 370 establishes extensive control by the Government over the internet. It does this by regulating the use of new technologies, greater supervision over wireless networks, and strict limits on the publication of online content. Violations of these regulations are sanctioned with fines and confiscation of the equipment and means used to published the offending materials.

The entry into force of this decree raised a broad condemnation by international organizations related to freedom of expression, in addition to numerous criticisms from activists and independent journalists, which have created their own news spaces thanks to new technologies.

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Spanish text: https://www.14ymedio.com/nacional/Cuba-prensa-periodismo-Decreto_Ley_370_0_2859314045.html

http://translatingcuba.com/a-3000-peso-fine-for-monica-baro-for-texts-on-facebook/

Diario de Cuba, April 21, 2020

Why Is Cuban State Security Going After Independent Journalists in the Midst of the Pandemic?

It is the agents themselves who are perpetrating the crime of spreading the epidemic.

Yoandrys Gutiérrez

La Habana 21 Abr 2020

Journalists Camila Acosta, Waldo Fernández Cuenca and Yoe Suárez. DDC

Journalists Camila Acosta, Waldo Fernández Cuenca and Yoe Suárez. DDC

In little more than 10 days, and disregarding the recommendations for isolation issued to the population to prevent the coronavirus from spreading further in Cuba, State Security has summoned and threatened several independent journalists: Yoe Suárez and Waldo Fernández Cuenca, with the DIARIO DE CUBA; and Camila Acosta and Julio Antonio Aleaga, of Cubanet.

As is often the case, family members were also the targets of threats. In the case of Yoe Suárez, an officer identifying himself as “Captain Jorge”, the purported second-in-command of Counterintelligence for the Press, warned him that “the State Prosecutor and Minors may intervene against him”, insinuating the that he may be deprived of custody of his two-year-old son. The journalist’s mother was also summoned, interrogated and threatened with the consequences that her son could suffer.

Leidys Despaigne Barrero, Julio Antonio Aleaga’s wife and a mother nursing an 11-month-old baby, was threatened with deportation to Santiago de Cuba, despite being legally domiciled in the capital, as she is married there. The aim of the intimidation, which Despaigne Barrero has suffered since 2017, is for her to pressure her husband to desist from his journalistic work.

All this is common territory for journalists, opponents and activists. One cannot really say it is any worse right now. Actually, this is a time that State Security could take advantage of to ease up; live and let live, or at least refrain from harassment. Why does it not do so?

The coronavirus is the perfect pretext to restrict peoples’ liberties. Now it is not necessary to inform anyone when they cross the border at the airport and enter the country, that they cannot leave it; nor is it necessary to detain anyone on the way to the airport and hold them until they miss their flight. Now it is not just the opposition, activists and independent journalists who cannot travel, but the entire Cuban populace, and there is a good reason for this restriction: the pandemic.

Now, if any journalist, activist, or dissident decides to brave the virus and go out to perpetrate the dangerous “counter-revolutionary activity” of apprising themselves of what is happening, or even just trying to get food, police officers may, conveniently, order them to remain at home, on grounds that are a veritable godsend: the coronavirus.

They no longer need to threaten to accuse them of spreading fake news. Now there is a new and almost irrefutable charge: spreading the epidemic. But, by forcing them to emerge from isolation to obey a summons issued by State Security, the officers are not only endangering those summoned, but all those they come across on the way to the police station, and those who live with them. In other words, it is the State Security agents themselves who are perpetrating the crime of spreading the epidemic, when it would be able to keep their targets uncomfortable right inside their homes.

There could be a kind of truce, thanks to the pandemic. Why doesn’t State Security take advantage of this? Why the aggressive stance? Though the Cuban Government scorns even the UN, why continue to spark criticism that continues to, slowly and relentlessly, undermine its credibility around the world, even with people on the left?

In May 2018 DIARIO DE CUBA had access to documents used by the Armed Forces during the 2016 Bastion military exercises, according to which independent journalists were to be the first target to neutralize in the event of massive protests against the government. Is this what State Security has slated for the current circumstances?

The many police officers on the streets, who, judging by the photos of lines to buy food and hygiene products, do not seem charged with ensuring that people keep their distance from each other, is reminiscent of the deployment that followed Hurricane Irma in 2017.

At that time, there were protests across Cuba– in Diez de Octubre, Havana, Carlos Rojas, Matanzas, Morón, and Ciego de Ávila– over the state’s slow restoration of basic services.

A lack of water is one of the problems that people in many areas of the country must grapple with. In February 2020, before the coronavirus reached Cuba, residents of Zulueta and Corrales in Old Havana blocked off the streets to demand that the government provide them with drinking water. What could happen now that having water could be a life-or-death matter?

There was already a serious shortage of hygiene products before the coronavirus hit Cuba. If getting soap and detergent before was a question of smelling good, or at least civilized; or being able to maintain a food service business, where hygiene is crucial, now it is a matter of not smelling like a corpse.

If the choice used to be between standing in line for hours to buy food, or starving, now it is a matter of choosing between being killed by the coronavirus, or hunger. You cannot quarantine yourself with an empty refrigerator. You can catch it in a line; sitting at home, you can starve.

If in the months prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus around the world Cuba was going through a crisis very similar to the “Special Period” of the 90s, the end of which has never been officially decreed, what could happen in the country now, with an epidemic; a scarcity of food, water and hygiene products, no tourism, remittances, and with many people not able to work?

What could happen? Nothing, perhaps. Over the course of six decades the Cuban people have shown more apathy, indolence and capitulation than the courage to fight for their freedom and rights. The Cuban government has counted on this thus far, but everything could change. The authorities know this, and fear it. If they cannot avert a major revolt, they will at least try to do damage control – which, in this case, means preventing independent journalists from publishing an article like this one.

https://diariodecuba.com/cuba/1587469248_15886.html