CubaBrief: Uncomfortable truths about Cuban healthcare, doctors and the dangerous claims of the Castro regime about COVID-19

Forty Jamaican medical students in Cuba are pleading with the Jamaican government to come home, “claiming that food shortages, xenophobia, and limited sanitisation products continue to threaten their mental and physical health. The students said that the COVID-19 pandemic has further compounded the shortages. Jamaica closed its borders to incoming passenger traffic on March 24 to curb the spread of the new coronavirus. Ports will remain closed until May 31, except for Cabinet-approved exemptions. But the expats studying in Cuba said that they may not survive till then.”

Jamaican diplomats are reaching out to those in need and getting “food and sanitation supplies” to the students, “including getting a food shipment from Suriname.”

This was not supposed to be that way.

Castro regime officials falsely claimed throughout February and March that Cuba was a safe harbour with effective treatments for Wuhan Virus for visiting tourists.

Officials refused to close schools, or take other precautions, Cubans desperately began to take steps on their own against the pandemic, having learned about it on the internet. Teachers, ignoring the regime’s orders, closed schools and sent children home. The Catholic church, aware of the danger presented by public gatherings, suspended religious services. Cuba’s beleaguered independent journalists raised the alarm while the official media insisted that the country was prepared for the epidemic, that tourists were welcomed while the pandemic ran its course elsewhere. Officials said that Cuba’s sun was “a good antidote” and continued to advertise their false claims on social media targeting European and North American audiences.

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On March 19, 2020 the official media reported, “authorities of the Cuban ministry of tourism (MINTUR) submitted the prevention and control plan to tackle COVID-19, and stated that the country is “ready to receive those customers who decide to come to the island of their own free will.” Barbara Cruz, marketing director of MINTUR, said at a press conference that “Cuba has a strong health system and trained workers, including the self-employed ones.” 

Five days later the government closed its borders to foreigners and banned Cuban citizens from leaving the island. All flights to and from Cuba were suspended at midnight on Wednesday, April 1, 2020.

Thousands of tourists were left stranded, in conditions that have led many of them to cry out for their home governments to fly them out. A group of stranded Dutch kids in Cuba ended up sailing back to the Netherlands. Toronto Life published an account of a family of four who were stranded in Cuba. Sono Motomayo, the author of the piece, described how they were treated: “Meanwhile, the Cuban government had been herding all foreign tourists toward Havana and into government lodging. Our Airbnb host, due to gentle pressure from the Cuban government, had rejected out of hand any possibility of returning to his apartment. With little time for research, we ended up choosing a rundown government-owned hotel with the ominous name El Vedado (“The Forbidden”) and were placed in a dingy room with two double beds and an air conditioner that sounded like a failing jet engine. We were forbidden to leave the building.”

This past weekend 300 American citizens and residents were flown from Cuba to Miami in special charter flights arranged by the State Department. The European Union has also been arranging charter flights to get hundreds of European nationals back home.

Meanwhile, headlines around the world report that Cuban doctors are arriving in medical missions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but in Cuba their negligence continues to claim lives. ADN Cuba published the above photos and a video interview of Liset Herrera, a Cuban mother denouncing the death of Iker, her 12 year old son (pictured above), due to medical negligence.

News reports reveal the true nature of the Cuban healthcare system from time to time but the articles seem to disappear down a memory hole, and international organizations that should know better like the World Health Organization (WHO) and its American affiliate the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) aid and abet in the white wash. The Psychiatric Hospital in Havana run by Eduardo Bernabe Ordaz Ducunge for forty years used the tools of psychiatry to torture dissidents and human rights defenders. Despite this history, the PAHO in 1997 awarded Ordaz Ducunge its prize for administration “for his pioneering efforts in establishing rehabilitation programs and in the humanization of hospital care for people suffering from chronic mental illness.”

Three of 26 patients who died of exposure in 2010 in Cuba

Three of 26 patients who died of exposure in 2010 in Cuba

In 1991 Freedom House and Of Human Rights published The Politics of Psychiatry in Revolutionary Cuba (1991) by Charles J. Brown and Armando M. Lago that reported on the political abuse of psychiatry in Cuba under the Castro regime, but this well documented evidence did not prevent PAHO from awarding the Cuban in charge of that abomination.

Thirteen years later in January 2010 pictures smuggled out of the Psychiatric Hospital revealed that patients were dying of exposure to the elements, and had suffered greatly through their time there. Claudia Cadelo, now exiled out of Cuba, wrote in 2010 her reaction to seeing this photos:

When I opened the little folder called “Mazorra” a series of monstrosities hit me in the face and I couldn’t stop looking at the cruel graphic testimony. A friend who is a doctor visited and while he analyzed images I didn’t have the courage to look at, expressions like, “Holy Virgin Mary, Blessed God, What in God’s name is this?” issued from his outraged throat, mixed with obscure pathologies and the names of diseases both treatable and curable. Enormous livers, tubercular lungs, and wormy intestines are the proof, Senora Arlin, of the sacredness of life in Cuba. Meanwhile The Roundtable throws a fit because the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo has unmasked a crumbling public health system, and they try to cover up the disgrace of seeing soldiers dragging and beating a group of women dressed in white with flowers in their hands. I ask myself, Gentlemen Journalists, when will they explain to Cubans the reasons why twenty-six mentally incapacitated people died in inhumane conditions during their confinement in Mazorra?

The dictatorship was forced to acknowledge what had happened thanks to the still unknown whistleblower and courageous independent journalists who made the images public and The New York Times reported on January 15, 2020 that “26 patients at a mental hospital died during a cold snap this week, the government said Friday. A Health Ministry communiqué blamed “prolonged low temperatures that fell to 38 degrees.” This is the institution that Eduardo Bernabe Ordaz Ducunge shaped over 40 years, and that PAHO celebrated with an award.

This episode was quickly forgotten, and the mantra of Cuba’s “great” health care system continued to be repeated in the press. Just as the Castro regime’s cover up of a Zika outbreak in 2017 led to many tourists being infected with the virus and not knowing that they had it when they went back home. Or other outbreaks of dengue in 1997 and cholera in 2012 that we know about because a journalist and a doctor spoke out and went to prison for breaking their silence. Yet, many today continue to believe the data provided by the Castro regime in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

They also fail to listen to the cries of Liset Herrera, a Cuban mother denouncing the death of her 12 year old son Iker, and ignore their existence in order to continue believing the lies of a totalitarian dictatorship. Lies that are now not only causing the deaths of Cubans but possibly of many others around the world during this pandemic.

Why is it that Costa Rica and Canada’s healthcare systems rate higher than the U.S. on international indices, but are not mentioned positively as often as Cuba’s despite the island nation’s health care system rating lower than the United States?

2oceansvibe, April 29, 2020

Uncomfortable Truths About The Cuban Doctors That Just Arrived In SA

by Jasmine Stone in HealthLifestylePoliticsSouth AfricaVideo

In the early hours of Monday morning, more than 200 healthcare professionals from Cuba touched down on South African soil.

Arriving at the Waterkloof Air Force Base in Pretoria to great fanfare, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize says they came at the government’s request.

Mkhize added that they would be deployed across the country based on the spread of the pandemic – you can see that breakdown here.

Some footage of the arrival, complete with flag-waving and a speech from Naledi Pandor, our Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, via News24:

Given that a surge in coronavirus-related cases is very likely to follow the easing of the lockdown restrictions on Friday, bringing in all the help we can get seems fair enough.

As TimesLIVE notes, though, it’s pretty expensive help:

The group consists of experts in epidemiology, biostatistics, and public health, family physicians, health care technology engineers and experts to provide technical assistance…

…projected costs for a medical brigade of 187 Cuban personnel was R440m. An even bigger contingent arrived in SA on Sunday, consisting of 217 personnel, the publication reported.

The documents showed that the average cost of the Cuban medical brigade was projected at R2.35m a person.

Mkhize has stressed multiple times that the Cuban arrivals have “come to assist us and they will be working alongside South Africans”, and that they are not a threat to local employment.

The South African Medical Association (Sama) isn’t so sure, and they have criticised the government’s actions. IOL below:

Sama chairperson Dr Angelique Coetzee said South Africa has many public and private health specialists, family physicians and epidemiologists who would have heeded the president’s call for assistance during this very challenging period.

“Retired doctors can be brought back into the service delivery system – even for a short time. They can also mentor younger doctors who lack the necessary experience and skills.

“Only when we have exhausted all our internal human resources should a consultative process between Sama, the Department of Health and the Presidency been initiated to bring the Cuban specialists to South Africa,” Coetzee said…

“While we are not averse to the so-called Cuban Brigade assisting us, we feel strongly that the principle of not engaging with Sama – as the biggest representative body of doctors in the country – is flawed and wrong,” Coetzee said.

Coetzee pointed out that there are many unemployed doctors in the country, and said the decision to look abroad at this time was a “little bit premature”.

It’s also worth noting that Sama says a local public sector registrar or mid-level medical officer, which is roughly comparable to a Cuban family physician, earns around R1,2 million per year.

Yet the average cost of the Cuban medical brigade is projected to come in at around R2,35 million a person?

Seems a little strange.

Before you think that the Cuban healthcare professionals will be raking it in, remember that the country has been under communist rule since 1965.

Fidel Castro was a big fan, describing the medics involved in his country’s international missions as Cuba’s “army of white coats”, and a sign of solidarity with people around the world.

BBC report from last year exposed how many of those “white coats” weren’t always sure what they were in for:

According to a report by Prisoners Defenders, a Spain-based NGO that campaigns for human rights in Cuba and is linked to the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) opposition group, doctors on average receive between 10% and 25% of the salary paid by the host countries, with the rest being kept by Cuba’s authorities.

In the case of Dayli Coro, who agreed to join a medical mission to Venezuela, she voluntarily signed a contract that she wasn’t given time to read, and was not given a personal copy to look over.

She then found herself in an area so riddled with crime, that it resembled a war zone, and feared for her life:

“There were many criminal gangs,” says Dayli. “When they fought, they brought their injured to us, because the local Venezuelan hospital had a police presence, and we didn’t. These kids would bring in a patient with 12 or 15 bullets in his body, point their guns at you and say you had to save him. If he died, you would die. That kind of thing happened on a daily basis. It was routine.”

…”Once an ambulance was shot up by another gang and a Venezuelan doctor and the driver were killed,” Dayli adds. “There was always the possibility that the rival gang might try to finish off the patient during the transfer. I had a situation where a rival gang came in and shot the patient dead.

A report compiled by Cuban Prisoners Defenders, based on testimony from 46 doctors, said that 41% had their passports removed by a Cuban official when they arrived at their destination, 91% were watched over by Cuban security officials during their mission (and encouraged to snitch on colleagues who voiced discontent), and 39% said they felt “strongly pressured” to serve abroad.

You can read the full BBC report here.

None of the Cuban healthcare professionals that have touched down in South Africa have raised any concerns, but it seems strange that we would look overseas for help, when so many in South Africa are without work.

Then again, our government has repeatedly stressed how strong our bond is with Cuba. This from our government website back in 2016, in the wake of Fidel Castro’s passing:

Castro left his mark on history as a renowned internationalist and anti-imperialist, who selflessly supported the struggles of the oppressed and the exploited.

He stood in solidarity with liberation movements in Africa, supporting our struggle for independence and the international campaign to isolate the apartheid regime.

Relations between South Africa and Cuba are significant. They were forged in the common struggle against apartheid and colonialism on the African continent.

The more cynical among us might view it is as a fundraising event by a foreign government at our expense, and with our government’s backing, as Cuba suffers through trade embargos and sanctions.

Whatever the case, with ministers like Tito Mboweni saying that locally-owned businesses must hire more South African workers, our government’s haste to look abroad should raise a few eyebrows.

[sources:news24&timeslive&iol&bbc&govza]

https://www.2oceansvibe.com/2020/04/29/uncomfortable-truths-about-the-cuban-doctors-that-just-arrived-in-sa-video/

The Gleaner, April 27, 2020

Slamming shortages, med students in Cuba plead to come home

by Tamara Bailey / Gleaner Writer

A Jamaican medical student in Cuba said this is all the food she has left

A Jamaican medical student in Cuba said this is all the food she has left

Approximately 40 Jamaican medical students in Cuba are pleading with the Holness administration to come home, claiming that food shortages, xenophobia, and limited sanitisation products continue to threaten their mental and physical health.

The students said that the COVID-19 pandemic has further compounded the shortages.

Jamaica closed its borders to incoming passenger traffic on March 24 to curb the spread of the new coronavirus. Ports will remain closed until May 31, except for Cabinet-approved exemptions.

But the expats studying in Cuba said that they may not survive till then.

“We are running out of food … . Cuban nationals get some things free by using a booklet when they go shopping, but that doesn’t apply to us. We can’t get rice, bread, eggs, flour, Irish potatoes, and those things unless they have excess,” a student, who requested anonymity, told The Gleaner.

The student said that some Jamaicans have experienced high levels of discrimination from residents and grocery store clerks who prevent them from buying supplies. They are also at risk of exposure to COVID-19 from standing in long lines for up to four hours, the student said.

Up to Sunday, Cuba had recorded 1,369 coronavirus cases and 54 deaths.

“The worst thing is, you will be standing in a line, and you just hear that everything is done. We are living off the food that we brought up here from Jamaica before the pandemic, and we have very limited amounts now …,” the student said.

Classes have been on hold and online lessons have not been conducted, exacerbated by Cuba’s Internet inaccessibility.

“School has been closed since March 22. There are no online classes, and even if there were, it is very expensive to get Internet outside of the Wi-Fi park. … There is hardly ever Cuban convertible pesos at the ATMs, even if our parents send us money, so we are looking to the Government to bring us home,” the student said.

STRONG CRITICISM

The Holness administration has been criticised for its failure to offer a blanket return to Jamaicans working or studying overseas, but the Government has cautioned that doing so might worsen the incidence of infection in the island. There have been more than 350 coronavirus infections in Jamaica, many linked to imported cases. Seven people have died.

Jamaica accepted more than 60 nationals studying in Antigua on Friday, while Montserratian and Antiguan students here flew back on the LIAT return trip. That move has sparked hope that others may soon be welcomed home.

“I cannot sleep knowing my daughter, who is among others, are locked out of their country and are in need of help … ,” said a parent of a Jamaican medical student in Cuba.

“They can’t get food and the necessary sanitisation. They need help.”

The parent requested anonymity out of fear that the student might be penalised.

Director of communication at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Delona Flemming, acknowledged a request for comment on April 22.

“Assistance is being given to the students through Ambassador Kathryn Phipps. I am not sure why the student as mentioned has not heard anything as yet. Once I get the full information, I will communicate with you further,” Flemming said.

No further comment was offered.

Several phone calls to Phipps, Jamaica’s ambassador to Cuba, on Sunday went unanswered.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/news/20200427/slamming-shortages-med-students-cuba-plead-come-home

The New York Times, January 15, 2020

Cuba: 26 Patients at Mental Hospital Die in Cold Snap

By The Associated Press

Twenty-six patients at a mental hospital died during a cold snap this week, the government said Friday. A Health Ministry communiqué blamed “prolonged low temperatures that fell to 38 degrees,” but the ministry also said it was starting an investigation that could lead to criminal proceedings. The independent Cuban Commission on Human Rights said that at least 24 patients at the Psychiatric Hospital in Havana died of hypothermia, and that the hospital did not do enough to protect them because of problems like faulty windows.

A version of this article appears in print on Jan. 16, 2010, Section A, Page 6 of the New York edition with the headline: Cuba: 26 Patients at Mental Hospital Die In Cold Snap.

https://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/16/world/americas/16briefs-Cuba.html

 

The New York Sun, August 8, 2006

Eduardo Ordaz, 84, Leading Cuban Psychiatrist

By The Daily Telegraph | August 8, 2006

Eduardo Bernabe Ordaz Ducunge, who has died at 84, was director of Havana’s psychiatric hospital for more than 40 years.

The post earned him popular acclaim among pro-Castro Cubans for his eccentric approach, but criticism from international human rights groups and vilification from exiles in the United States who said that the hospital was used to torture political dissidents.

Ordaz admitted that critics of the regime were sometimes kept in the sprawling hospital complex, near Jose Marti International Airport, but insisted that they were”admitted”and treated — electric shocks included — purely as part of necessary and legitimate medical therapy. Many anti-Castro exiles who spent time in the hospital, known to Cubans as the Mazorra after a 19th-century Spanish colonial landowner, begged to differ.

His most extreme critics compared Ordaz with the Nazi physician Josef Mengele, who performed experiments on Jewish inmates at Auschwitz. Although there were never any reports of dissidents dying in the hospital, nor any evidence that Ordaz was directly involved in their maltreatment, human rights groups blamed him for at least turning a blind eye while Fidel Castro’s intelligence agents mistreated — and sometimes tortured — critics of the regime in outlying “punishment pavilions” or self-contained wards.

International psychiatrists, including some from Britain, often described the Mazorra as a “model hospital.” Cuban exiles previously held within its walls, however, said foreign visitors were given a “sanitized” tour of the hospital, and kept well away from the “pavilions” that housed dozens of political dissidents among the 2,000 regular patients.

International human rights groups began focusing on the hospital after the American publication, in 1991, of a book which documented more than 30 named cases of what it called psychiatric abuse in the hospital, involving psychotropic drugs and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

Castro first saw inside the hospital on January 9 1959, the day after he entered Havana, having forced Fulgencio Batista to flee the country. He described it as “a Dante’s inferno,” noting that the 6,000 inmates were mostly naked, manacled and unattended, with no electricity or running water. He appointed Ordaz to take charge there and then.

Ordaz gave patients jobs in the hospital, formed a 115-strong orchestra (a few of them patients) specializing in Wagner and Beethoven, and initiated beauty and ballet classes.

Among his well-known patients was the Argentine footballer Diego Maradona, who received treatment for his cocaine habit in 2000.

A “museum” maintained by Ordaz inside the hospital, mainly consisting of photographs, showed the horrific conditions during Batista’s dictatorship. In later years, Castro was to boast that the hospital was a symbol of his “enlightened” health policies.

This claim was undermined when a former dissident, visiting a relative at a clinic in Miami in 1991, recognized an elderly male nurse. The visitor did not have the slightest doubt that it was Heriberto Mederos, who had tortured him with electric shocks at the Mazorra. Mederos, by then 78 and an American citizen, was arrested on charges of torturing political prisoners. He was eventually convicted in August 2002 (though only of lying to immigration officers about his past); he was sentenced to five years in jail but died soon afterwards.

Among those who testified at his trial was Belkis Ferro, who was only 15 when she was sent to the Mazorra for being a “rebellious teenager” and refusing to take part in Communist Party youth groups. She testified that Mederos had given her electric shocks and insulin shots against her will.

Eduardo Bernabe Ordaz Ducunge was born in Havana on October 13, 1921. He worked as a shoeshine boy before entering Havana University’s Faculty of Medicine in 1942, graduating in 1951 and specializing in anaesthesia.

While studying, he became active in the underground anti-Batista movement and had been jailed 13 times before he joined Castro’s “Rebel Army” as a medic in 1958, rising to the rank of captain.

Hearing of his role both in combat and tending the wounded, Castro named him Comandante on the day Batista fled. But, though he continued to drive a Russian-made military Jeep to and from the hospital, and was buried with full military honors, Ordaz spent most of his life as a civilian. He was known for his thick beard and high brimmed sombrero, and acquired the nickname “el Loco” (the Madman) for his eccentricities.

He served as a deputy in the Cuban National Assembly from its inception in 1976 until his health failed in 2003. He died on May 21.

https://www.nysun.com/obituaries/eduardo-ordaz-84-leading-cuban-psychiatrist/37526/


Huffington Post
,  May 19, 2010

Is Life Sacred In Cuba?

By Claudia Cadelo

These words of Arlin Rodriguez, from the TV talk show The Roundtable on March 17, thundered in my ears for half an hour. A few days ago I had access to three hundred photos of the autopsies of those who died at the psychiatric hospital in Havana and I cannot imagine how that phrase came out of the mouth of a journalist.

When I opened the little folder called “Mazorra” a series of monstrosities hit me in the face and I couldn’t stop looking at the cruel graphic testimony. A friend who is a doctor visited and while he analyzed images I didn’t have the courage to look at, expressions like, “Holy Virgin Mary, Blessed God, What in God’s name is this?” issued from his outraged throat, mixed with obscure pathologies and the names of diseases both treatable and curable.

Enormous livers, tubercular lungs, and wormy intestines are the proof, Senora Arlin, of the sacredness of life in Cuba. Meanwhile The Roundtable throws a fit because the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo has unmasked a crumbling public health system, and they try to cover up the disgrace of seeing soldiers dragging and beating a group of women dressed in white with flowers in their hands. I ask myself, Gentlemen Journalists, when will they explain to Cubans the reasons why twenty-six mentally incapacitated people died in inhumane conditions during their confinement in Mazorra?

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Note: I publish this photo with a completely clear conscience; if they were not shown there would be no proof of the suffering that these people were subjected to. If not for the hard photos that denounced the Nazi Holocaust, the genocide of Pol Pot or the tortures in the prisons of Abu Ghraib, they, too, would not have existed.

05/19/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017 

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/leaked-photos-prevent-cub_b_506586