CubaBrief: COVID-19 outbreak in Cuban hospital blamed on health workers. New Cuba documentary disappoints

Officials in Havana are blaming Cuban healthcare workers for a coronavirus outbreak at a hospital in Matanzas. According to Nora Gamez writing in The Miami Herald on May 19th, “the director of Public Health in Matanzas, Ailuj Casanova Barreto,” … “blamed the hospital staff for displaying ‘overconfidence, lack of rigor, indiscipline’ or ‘simply violating the procedures and rules established in dealing with the epidemic.'”  However, healthcare workers are pushing back with some inconvenient facts. They are blaming “healthcare officials for not providing the necessary protective equipment for staff and patients.” Meanwhile an official newspaper published a photo of a woman cleaning at the hospital, with the Wuhan virus outbreak, wearing a cloth mask and gloves. Confirming the charge made by health workers. 

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Two months earlier on March 19th, Barbara Cruz, the marketing director of the Cuban Ministry of Tourism, said at a press conference that “Cuba has a strong health system and trained workers, including the self-employed ones.” The reality is far different than the official rhetoric of the dictatorship. Over social media the regime made the claim that SARS-CoV-2 did not replicate at high temperatures, and Maduro claimed that 3500 had been saved in China by interferon. Both claims are untrue. The Castro regime has exported scores of doctors abroad to earn hard currency, in what amounts to human trafficking, the ones remaining behind are stretched thin, and lack basic supplies to deal with the pandemic. Meanwhile, when something goes wrong, regime officials blame the healthcare workers.

This reality is drowned out by the Castro dictatorship’s effective international propaganda campaigns and what the late sociologist Paul Hollander described as “techniques of hospitality” that shapes the narrative of visitors to this kind of regime, and this may have also captured the makers of a new documentary on Cuba.

Tim Dams in Variety reports that “Amazon Prime Takes U.S. Rights to Documentary ‘Cuba: The Revolution and the World’” and it is now screening. It has a sympathetic slant to the Castro regime and omits many of its crimes. However, it does touch on Castro exporting arms and guerrillas to overthrow governments around the world, including Venezuela (a social democracy) in 1962, and even mentions the Tricontinental gathering in Havana in 1966, with the aim of arming guerillas, but failed to mention that it also brought together terrorists and organized terrorism into an international effort in the 1960s and 1970s. Surprisingly the documentary leaves out the Carter Presidency and the first opening to Cuba (1977-1981). 

It focuses on Cuba’s involvement in Angola, but no mention is made of the Cuban General who led the military mission there, Arnaldo Ochoa, who was executed following a political show trial in 1989, but the film portrays Fidel Castro as the architect of the victory micromanaging from Havana. 

Fidel Castro with Mengistu Haile Mariam

Fidel Castro with Mengistu Haile Mariam

A lot of time is spent in Africa, but no mention is made in the documentary of the Castro regime’s involvement in Ethiopia. Convicted war criminal Mengistu Haile Mariam was backed by the Castro regime throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Fidel and Raul Castro sent 17,000 Cuban troops to Eastern Africa in order to assist Mengistu in consolidating his rule and eliminating actual and potential opposition. The last Cuban troops did not leave Ethiopia until 1989 and were present and complicit in the war crimes and engineered famine that took place there.  

Ramiro Valdes, Raul Castro, Fidel Castro and Mengistu Haile Mariam

Ramiro Valdes, Raul Castro, Fidel Castro and Mengistu Haile Mariam

It touches on Mariel through Bill Clinton’s perspective, that also includes an interview with former Vice President Walter Mondale, but doesn’t place it in the context of US-Cuba policy during the Carter Administration. The documentary mentions a criminal element in the Mariel exodus, but leaves out an important detail. Juan Reinaldo Sanchez, Fidel Castro’s former bodyguard, wrote a tell all book published in May 2014 titled, The Double Life of Fidel Castro: My 17 Years as Personal Bodyguard to El Lider Maximo and on the events of Mariel.“I was present when they brought him the lists of prisoners,” Sánchez writes, “with the name, the reason for the sentence, and the date of release. Fidel read them, and with the stroke of a pen designated which ones could go and which ones would stay. ‘Yes’ was for murderers and dangerous criminals; ‘no’ was for those who had attacked the revolution.” 

Plainclothes state security agents with their guns out and pointed at protesters on August 5, 1994

Plainclothes state security agents with their guns out and pointed at protesters on August 5, 1994

The documentary shows the Maleconazo uprising in August 1994, but leaves out images of plain clothes state security firing into the crowds, and presents a narrative that it was Fidel Castro appearing on the scene that calmed passions, and not the brutal beatings, shootings, and mass arrests.

Police and plainclothes in Cuba detaining a demonstrator on August 5, 1994

Police and plainclothes in Cuba detaining a demonstrator on August 5, 1994

The documentary makes no mention of Cuba’s civic nonviolent opposition in the island, how it projects itself internationally, and the reactions of the Castro regime to them. However, it does discuss the February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shootdown. It conflates it with Castro’s WASP spy network being raided two years later by the FBI in 1998, while ignoring the network spying on US military facilities. This is starkly presented with only one of Gerardo Hernandez’s life sentences being mentioned. He was sentenced to two life sentences for murder conspiracy and conspiracy to commit espionage against the United States.

However, this documentary does touch on the role Fidel Castro played in the rise of Hugo Chavez, and rescuing Chavismo in 2002 with quick actions by the Cuban embassy. The end of the documentary focuses on normalization efforts during the Obama Administration, the death of Fidel Castro, and the Trump Administration changing course on Cuba policy, but it is rushed and its bias is clear, and more glaring by the numerous important omissions.

To gain a better understanding of what took place in the first three decades of the Castro regime inside the island that will fill out some of the gaps in this new documentary then check out Nobody Listened from 1987, the 2002 documentary Dissident: Oswaldo Paya and the Varela Project and the 2004 documentary The Cuban Spring.

The Miami Herald, May 19, 2020

Cuban government blames health workers for coronavirus outbreak in hospital


MAY 19, 2020 05:30 PM

At least 40 people were infected with the coronavirus in a hospital in Matanzas, a city east of Havana, an outbreak the Cuban government blames on the “lack of discipline” of the staff, even as doctors blamed the lack of personal protection equipment and poor sanitary conditions.

According to the official version published by the newspaper Granma, an investigation by the Ministry of Public Health at the Faustino Pérez Hospital found violations of “biosecurity measures” regarding disinfection and access to certain areas. The inspectors also determined that the medical personnel and the patients did not follow “protection protocols.”

Doctors, nurses, cleaning staff, patients, and family members are among those who got infected.

The director of Public Health in Matanzas, Ailuj Casanova Barreto, told the local newspaper Girón that the outbreak was probably related to the care of a patient who had an extended stay in the intermediate care unit. She blamed the hospital staff for displaying “overconfidence, lack of rigor, indiscipline” or “simply violating the procedures and rules established in dealing with the epidemic.”

The hospital has not been closed to the public while it is being disinfected with a chlorine solution and “detergent,” Girón reported. The newspaper published a photo of a woman cleaning at the hospital with gloves and a cloth mask but without a personal protective suit or safety goggles. Other images posted on the hospital’s Facebook page show other workers cleaning with brooms and protected only by cloth masks and gloves.

The streets of Matanzas are also being disinfected with bleach and water.

While the hospital staff has been reprimanded in public, doctors have been pushing back against the criticisms.

A Facebook post by Julio Martínez, a doctor at the Faustino Pérez hospital, suggests that the director of the center, Dr. Andrés Lamas Acevedo, was replaced after a visit by health officials following the outbreak. Martinez said the hospital director had tried to alert local authorities about a year-long problem with the water supply in the intermediate therapy unit and other areas.

In comments on Facebook, several doctors currently working at the hospital also praised Lamas Acevedo’s management style and protested the measure. A worker who answered the hospital phone said she could not confirm that the director had been replaced.

Other doctors have blamed healthcare officials for not providing the necessary protective equipment for staff and patients.

“What happened in Cárdenas and the Faustino Perez Hospital is a warning sign,” Dr. Lizbet León Herrera wrote on Facebook. “A warning sign for the health authorities who should have been aware of the complexity of the epidemic and should have provided means of protection everywhere.”

León Herrera works at the Julio M. Aristegui General Teaching Hospital in the Matanzas city of Cárdenas. The hospital was closed in late April when several workers tested positive for COVID-19.

“Even today, after the local transmission event in Cárdenas, hospital professionals who perform invasive procedures still do not have N95” masks, said León Herrera. “What are we talking about if the majority of patients are asymptomatic?”

Dr. María del Carmen Álvarez, the mother of a doctor at the Faustino Pérez hospital who got sick with the virus, also wrote on Facebook that the staff was “poorly protected.”

“What a pity! Sick and publicly sanctioned,” she said, speaking of some of the workers at the hospital.

A man who answered Álvarez’s phone said that she was not available for comment.

The government has not disclosed the total number of health workers who have contracted the coronavirus. In early April, health officials were informed of an outbreak at the Calixto García hospital in Havana, where 14 doctors and eight nurses got infected.

The new cases in Matanzas come when official figures suggest that the virus is under control on the island, a trend that goes counter to what is happening in Latin America, where the number of confirmed cases exceeds two million.

On Tuesday, the director of the Pan American Health Organization, Carissa F. Etienne, warned that a new wave of cases was spreading throughout the region, mainly linked to vulnerable social groups and people with chronic diseases.

Despite 14 “local transmission events” reported as “active” in the official press, and quarantines in several neighborhoods in Havana and other provinces, the Ministry of Public Health has reported a decline in the number of new cases of coronavirus infections. As of May 18, it has reported no deaths in six days.

As of Tuesday, authorities reported 1,887 confirmed cases of people who have contracted the coronavirus and 79 deaths.

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres  

Variety, May 19, 2020 

Amazon Prime Takes U.S. Rights to Documentary ‘Cuba: The Revolution and the World’

By Tim Dams

Amazon Prime has picked up U.S. rights to two-part documentary “Cuba: The Revolution and the World,” produced by the U.K.’s Brook Lapping and France’s Temps Noir.

The U.S. deal is one of a swathe of global sales for the BBC and Arte France-commissioned history of Cuba’s revolution, which is being repped by Arte Distribution.

National Geographic U.S. has also picked up the doc for Nat Geo Mundo, its Spanish Language channel in the U.S.

Other territories include: TV HK in Hong Kong; Fox Latin America, covering all Latin America; HRT in Croatia; DR in Denmark; Planete Plus in Poland; RTP in Portugal; VRT in Flemish Belgium; and Sky Arte in Italy.

These deals add to pre-sales with SVT in Sweden, CBC/Société Radio Canada, and NRK in Norway, along with the original partners Arte in France and the BBC in the U.K. The sales come after the film’s transmission on Arte in France.

The BBC will broadcast the series later this year as “Cuba: Castro vs the World” in two episodes entitled “The Armed Struggle” and “The Charm Offensive.”

“Cuba: The Revolution and the World” takes views from every side — including the Cubans, Russians and Americans — to reveal how Fidel Castro and his compatriots contributed to changing the world.

Norma Percy, executive producer at Brook Lapping, said: “It’s a fantastic story of how, for 30 years, Fidel Castro used arms and money from the Soviet Union to send Cuban forces across continents to change the world. A Soviet official who dealt with Castro put it: ‘Little Cuba. 110,000 square kms and it acted almost like a super power.’”

Percy added: “We got all those at the heart of the story — presidents, prime ministers, spies, revolutionaries — to take us behind closed doors to show us how Castro came up with new ways to undermine his powerful neighbor.”

Factual producer Brook Lapping’s portfolio of international series includes: “Inside Europe: 10 Years of Turmoil,” “Inside Obama’s White House,” “Iran and The West,” “Putin, Russia and The West” and “The Iraq War.”

“Cuba: The Revolution and the World” is executive produced by Percy for Brook Lapping at Zinc Media, executive produced by Serge Gordey, Martin Laurent and Tancrède Ramonet for Temps Noir and directed by Delphine Jaudeau and Mick Gold.  The series is distributed internationally by Arte Distribution.