CubaBrief: Cuba, COVID-19, the Castro regime’s claims and some of the facts they are trying to hide.

Reuters reported on June 8th that Castro official Miguel Diaz-Canel, this past weekend, claimed that they “could be shortly closing in on the tail end of the pandemic and entering the phase of recovery from COVID.”  It is an interesting coincidence that Diaz-Canel’s ideological ally, Communist China, released a report this past weekend defending its COVID-19 response and declaring victory.

On the same day as the Reuters report the US Embassy in Havana announced over Twitter  and through the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), that the Cuban government would keep their airports shut until August 1st. If Cuba were in reality coming to the end of the COVID-19 pandemic then why would they be sealing off the country from outside travel for another two months?

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Woman wearing face mask amid concerns over COVID-19 coronavirus in Havana June 2, 2020. (Yamil Lage/AFP via Getty Images)

The answer to this can possibly be found in the June 5th action by Japan that issued a travel alert on Cuba that is “supposed to be applied to areas that have recently seen a rise in coronavirus  infections.”

News from Cuba either through official channels or through its official media claims that coronavirus infections are dropping, but cannot be trusted, especially with regards to disease outbreaks.

Ambassador Otto Juan Reich,  Center for a Free Cuba president and Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat, PhD, Cuban Democratic Directorate Executive Director have published a commentary titled “Cuba and COVID-19” in The Epoch Times that analyses the Castro regime’s response to the pandemic. What they find is a regime whose primary objective is not the well-being of Cubans or visitors to the island but holding on to power and trafficking Cuban healthcare workers overseas, and allies peddling false claims about the Cuban antiviral Interferon Alfa 2B to generate hard currency for regime elites.

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Meanwhile Cuban dissidents have been targets of more repression, and in particular anyone departing from the official line on COVID-19 using Decree 370, a new law that prohibits with fines and prison posting critical content on the internet. According to Marti Noticias official data shows that over 1,000 Cubans have been arrested due to pandemic related crimes.

Despite all of this, members of the Cuban resistance according to Ambassador Reich and Dr. Gutierrez-Boronat in The Epoch Times  continue in their efforts using creative means to make their demands for the freedom of all political prisoners known and continuing their struggle for Cuba’s freedom.

The Epoch Times,  June 8, 2020

Viewpoints

Cuba and COVID-19

By Otto Juan Reich and Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat,

Commentary

As if the COVID-19 pandemic were not sufficiently destructive, now Cuba, with the help of China, is again attempting to expand its influence abroad and totalitarian control at home by weaponizing it.

The political atmosphere in Cuba before the pandemic was charged with unusually large public protests, creating serious challenges to the police state. Facing disappearing subsidies from the insolvent Maduro regime in Venezuela, and the Trump administration’s targeted sanctions against Cuba’s military, security, and intelligence machinery, the Castro regime was desperate to avoid losing income from the tourism sector.

In his end-of-year speech on Dec. 21, 2019, “President” Miguel Diaz-Canel predictably blamed the United States for his government’s failures before the Cuban National Assembly of People’s Power, the Communist Party’s rubber-stamp legislature: “[I]n our economic results, is the impact that this [United States’] aggression has caused. Virtually every sector was obliged to face interruptions or delays in production.” Days before, the regime had taken small liberalization steps and released a few political prisoners.

When the pandemic struck, the regime pretended it would not affect Cubans or visitors “because of the tropical sun’s warmth.” When the virus became impossible to contain, however, information about it became tightly controlled.

Newly appointed Prime Minister Manuel Marrero adopted an unprecedented conciliatory tone in a speech directed at the political opposition, calling for unity “beyond political preferences. …” Repression, however, remains unabated, so the meaning of these words is in doubt.

Internationally, the Castro regime, with Chinese regime support, launched a propaganda campaign touting a Cuban “miracle drug” that could cure COVID-19 patients. On Feb. 7, Diaz-Canel tweeted, “Interferon alpha 2B: Cuban drug used in China against coronavirus. Our support to the Chinese government and people in their efforts to combat the coronavirus.” The claim was false.

Embarrassing Cuban propagandists, on March 18, the international news agency AFP reported: “The Cuban antiviral Interferon Alfa 2B is used in China to treat patients with the new coronavirus, but it is neither a vaccine nor a cure.” Dr. Nils Graber, a biotechnologist and health anthropologist at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, told APF the Cuban drug was a “me too” antiviral, an imitation of existing drugs on the market.

Shifting its disinformation focus back to the island, the regime announced the successful containment of the coronavirus. It also announced sending Cuban medical missions to many countries in Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America. In the last two years, however, Cuban medical workers have been expelled from three countries in Latin America, accused of interference in domestic affairs in Bolivia and Ecuador, and “slave labor” practices in Brazil.

Through the government’s exploitation of medical personnel, the missions serve two main regime political purposes: First, they are the largest single source of foreign exchange to Havana, and second, they serve as intelligence and propaganda operatives in the host countries.

One example of the medical missions’ ulterior objectives was revealed by Cuban doctors who defected from Venezuela and informed the New York Times that Cuban officials had ordered them to withhold medical supplies and treatment from a number of impoverished patients until a date closer to the Venezuelan presidential election on May 20, 2018, in order to ensure that patients would vote for Cuban ally Nicolas Maduro.

Months later, in November 2018, Brazilian president-elect Jair Bolsonaro accused Cuba of violating Brazilian law by keeping 75 percent of the doctors’ wages under the medical program Mais Medicos, and forcing them to work under surveillance and in conditions akin to “slave labor.”

In November 2019, the Ecuadorian government ended the Cuban medical program whereby 250 Cubans had traveled to Ecuador during a wave of violent protests a month earlier. The same month, the Bolivian government expelled four Cuban doctors who, according to eye witnesses, were distributing cash among supporters of ousted strongman Evo Morales, attempting to overthrow the new government of Jeanine Áñez.

As of June 7, the Castro regime claims that only 2191 people have been infected and 83 Cubans have died from the virus. The data are difficult to accept, given the long-established regime reputation of manipulating statistics for political objectives, and of no supporting public data or independent auditing.

Dissident sources in Cuba believe that the rate of COVID-19 spread is significantly higher, as illustrated by the regime’s recent reinstitution of draconian food distribution controls, forcing Cubans into ever-longer food lines where social distancing is impossible and compounded by a shortage of face masks.

Independent Cuban sources report regime censorship of COVID-19 outbreaks in Cuban prisons, such as La Pendiente, in the province of Santa Clara, a widely acknowledged virus “hot spot” where prisoners are overcrowded in small cells, with poor hygiene, insufficient food, and constant abuse from guards.

In March, political prisoner Roberto Quiñones denounced conditions in the Provincial Prison of Guantanamo: “Despite reports of the vulnerability of older adults … to COVID-19, many of them are kept in cubicles where they live in overcrowded conditions with almost two dozen people.”

More recently, Jose Daniel Ferrer, one of Cuba’s key opposition leaders, released from Aguadores Prison in Santiago de Cuba as a result of international pressure in April, told the authors that, “COVID-19 is spreading in the population. The statistics provided by the regime can’t be trusted.”

Cuba’s tireless resistance has not ceased its activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through sophisticated underground coordination and support from the exile community, activists continue to attend meetings and access the Internet occasionally to generate prayer circles and virtual “human chains” in an effort to support the release of thousands of Cuban political prisoners.

In 2020, dissidents on the island launched the “Yo los Quiero Libre” (I want them free) campaign demanding the release of political prisoners amid the pandemic. The campaign is an outgrowth of the “Pa la Calle” (to the streets) campaign that saw citizens openly demanding political and social rights.

Many Cubans joined the Yo los Quiero Libre campaign, creating a prayer chain, sharing messages of support, and promoting the plight of political prisoners by posting pictures and videos of Cubans wearing yellow, the color of the Cuban resistance. Given the dangerous conditions imposed by the repressive apparatus, the campaign is more evidence of the people’s will to fight for liberty and freedom.

As a realignment of U.S. foreign policy occurs, given new international realities caused by the pandemic, it is essential to address the continuing danger to this hemisphere of a totalitarian regime in power for over 60 years. In addition to the innumerable lives extinguished, and the destruction of what once was one of the most prosperous economies of Latin America, Cuba’s communist rulers have long used false information to undermine U.S. interests in the region.

Otto Juan Reich is a former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela and former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat, Ph.D., is an author, educator, and analyst. He is the co-founder and spokesman for the Cuban Democratic Directorate (Directorio).

https://www.theepochtimes.com/cuba-and-covid-19_3378304.html

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Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), June 8, 2020

Health Alert: Cuba, Closure of Airports Until August 1

Health Alert – U.S. Embassy, Havana, Cuba, June 8, 2020

Location: Cuba

Event:  Since April 1, the U.S. Embassy facilitated the repatriation of more than 1,500 American citizens and qualified Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR) to the United States.

On June 5, the Cuban Government extended the closure of the airport until at least August 1. The U.S. Embassy will provide updates on the airport operating status as information becomes available.

The U.S. Embassy is exploring all options to address the current travel disruptions; however, we strongly encourage U.S. citizens to continue to make necessary preparations for an extended stay in Cuba during the quarantine period. Please comply with local quarantine requirements, monitor local news for information about Cuban travel advisories, and check with their airline operators regarding future flights.

Please note:

  • We cannot guarantee that the Embassy will be able to arrange charter flights in the future.

  • Cuba does not recognize the U.S. nationality of Cuban-born U.S. citizens. The Cuban government requires Cuban dual nationals to enter and depart Cuba using Cuban passports. Cuban-born U.S. citizens will be treated as Cuban citizens and may be subject to restrictions and obligations.  In order to be considered for any future flights you MUST contact the local immigration office as early as possible. Contact information for local immigration offices can be found here: https://www.minint.gob.cu/tramites/4#table-link 

  • In accordance with United States State Department worldwide regulations in place due to COVID-19 and in line with the Government of Cuba’s efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Havana has temporarily closed. This includes all routine Visa and American Citizen Services.  Please do not call for routine matters, instead visit our website for more information: https://cu.usembassy.gov

Due to COVID-19 concerns, the U.S. Embassy is currently only providing emergency services to U.S. citizens. For emergency American Citizens Services, please visit our website for additional information https://cu.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/

We encourage all U.S. citizens in Cuba to register with the U.S. State Department using the following link: Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), and to monitor the Embassy website and Twitter feed for up-to-date information.

Actions to Take:

  • Maintain communication with the U.S. Embassy in Cuba.

  • Monitor local media for updates.

  • Consult the CDC website for the most up-to-date information on COVID-19.

  • Visit the Department of State COVID-19 information page for the latest information.

  • Visit our U.S. Embassy webpage on COVID-19 for information about conditions in Cuba.

Assistance:

https://www.osac.gov/Content/Report/2998186f-af4b-41a8-a1c3-18e367d086b8