CubaBrief: When Communist regimes in Beijing and Havana lie, and democracies believe them, more people die

Communist dictatorships have a bad record on reporting disease outbreaks. In China the communist regime covered up the coronavirus outbreak turning what may have been an epidemic in one country into a global pandemic. Chinese doctors and journalists who tried to warn about the coronavirus were arrested and in the case of Zhang Zhan, a 37-year-old former lawyer, faces up to five years in prison for her citizen reporting on COVID-19.In Cuba they are threatening journalists and activists with similar penalties using Decree 370. The communist regime in Cuba has a history of arresting doctors and journalists for speaking plainly about disease outbreaks and government responses, and repeatedly covering up epidemics.

There is reason to be concerned, especially in South Florida. Local 10′s Hatzel Vela reported that “Havana’s José Martí International Airport reopened Sunday to all commercial flights more than seven months after it closed due to COVID-19,” and that ” he was receiving reports of long lines at Miami International Airport for flights leaving to Cuba on Sunday.”

Respected Cuban-American economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago in a Harvard webinar on May 1, 2020 noted that in Cuba, “there is no independent entity that can report its own [coronavirus] figures or criticize the government’s data.”

According to data reviewed by the Miami Herald and reported by Nora Gamez, “in the week ending on March 21 there were 144,095 newly reported ‘acute respiratory illnesses.’ By March 28, the number of new weekly cases of people with acute respiratory diseases rose to 188,816, more than double the weekly average this year. ‘Not only could the increase be explained by a COVID-19 outbreak, it most likely does reflect the COVID-19 outbreak based on when it started and what has been going on in the world,’ said Dr. Aileen Marty, an expert on infectious tropical diseases and director of the Florida International University Health Travel Medicine Program.”

Footage emerged in April 2020 of a dead body in a street in Pinar del Río, and police afraid of being infected refusing to take the body.

Diario de Cuba reported on November 12, 2020 that ” examples abound showing that the information disclosed distorts case statistics and hides the severity of outbreaks.” Worse yet, international agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and its American subsidiary the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) have been compromised by their relationships with Communist China and Cuba.

PAHO is caught up in a lawsuit that alleges that they profited off of the trafficking of Cuban doctors by the Castro regime in Brazil. The WHO subsidiary had a reversal in court when it declared immunity. According to the publication Law Street, “the underlying case involved a group of Cuban physicians suing the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) on allegations that PAHO facilitated the illegal trafficking of Cuban medical professionals to Brazil, in order to avoid Brazilian national law that mandated such programs exporting medical services must receive approval from the Brazilian government.” They also profited off of this arrangement.

Corruption, human trafficking, and a communist dictatorship not reporting the real situation in its own country. Why should others be concerned?

Havana’s José Martí International Airport reopened on November 15, 2020 and large numbers of travelers will be visiting Cuba, believing the propaganda, and not taking the necessary precautions, and when they fly back home from this “safe” destination they risk spreading COVID-19 further in their communities.

We’ve seen this movie before with Zika in 2017, and the international medical community only learned about it in 2019. Curiously when the story appeared in The New York Times, it was PAHO that took the hit claiming that the failure to report on the outbreak in Cuba had been a “technical glitch.”

The reality, according to Duane Gubler at the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, is that “Cuba has a history of not reporting epidemics until they become obvious, and Zika is only mildly symptomatic in adults.” This also true of COVID-19, although the consequences for those infected are potentially far worse, than children born with severe birth defects due to Zika.

This is a time when believing Beijing’s and Havana’s communist propaganda is proving deadly with over 1.3 million coronavirus deaths documented and still rising.

Back in April, CubaBrief reported that South Florida had become a hot spot for the pandemic in Florida. Furthermore, the emerging hotspot in Florida was Hialeah, the city with the largest number of Cubans per capita in Florida. Not shutting down travel to and from Cuba earlier, because the regime failed to alert to the severity of the outbreak on the island, may have been a contributing factor to the disaster that occurred. The resumption of travel to the island with a regime that continues to lie about the extent of COVID-19 in the country is a recipe for disaster.

At the same time those countries striking deals with a cash starved Havana need to reconsider the consequences of trafficking in Cuban health workers with a regime that has a track record of sending persons who do not have medical training to practice medicine in order to maximize profits from their international doctors program. On October 29, 2020 Dr. Alfredo Melgar MD, a Cuban doctor, now practicing in the United States, made a video statement for the Center for a Free Cuba where he explained that ” medical negligence where complaints about all are produced because a group of these who were there were not doctors, they were not graduates. And since they had not gone through a homologation process, they made very big and grave mistakes.” Nicholas Casey, a journalist in The New York Times, in his March 17, 2019 article “It Is Unspeakable’: How Maduro Used Cuban Doctors to Coerce Venezuela Voters” quoted a Cuban doctor who had served in Venezuela that “fake doctors were even giving out medicines, without knowing what they were or how to use them.”

Blindly believing Havana on healthcare workers and COVID-19 surveillance is a recipe for disaster. Apparently the international community did not learn the lesson earlier this year from Beijing’s lies.

Diario de Cuba, November 12, 2020

Russian tourists, cadets and infected doctors: how information about Covid-19 is distorted in Cuba

Although the government insists that its reports are accurate and credible, the facts belie this

Conference of Cuban MINSAP authorities. WHO DDC

Conference of Cuban MINSAP authorities. WHO DDC

Despite the fact that the Government of Cuba insists that its reports on the epidemiological situation caused by Covid-19 are accurate and credible, examples abound showing that the information disclosed distorts case statistics and hides the severity of outbreaks.

Last week, in its official report, the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) reported the existence of 11 Russian citizens who had tested positive for the disease. The document stated that this group was made up of “residents of the municipality of Morón,” in Ciego de Ávila.

The report coincided with the arrival of more than 400 Russian tourists hours before at the Jardines del Rey Airport in Cayo Coco, in the municipality itself, where it sparked dismay and questions among various people.

“I didn’t know there were so many Russians in Morón. It’s a lie. It was the Russians travelling to the Keys, enough lying,” said a user identified as YaiPF on the Facebook wall of the local channel Televisión Avileña.

“Once more camouflaged information and half-truths, verging on lies. As has been the case many times in recent months, the people’s comments are clearer and more truthful than those in the local press. The entire country knows of the commencement of flights taking Russian tourists to the northern keys. Then, miraculously, TV Avileña comes out with news of the settlement of a Russian community in Morón, about which local residents had been oblivious”, complained user José Androv BO.

At the end of October the MINSAP reported an outbreak of the virus in Caimito, Artemisa; although it did not offer any other details, the age of the patients, and the fact that they all had the same number of contacts, led to the suspicion that it was an internal school.

This was corroborated on October 23 by the official Periódico Artemisa (newspaper) on its Facebook wall, when, in response to a request for details from a forum, it replied: “We only know that they are related to the Cadets’ School”; that is, the Antonio Maceo Inter-weapons School, one of the largest of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) in the entire country.

A day later the publication deleted its comment. The MINSAP, meanwhile, only reported a few more cases of the Caimito outbreak in the following days, and no new ones in all of November. The official report initially stated that the patients had 189 contacts each.

Likewise, regarding the outbreak in the Canaleta Prison, in Ciego de Ávila, which adds more than 200 confirmed cases since the official newspaper Invasor in that province recognized its existence, the MINSAP has not offered any details. Only the local press has offered some limited information about the situation there.

This practice of information suppression and manipulation has been flagrant in relation to cases of doctors on “official missions” who return to Cuba infected.

In September a Cuban doctor who returned from Venezuela, and a worker from the island’s health system, were among the Covid-19 cases registered in Havana, although this fact was not announced by the MINSAP, but rather by the official newspaper Tribuna de La Habana, after reviewing a meeting of the Provincial Defense Council.

The Ministry had been reporting cases of the disease among Cubans returning from Venezuela until the beginning of August. After that point, as there were dozens of nationals infected coming from that South American nation, the health authorities stopped specifying the countries of origin of cases from abroad.

Added to the misinformation are the official media, mostly incapable of offering details about the epidemiological situation, which Cubans constantly ask for, to protect themselves.

Last week user Yudanis Rodríguez wrote on the Facebook wall of the official newspaper of Pinar del Río Guerrillero: “I have been asking for days about whether the cases in Las Ovas are the same or different”, in reference to a positive report in the official daily report by the popular council of that capital city.

The publication simply responded: “We have no information at this time. You can write to the Provincial Health Directorate.”

https://diariodecuba.com/cuba/1605207768_26430.html

Local 10, November 15, 2020

Havana opens international airport after 7-month closure over COVID-19

By Michelle Solomon, Podcast Producer/Reporter

MIAMI, Fla. – Havana’s José Martí International Airport reopened Sunday to all commercial flights more than seven months after it closed due to COVID-19.

Local 10′s Hatzel Vela said he was receiving reports of long lines at Miami International Airport for flights leaving to Cuba on Sunday.

In early October, Cuba relaxed coronavirus restrictions in hopes of boosting its economy, allowing shops and government offices to reopen and welcoming locals and tourists at airports across the island except in Havana, according to the Associated Press. The pandemic had frozen Cuba’s critical $3 billion tourism industry since March, when the first coronavirus cases were reported.

Travelers will be required to submit a health declaration form and take a PCR test upon arrival. Download the health declaration form.

Copyright 2020 by WPLG Local10.com

https://www.local10.com/news/local/2020/11/16/havana-opens-international-airport-after-7-month-closure-over-covid-19/

The Guardian, November 16, 2020

Citizen journalist facing jail in China for Wuhan Covid reporting

By Helen Davidson

Zhang Zhan is among numerous journalists who have been arrested after travelling to Wuhan to report on the coronavirus outbreak and response. Photograph: Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD)

Zhang Zhan is among numerous journalists who have been arrested after travelling to Wuhan to report on the coronavirus outbreak and response. Photograph: Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD)

Zhang Zhan was arrested more than six months ago after reporting on the outbreak

A Chinese citizen journalist detained since May for reporting on the coronavirus outbreak from Wuhan is facing up to five years in jail after being formally indicted on charges of spreading false information.

Zhang Zhan, a 37-year-old former lawyer, was arrested more than six months ago after reporting on the outbreak. She is being held in a detention facility in Shanghai.

She was accused of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble”, an accusation frequently used against critics and activists inside China, after reporting on social media and streaming accounts.

The indictment sheet, released on Monday, said Zhang had sent “false information through text, video and other media through the Internet media such as WeChat, Twitter and YouTube”, according to the prosecution document.

“She also accepted interviews from overseas media Free Radio Asia and Epoch Times and maliciously speculated on Wuhan’s Covid-19 epidemic” it said. A sentence of four to five years was recommended.

The NGO Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) said Zhang’s reports included “the detentions of other independent reporters and harassment of families of victims seeking accountability from the epicentre via her WeChat, Twitter and YouTube accounts”.

The release of the specific charges against Zhang comes days after a media report on an alleged “information blackout” on Zhang’s case, including claims that her mother was yet to see any details of the indictment. According to the Radio Free Asia report and CHRD, Zhang has been on hunger strike since September, and one of her defence lawyers had been taken off her case.

Zhang was previously detained on similar accusations by Chinese authorities in 2018, and again in 2019 for voicing support for Hong Kong activists. She was detained for more than two months and forced to undergo psychiatric assessments, CHRD said.

She is among numerous journalists who have been arrested this year after travelling to Wuhan to report on the virus outbreak and response.

Chen Qiushi, a former lawyer turned journalist, was detained in January. Li Zehua, who travelled to Wuhan to report after Chen’s disappearance, went missing in early February but was released in April. Wuhan resident Fang Bin went missing at the same time but has not been seen since.

Human rights and legal groups have major and long-running concerns about China’s notoriously opaque justice system, which has a conviction rate of about 99%, and often sees defendants denied full legal assistance.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/nov/16/citizen-journalist-facing-jail-in-china-for-wuhan-covid-reporting-zhang-zhan

LawStreet, November 11, 2020

International Orgs. Unlawfully Trafficking Cuban Doctors Lack Foreign-State Immunity, Rules D.C. Fed. Court

by Ken Strickland-Garcia

On November 9, in the District Court for the District of Columbia, the court proclaimed that international organizations, following recent U.S. Supreme Court precedent, no longer retained absolute immunity from lawsuits in federal courts and therefore could be sued for injunctive relief and/or damages when illegally facilitating the trafficking of medical professionals. The underlying case involved a group of Cuban physicians suing the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) on allegations that PAHO facilitated the illegal trafficking of Cuban medical professionals to Brazil, in order to avoid Brazilian national law that mandated such programs exporting medical services must receive approval from the Brazilian government. 

The court described the pertinent facts as follows: The plaintiffs, a group of Cuban-American physicians acting on behalf of a putative class of all physicians trafficked in a similar fashion, sued PAHO, the defendant described as “an international body affiliated with the World Health Organization and tasked with advancing public health in the Western Hemisphere.” The cause of action, as noted above, claimed that the defendant received money to illegally create the Mais Medicos program, a medical services exportation program that sent thousands of physicians from Cuba to Brazil and operated as the financial intermediary overseeing the transfer of funds between the countries. A program like Mais Medicos legally required both countries in the exchange to create a bilateral agreement about program logistics, with the agreement requiring majority approval by the legislative bodies of the contractual party-countries. The plaintiffs purported that PAHO operated as an intermediary to skirt around this contractual requirement, since prior to 2019, PAHO maintained absolute immunity from alleged violations of U.S. anti-human trafficking laws. This, the plaintiffs concluded, resulted in PAHO lobbying the Cuban government to encourage physicians to join Mais Medicos, confiscating passports once the Cuban physicians arrived in Brazil, and paying wages at an amount as low as 10% of that which the physicians agreed. In response, the putative plaintiff class argued that such actions violated the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). 

The TVPA, the district judge explained, prevents international organizations from creating, furthering, or profiting from a venture within the United States that knowingly engages in “providing or obtaining forced labor or services.” PAHO however asserted that the organization retained absolute immunity from TVPA suits under the International Organizations Immunities Act (IOIA) and thus the law required the court to dismiss the plaintiffs’ TVPA claims due to lacking subject-matter jurisdiction. The court explained that the defendant’s argument operated as the law until 2019, when the Supreme Court ruled in Jam v. International Finance Corp. that aforementioned absolute immunity no longer existed. The new standard, the opinion laid out, gives PAHO presumptive immunity from TVPA suits, with the presumption being rebutted if the plaintiffs prove that PAHO engaged in a commercial activity within the United States.

The court summarily determined that the plaintiffs successfully rebutted PAHO’s presumption of immunity by producing evidence that proved that PAHO transferred funds resulting from the alleged illegal human trafficking program between Cuba and Brazil using a CitiBank account located in Washington, DC. The district judge wrote that “the Court concludes that such conduct qualifies as commercial activity under the…IOIA…(as) it is a normal commercial function to act for another in collecting and holding funds…and it is also a normal commercial function to act as a financial intermediary transferring funds, for a fee, from one entity to another.”

https://lawstreetmedia.com/health/international-orgs-unlawfully-trafficking-cuban-doctors-lack-foreign-state-immunity-rules-d-c-fed-court/


Center for a Free Cuba, October 29, 2020

Translated transcript: Response to The New York Times by Dr. Alfredo Melgar about the exploitation of Cuban doctors.

Cuban doctor Dr. Alfredo Melgar MD discusses exploitation of Cuban doctors on international missions
The communist regime in Havana has been using Cuban doctors on international missions for many years throughout Africa, Latin America, and Asia – exploiting and enslaving health personnel they send to these countries for political and economic purposes rather than humanitarian objectives.
All this was happening until the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, created a worldwide scandal denouncing the conditions in which Cuban doctors were working in Brazil.

Cuban doctors have been subjected to substandard wages, movement restrictions, punishments for the doctors who deserted, and the impossibility of seeing their family, among other indignities.

In addition, the president of Brazil denounced the political infiltration that was taking place in that country where Cuban soldiers in white coats were creating a popular subversion. ??

As a consequence of this, and the conditions set by the president of Brazil, 8,000 Cuban doctors returned to Cuba by order of the regime, while the rest stayed in Brazil where they could homologate their title as indicated and be able to practice medicine as free doctors, as free men. In the midst of this, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) knew about this infamous agreement between the Cuban regime and Dilma Rousseff, who was the president at that time. They knew that the Havana regime was taking the highest percent of the earnings of these doctors in missions that, in many cases, they were risking their lives.

The Pan American Health Organization was an accomplice, and took a significant percentage of this profit.

Then there were scandals in Bolivia, Ecuador and other parts of the world related specifically to three situations. First, the penetration and destabilization of those countries from the political and military point of view, favoring the Cuban military, and using doctors as a shield, as a form of propaganda.

Secondly, of course, the international agreements between Havana and these countries that doctors continue to be the focus, the factor of human trafficking of the infamous market and in third place there were complaints, specifically from Ecuador and Bolivia of medical negligence where complaints about all are produced because a group of these who were there were not doctors, they were not graduates. And since they had not gone through a homologation process, they made very big and grave mistakes. So at this point I believe that these internationalist missions should definitely stop.

And the United States government has made very strong statements, including the president of the United States and also senators, where documents of serious complaints have been issued against the Havana regime for trafficking with doctors and also groups such as the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Mission who have facilitated these agreements and who have participated in them.