CubaBrief: Regimes in Havana and Tehran announce they are working together on a COVID-19 vaccine. Providing context to this announcement

The English pro-Iranian regime publication Financial Tribune: First Iranian English Economic Daily reports that regimes in Cuba, Iran are working together on a COVID Vaccine. This should not come as a surprise. Cuba has a communist dictatorship founded by the Castros beginning in 1959 and Iran a Islamist regime run by the mullahs since 1979. Iran has been found to be engaged in the theft of intellectual property in the United States with high profile arrests of Iranian nationals in 2020 and 2018. ( Communist China, another ally of Havana, has an extensive track record of intellectual property theft and also collaborates with Cuba on biotech ventures. but is not the focus of this CubaBrief )

Despite claims by Havana the COVID-19 situation in Cuba is worsening, and are taking measures to contain the spread, but also using the crisis for political advantage and misinformation. The Castro regime is attempting block access to social media, to cut off independent reporting and are repressing and demonizing dissidents and journalists. They are taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to further repress the Cuban populace.

Foreign ministers representing regimes in Iran and Cuba meet in Havana November 2020

Foreign ministers representing regimes in Iran and Cuba meet in Havana November 2020

However they have a number of things in common: a profound anti-Americanism that portrays the U.S. as the great Satan, and a fossilized revolutionary tradition that systematically denies human rights to their respective peoples. Robin Wright referred to them as “melancholy twins” in The New Yorker in 2015. They also have a shared strategic outlook that is hostile to the United States. Although Cuba and Iran have regime’s with different ideological origins, both are outlaw regimes with a history of sponsoring terrorism, and both are heavily involved in propping up the Maduro regime in Venezuela, and had a close relationship with the prior Chavez regime.

Consider the following highlights in relations between Havana and Tehran that stretch back 20 years.

Fidel Castro visited Iran on May 10, 2001, four months before the September 11, 2001 attacks, where he was quoted by the Agence France Presse at the University of Tehran boasting that “Iran and Cuba, in cooperation with each other, can bring America to its knees.” … “The U.S. regime is very weak, and we are witnessing this weakness from close up.”

Fidel Castro warmly received in Tehran by Mohammad Khatam

Fidel Castro warmly received in Tehran by Mohammad Khatam

Iran’s controversial president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is a holocaust denier and who in 2007 at Columbia University told students that “in Iran, we don’t have homosexuals, like in your country” is a close friend of the Castro regime. Eleven years after Fidel Castro visited Iran,  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on January 12, 2012 in Havana, Cuba declared “our positions, versions, interpretations are alike, very close. We have been good friends, we are and will be, and we will be together forever.”

Raul Castro and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2012

Raul Castro and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2012

On February 13, 2016 Vice News reported that in 2011 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been warned that the Iran backed Islamist militant group Hezbollah, was setting up an operational base in Cuba to carry out attacks in Latin America that could involve attacks on American diplomatic posts or banks there. For example, Iran was involved in the “1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 29 people; the 1994 bombing of the Jewish cultural center known by its Spanish initials as the AMIA, also in Buenos Aires that took 85 lives. ” Both attacks were attributed to Hezbollah, acting as an agent of Iran.

Tehran and Havana also collaborate to advance international strategic aims, and to learn repressive tactics to maintain internal control in order to perpetuate their rule in their respective countries. It is a mistake to ignore this decades long and extensive relationship by these two regimes. Iran is currently in the U.S. State Department’s list of terror sponsors, and Cuba was removed for political reasons in 2015, but has not changed its behavior.

St. Kitts & Nevis Observer, January 1, 2021

Cuba, Iran Working Together on COVID Vaccine

By Dan Ehrlich

TEHRAN – The Pasteur Institute of Iran in collaboration with a Cuban company is working on producing a potential vaccine for COVID-19.

The first batch of coronavirus vaccine which will reach Iran will be probably purchased directly from a foreign country, Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said on Friday.

“Following that, Iran will receive its share of the COVAX vaccines and then the Pasteur Institute of Iran will co-produce a vaccine with a Cuban company, and finally, the domestically-made vaccine will be produced,” he explained, IRNA reported.

He went on to say that the human trial phase of the vaccine has been carried out successfully in Cuba. “The second phase of the human trial is being conducted under the supervision of the Pasteur Institute of Iran in Cuba. Provide that the second phase is successful, the third phase will be implemented in Iran.”

On December 29, 2020, the first coronavirus vaccine made by Iranian researchers, was unveiled and injected into three volunteers.

The production line of the Iranian coronavirus vaccine with a capacity of 1.5 million doses per month will be launched within the next 40 days. By the next six months, vaccine production will reach up to 12 million doses per month.

Hossein Vatanpour, an official with the Ministry of Health, has said 16 Iranian knowledge-based companies are working on all types of vaccine platforms. One company is active in producing DNA-based vaccines, and about three others are working to make mRNA-based vaccines, he added.

Christoph Hamelmann, WHO Representative in Iran, said on December 28, 2020, that sanctions imposed by the United States will have no effect on importing coronavirus vaccines by Iran from the COVAX, a global initiative to ensure rapid and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

“We support and assist Iran in obtaining essential items from the global market, and we did so since the beginning of the pandemic, as we anticipated the provision of medicine to be affected by sanctions,” he added, ILNA reported.

COVAX member states, including Iran, will jointly decide on which brand of vaccine each country to purchase, and the final decision will be announced by the officials, he noted.

https://www.thestkittsnevisobserver.com/cuba-iran-working-together-on-covid-vaccine/

Reuters, December 28, 2020

Cuba to allow fewer flights from United States and some other countries

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba announced on Monday it would allow fewer flights from the United States and several other countries beginning Jan. 1, due to a surge in coronavirus cases since opening its airports in November.

Cubans living abroad and returning to visit, or returning from shopping trips, have spread the virus to family members and beyond by breaking quarantine, the government said.

Mexico, Panama, the Bahamas, Haiti and the Dominican Republic are also on the list. The government did not say how many flights per day would be allowed.

The health Ministry reported 3,782 COVID-19 cases from Nov. 1 through Dec. 23, of which it said 71.5% were visitors or their direct contacts.

The government said in a separate announcement that the famous Varadero beach resort had received 69,000 foreign tourists during the same period without an outbreak of the disease.

Cuba currently tests visitors upon arrival and again in five days if they are not staying in hotels. Beginning on Jan. 10, they will also need proof of a negative test within 72 hours before arrival.

While most tourists stay in hotels with international health guidelines and additional local restrictions, returning Cubans stay with family and friends. They are expected to quarantine in place until the results of the second test come back negative, as are people living in the home they are staying in.

“I had one cousin come in and she stayed inside the whole trip,” said Rafael, a Havana resident, who asked that his last name not be used.

“I saw her through a gate. But then another cousin came in and he was out the door the same night,” he said.

Cuba’s daily infection rate per capita remains low – at just 15% of the global average, according to Our World in Data – but it has doubled over the past month, according to official data.

The island nation of 11 million on Monday reported a new record of 224 cases for the previous day, with visitors contributing 65% of those cases. This brought the accumulated total since the pandemic began to 11,434 reported cases and 142 deaths.

(Reporting by Marc Frank in Havana; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

https://news.yahoo.com/cuba-allow-fewer-flights-united-222000944.html

South Florida Sun Sentinel, December 28, 2020

Who will control Cuba’s digital revolution? | Opinion

By Ted A. Henken

Special to the Sun Sentinel |

Dec 28, 2020 at 2:03 PM

Change has happened since 3G mobile internet arrived in Cuba in 2018, including movements for free speech and civil rights, writes Ted Henken, co-editor of the forthcoming book “Cuba’s Digital Revolution: Citizen Innovation and State Policy.” (Ramon Espinosa/AP)

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the subsequent global proliferation of new information and communication technologies, including the internet and social media, the Cuban government’s mass media monopoly has progressively eroded and Cuban citizens — working independently of and sometimes in open opposition to the government — have increasingly become active participants in the worldwide digital revolution, remaking the Cuban media landscape in the process.

This second, digital revolution has erupted within the Cuban Revolution, leading to a dynamic and unpredictable struggle over the meaning, impact, scope and direction of both. Who will control Cuba’s digital revolution? Who will benefit from it? To what ends will it be applied? Who will be left behind?

The San Isidro Movement (#MSI), which burst into international notoriety in late 2020 thanks in part to its members’ savvy use of digital technology, is a loosely affiliated group of independent artist-activists that emerged in late 2018 demanding the revocation of Decree-Law 349, a measure that extends Ministry of Culture control over the island’s thriving independent artistic community.

The group’s central figure, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara (whose home in the Old Havana district San Isidro doubles as the group’s headquarters), has been detained more than 20 times between 2018 and 2020. This is a result of his often provocative and always unauthorized public art performances, including one in which he paraded around the city wearing a construction helmet to protest a building collapse in Old Havana in January 2020 that killed three young girls.

In early November, rapper and group member Denis Solís was sentenced in a summary trial to eight months in prison on the trumped-up charge of “disrespect” after he broadcast via social media his altercation with a police officer who illegally entered his home. This provoked MSI members to stage a hunger-strike at Alcántara’s home demanding Solís’ release, which state health and security agents raided on Nov. 26 on the pretext of controlling “the propagation of the pandemic.”

Despite government efforts to block access to social media, the real breakthrough of the MSI was its effective breakdown of the government-erected wall of fear and isolation that had previously separated such marginalized “artivists” from Cuba’s state-sanctioned artistic mainstream. After learning of the previous day’s violent raid via their cellphones, on Nov. 27, more than 500 mostly young artists and intellectuals from a broad array of disciplines staged an unprecedented, music-fueled, day-long “clap-in” (giving birth to the moniker, “La revolución de los aplausos”) outside Havana’s Ministry of Culture in solidarity with the MSI.

They demanded a meeting with the cultural minister to address not only the MSI’s original aims but also the more fundamental issues of artistic freedom, freedom of speech and the right to dissent.

While this mass gathering briefly forced Ministry officials to the table, in subsequent weeks they reneged on their promises of open dialogue and safeguards from retribution against the protesters. Instead, the government unleashed a wave of character assassination in the official media against movement leaders as supposed “terrorists” and “mercenaries.”

This is only the latest digital-age ordeal for the Cuban government. Prior to the recent MSI breakthrough, but since the coming of 3G mobile internet in December 2018, Cuba saw several inventive cyber-denunciations of the government that left an impact. Among them:

  • the digital campaign urging Cubans to either vote against (#YoVotoNo) or abstain from voting (#YoNoVoto) on Cuba’s new constitution on Feb. 24, 2019;

  • an independent LGBT march spontaneously organized in spring 2019 via social media after the island’s officially controlled “pride” march was inexplicably cancelled via a Facebook post by Mariela Castro herself;

  • an online demand that Cuba’s telecom monopoly Etecsa lower its costly internet prices (#BajenLosPreciosDeInternet); and

  • a gathering outside the Ministry of Communications together with an expression of digital solidarity (#YoSoySNET) with the netizen founders of Cuba’s SNET (street-net), an enormous unauthorized patchwork of local area networks, after these independent online communities were outlawed and dismantled starting in August 2019.

Both MSI and all of these previous protests have unleashed pent-up netizen demands and eroded two of the key pillars of government information control on the island: fear of the consequences of speaking out of turn and isolation from others who harbor similar complaints.

However, we should not assume that a handful of Twitter hashtags linked tenuously to brief marches and protests by a relative handful of “connected” and politicized Cuban citizens (however unprecedented they may be) amounts to a social movement capable of posing an existential threat to a regime that remains entrenched in power with no well-known or widely credible political alternatives.

Still, one lesson the short-term success of Cuba’s San Isidro Movement teaches us is that national culture and political context matter when evaluating the political impact of new technologies on any given society.

The same digital platforms and social networks that have come under increasing scrutiny and justifiable regulation in the United States and Europe for their monopolistic practices, abuse of user privacy and spread of “fake news,” retain their democratizing and indeed revolutionary potential in the hands of a new generation of artists and activists, facilitating their loss of fear, overcoming isolation and penetrating the information blockade built over the last 60 years by the Western Hemisphere’s oldest gerontocracy.

Ted A. Henken, an associate professor of sociology and Latin American studies at Baruch College, City University of New York, is the co-editor of the forthcoming book Cuba’s Digital Revolution: Citizen Innovation and State Policy, to be published in June 2021 by the University of Florida Press.

https://www.sun-sentinel.com/opinion/commentary/fl-op-com-cuba-digital-revolution-san-isidro-20201228-4wfm5j7cm5fn5emnbxvxkbbqye-story.html

Washington Examiner, December 27, 2020

No vaccine yet for Cuba’s political pandemic

by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

December 27, 2020 12:46 AM

There’s nothing like a pandemic to facilitate the work of a totalitarian state. Any form of political persecution can be justified as a necessary measure adopted to preserve the life and health of potential COVID-19 victims — and any form of political dissent can be construed as antisocial conduct threatening to others.

Cuba provides a perfect example. The island, nominally governed by Miguel Diaz-Canel but still firmly controlled by octogenarian Raul Castro, is receiving little international attention these days, given the pandemic. Daily assaults on dissidents, activists, and critics go unnoticed, and the numerous protests around the country, small but significant, rarely make the news abroad.

Between July and November, Human Rights Watch gathered extensive information on dozens of arbitrary arrests in the socialist paradise about 100 miles south of Florida. Based on interviews, documents, and other material, the information indicates that many of those detained have been sentenced to prison terms, while others are still being held without trial or were “just” intimidated, threatened, or fined.

A common theme is that the people were arrested for violating COVID-19 health and safety rules, such as not wearing masks correctly. That was the case with human rights activist Keilylli de la Mora Valle, who was smoking a cigarette when police detained her. Following her arrest, she reportedly tried to commit suicide in prison, according to people close to her. Juan Miguel Pupo Arias, another critic of the regime, was jailed for lowering his mask to eat. He was originally sentenced to six months in prison, but just prior to his release, his sentence was extended for another four years for defying authorities. The prosecutors made sure to include in the new charges the fact that he “expresses negative opinions about the revolutionary process.”

Numerous pandemic-related decrees, which make it virtually impossible to stay within the law because of the obsessively punctilious regulations, give the police convenient excuses for harassing or arresting alleged violators.

In theory, punishment for such violations can range from a fine (twice the minimum wage) to nine months in prison. But in practice, almost anything short of total submission to security agents can be considered “disobedience” or “defiance” (“desacato” is the almighty word in Spanish) and become the pretext for a longer sentence.

In some cases, the health norms aren’t even invoked. That was the case of dissident journalist Reinaldo Escobar, the husband of the prominent Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, who was recently detained for no specific reason.

In other instances, state authorities have used any small incident to accuse critics of violating the peace, as in the case of Yandier Garcia Labrada from the Christian Liberation Movement, the most important nongovernmental organization in Cuba, whose founder, Oswaldo Paya, died in a 2012 car “accident” many believe to have been arranged by the government to get rid of its most prominent critic.

Labrada was arrested on Oct. 6 after complaining about the inefficiency of the government’s food distribution system as he waited in line to buy groceries in the town of Manati, where he lived. He reportedly is being held at “El Tipico,” the provincial prison in Las Tunas.

The man who succeeded Paya as the Christian Liberation Movement’s leader, Eduardo Cardet, is on parole after serving three years in prison, but Cardet is constantly being threatened with further incarceration. Another leader, Rosa Maria Rodriguez, recently announced that her grandson Rosuan Duran Melchor had been sentenced to six years in prison for mixing with “antisocial elements.”

And so it goes in Cuba. Dissent isn’t tolerated, and any utterance or activity that displeases authorities can land one in jail.

Small protests are routine around the island nowadays, which partly may explain the heavy-handedness with which Cuban authorities have been reacting under the cloak of the pandemic.

When the Biden administration reexamines America’s policy toward Cuba, it is Cuba’s virulent political pandemic that should drive its policy, not Cuban American voting habits.

Alvaro Vargas Llosa is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California, and the author of Liberty for Latin America and, most recently, Global Crossings: Immigration, Civilization, and America.

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/no-vaccine-yet-for-cubas-political-pandemic

Institute for War and Peace Reporting, December 10, 2020

Cuba’s Imaginary Covid-19 Cures

No evidence to support official claims that country’s advanced” science and medicine” has saved record numbers of patients.

By Carla Gloria Colome

On May 22, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel addressed the nation over the ongoing fight against coronavirus.

“Science and medicine in Cuba has saved the lives of 80 per cent of critically-ill patients infected with the Sars-CoV-2 virus, while in the rest of the world 80 per cent of serious and critically-ill patients have died,” he said.

Since then, he and other government officials have repeated this message numerous times.

However, there is no evidence to back this assertion up. Outside Cuba, the mortality rate due to Covid-19 is far from 80 per cent, and there is no evidence that Cuban medicine is saving patients who would otherwise die in other countries. 

Similar statements about the efficacy of Cuban-developed medicines to treat the virus have also been unsubstantiated.

In March, studies in China showed a mortality rate of between 50 and 60 per cent of patients in intensive care. This was followed in June by further research showing that the mortality rate in China had reduced to 38 per cent. 

Around the world, the mortality rate also fell as specialists developed better treatments and public health systems rallied to deal with the crisis.

The Chinese study included data collected in hospitals in other countries. Mortality did not exceed 40 per cent anywhere. The researchers concluded that “the current preliminary data does not suggest that ICUs’ mortality rates are unusually high for Covid-19”.  

At the end of June, researchers in the United Kingdom published an analysis of global reports on mortality in severe and critical cases of Covid-19. They concluded that current trends were consistent and that the percentage of those patients who died from Covid-19 had fallen by up to 40 per cent.

Cuba has not published information to determine the mortality rates in its severe or critical cases of coronavirus. This means that there is no data to back up Díaz Canel’s assertion that Cuban medicine had saved 80 per cent of critically-ill patients. 

However, last August, a group of Cuban scientists published an article that included previously unseen data about Covid-19 cases on the island.

The study referred to the efficacy of a Cuban medication called Heberon tested on most of the country’s confirmed cases up to the end of June. 

The study showed that the mortality rate of critically-ill patients in younger age groups and among those with underlying conditions was 26 per cent. Another group consisting of older people and younger patients admitted to intensive care experienced a 63 per cent mortality rate. 

Neither of the two groups reached a survival rate of 80 per cent, as Díaz-Canel said. 

Since this study was carried out, the number of Covid-19 cases in the country has doubled. 

OFFICIAL PRAISE – BUT NO PROOF

The president’s statements were clearly intended to support the official narrative that Cuba is a pharmaceutical powerhouse that has developed successful treatments against Covid-19. However, this claim is also unsubstantiated.

Another two Cuban drugs tested during the pandemic, Jusvinza and Itolizumab, aimed to reduce the immune system overreaction that causes many infected with coronavirus to die – although this so-called cytokine storm is not the only cause of death among Covid-19 patients.  

Government officials and the state media praised both treatments. María del Carmen Domínguez Horta, the scientist responsible for developing Juzvina, told state television that “so far in the scientific literature there is no single product that provides similar results in critically-ill patients”.

Health authorities announced the results of Itolizumab with the same enthusiasm. Francisco Durán García, the national director of epidemiology, said that 80 per cent of critically-ill patients who took Itolizumab survived.  

Despite such statements, neither Juzvinza nor Itolizumab have passed the necessary tests to prove they are truly effective. They have not been tested among large numbers of patients or using control groups who do not take the medication.

So far, there is little information about these drugs in scientific publications. 

Only one Cuban study, published on a free online platform and not certified by peer review, reported on the supposed success of Jusvinza in severe or critical cases of Covid-19. 

The study said that last April, Jusvinza was tested in 16 patients, 11 in a critical state and five were in a severe condition. Two patients died, but not of Covid-19. According to scientists, they died after having contracted other infections at the hospital. 

Two other non-peer reviewed Cuban reports published on the use of Itolizumab, the first involving a research study conducted on 24 people with only 13 patients in severe or critically ill condition. The article did not include whether any of the trial participants had died. 

The second study offered more information, including detail on the medical conditions of the patients given Itolizumab. However, none of the participants in the trials were categorised as critically ill. 

Ultimately, the available facts do not bear out the extravagant claims of Cuban officials. The country’s overall mortality rate from Covid at the beginning of October was two per cent – very similar to rates in neighbouring countries such as Costa Rica and Panama. 

https://iwpr.net/global-voices/cuba%E2%80%99s-imaginary-covid-19-cures