CubaBrief: Castro regime remains silent on humanitarian flights from USA. Deadly national vaccine campaign. Havana, Beijing, and Pyongyang highlight their close relations.

Havana wishes to maintain monopoly control over distribution of assistance and zero transparency. Last year the Castro regime seized a humanitarian shipment that would have helped tens of thousands of Cubans, and they continue to block grassroots efforts today. The Biden Administration in early July 2021 granted a temporary authorization from the US Department of Transportation for cargo airlines IBC Airways and Skyway Enterprises to travel to the island with humanitarian cargo. According to 14ymedio the “permit, which will be in force until November 30 and was made public on August 13, includes charter flights ‘for emergency medical purposes, search and rescue, and other trips considered of interest to the United States.’” Two months have passed and there is still no response from Havana, despite the urgent need on the ground.

U.S. Press Secretary Jen Psaki in her August 27, 2021 press briefing when asked about the fate of over 3 million COVID vaccines donated to Afghanistan, and the number of vaccinations there had dropped significantly since the Taliban took over cited the example of the Castro regime, “and for individual — for countries we work with — and remember, this was an issue with Cuba, right? — we need to have mechanisms to ensure that they are getting out to the populations who need to get access to the vaccines”

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They would rather highlight shipments from their allies in Beijing and Moscow, but this raises other troubling questions. For example, now Cuba is accepting China’s Sinopharm vaccine. Why didn’t Havana do this beginning in January or February when the rest of Latin America did and Cuba did not have “home grown” vaccines? Why are they doing it now when they have the “home grown” vaccines that they claim are up to 92.8% effective (but have not been peer reviewed), compared to China’s sinopharm vaccine that is only 50.4% to 72% effective?

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One possible answer is that the dictatorship wanted to win a propaganda victory, even if it cost thousands of Cuban lives. Official regime journalist Leticia Martinez Hernandez over Twitter on May 18, 2021 bragged that “Cuba will be the first country in the world to vaccinate their whole population with their own vaccines. Live to see!” She even replied to her own Tweet that she would keep the above “tweet fixed until then. I want to remember the feat on which we have bet.” Her tweets have not aged well, but she is not alone.

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The Castro regime’s foreign ministry on June 9, 2021 repeated the same campaign theme as the official journalist did the previous month:”Cuba could be the first country to immunize its entire population with its own vaccines. The population wants and trusts the vaccine candidates, our science, and the country’s experience in vaccine development.” To achieve this they had to reject using alternative vaccines over the six months that they were available, because their “homegrown vaccines” had not been ready for clinical trials until May 2021 in Havana, and in the rest of the island until June. Mind you that as of August 30, 2021 none of the Cuban vaccines have been peer reviewed.

Little wonder that Havana would like to shift the focus of discussion.

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The Castro regime’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, on August 28, 2021 condemned the United States for holding Communist China responsible for the origin of COVID-19, and the Embassy of Cuba in China translated it into English a day later to reach a wider audience. This is part of a broader push to highlight Chinese-Cuba relations by the two regimes, and take attention away from the demands of a humanitarian corridor to get assistance directly to Cubans on the island.

Advocates for engagement with the Castro regime will point to this to argue for closer links to the dictatorship, and its military in an attempt to peel Havana away from Beijing. Similar arguments are made about Russia. To do this they must not only ignore history, but turn it upside down.

There are two facts about U.S.- Cuba policy that are gotten wrong by too many Cuba experts, and this colors their analysis on everything else Cuba related.

First, the Batista dictatorship was not U.S. backed, the United States imposed an arms embargo on Batista in March 1958, and pressured him to leave in December 1958.

Washington imposed a U.S. arms embargo on Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in the spring of 1958, and Washington pressured the Cuban dictator to leave. US Ambassador to Cuba Earl E. T. Smith delivered a message from the State Department to Cuban strongman Fulgencio Batista on December 17, 1958 that the United States viewed “with skepticism any plan on his part, or any intention on his part, to remain in Cuba indefinitely.”

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US Ambassador to Cuba Earl E. T. Smith

Fulgencio Batista fled Cuba on January 1, 1959, taking all by surprise, it took Fidel Castro seven days to arrive in Havana on January 8th. On January 7, 1959 the United States recognized the revolutionary regime ushered in by the Castro brothers. [ In comparison it had taken the United States 17 days to recognize the government of Fulgencio Batista following his March 10, 1952 coup. The United States had not been consulted ahead of time about Batista’s coup and Washington offered to back the ousted democratic president Carlos Prio, but the last democratically elected president of Cuba at the time initially refused to resist the coup.]

Second, that the United States eagerly embraced the Castro regime during its first year, despite numerous provocations.

Ambassador Earl E. T. Smith was replaced as U.S. Ambassador to Cuba by Philip W. Bonsal in January 1959 who counseled Washington for the first year of the Castro regime to pursue a policy of patience and forbearance with the consolidating communist dictatorship.

Vice President Richard Nixon met with Fidel Castro for three hours on April 19, 1959 at the Vice President’s formal office in the U.S. Capitol.

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Fidel Castro meets with Vice President Richard Nixon in April 1959

Despite this outreach by the United States, the path taken by Castro points to an emerging regime hostile to the United States, and other governments in the region.

During the first year of the Castro regime, despite numerous provocations, the United States through its Ambassador Philip W. Bonsal continued the policy of patience and forbearance. This did not slow down Havana’s full embrace of the Soviet Union.

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Ambassador Philip W. Bonsal with Fidel Castro

The Eisenhower State Department in response to the above actions imposed the first trade embargo on Cuba on October 19, 1960, and it “covered all U.S. exports to Cuba except for medicine and some foods.” In October 1960, Ambassador Bonsal was ordered home from Cuba for “indefinite consultation,” and never returned. This did not change the course of action of the Castro regime.

  • On November 19, 1960 Ernesto “Che” Guevara headed a Cuban delegation to Beijing that met with Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, and other high ranking Chinese officials and discussed revolutionary objectives in Latin America. This included the prospects for communist revolution in the Western Hemisphere.

  • On January 3, 1961 Fidel Castro communicated with the Eisenhower Administration demanding the expulsion of 67 U.S. diplomats, within 48 hours, reducing their number to 11, the same number at the Cuban embassy in Washington DC. The Americans had over 50,000 visa applications to process when the ultimatum was delivered. Tens of thousands of Cubans were lined up outside of the U.S. embassy in Havana seeking visas to flee the new dictatorship.

  • On January 3, 1961 at 8:30 p.m. EST President Eisenhower issued a statement stating: “There is a limit to what the United States in self respect can endure. That limit has now been reached,” and severed diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Relations between China and Cuba cooled in 1964 when the Castro regime sided with the Soviet Union in the Sino-Soviet split, but warmed again in 1989 following the Tiananmen Massacre. Havana was one of the few governments to support the massacre, and the Castro regime had distanced itself from the Soviet Union viewing Perestroika and Glasnost as existential threats to their rule. Cuba’s relationship with Russia warmed with the arrival of Vladimir Putin to power in 2000, and the return of Moscow’s hostility to American geopolitical designs.

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Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and Chairman Mao Zedong dining in November 1960, and plotting communist takeover of Latin America

Cuba’s relationship with the Soviet Union provided Havana with expertise in biological warfare and biotech that had been denied to the Chinese due to the above-mentioned split. Havana beginning in the late 1980s began offering that knowledge to their counterparts in Beijing and signed a formal agreement to produce monoclonal antibodies in 2002.

Several efforts to return to a version of Philip W. Bonsal‘s policy of patience and forbearance over the next 62 years would repeatedly fail to entice the Castro regime to normalize its relations with the United States. The most recent example during the Obama Administration saw Cuba smuggling weapons into North Korea without consequence. Havana had claimed to be shipping sugar and spare plastic sacks to North Korea, but was caught smuggling tons of weapons and ammunition in violation of international sanctions on July 15, 2013 at the Manzanillo International Terminal in Panama.

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Official media in Cuba celebrate the founding of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – North Korea

The United States normalized diplomatic relations with Cuba on July 20, 2015, President Obama conducted an official state visit to the island in March 2016, and in 2016 scores of American diplomats began to suffer brain injuries in Havana through a phenomenon now known as the Havana Syndrome.

Beijing and Havana have been working closely together during the COVID-19 pandemic that originated in Wuhan, China in December 2019. Below is a video presentation given in April 2020 on this relationship and its negative international impact.

At the United Nations Human Rights Council on July 1, 2020 the Castro regime took the lead in backing the new security law in Hong Kong that effectively ended autonomy there.

Therefore it should not be a surprise that Xi Jinping and Diaz Canel are now expressing their mutual support in the midst of the current crisis of legitimacy of the Cuban dictatorship, and as the Castro regime did in 1989, the communist dictatorship in Beijing today backs the violence visited upon nonviolent protesters in Cuba in July 2021, and condemns the United States for sanctioning those carrying out the violence against Cubans.

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Both Havana and Beijing could learn a lot from Taipei and its successful development model, and effective response to COVID-19 in a country where one will get more reliable case and mortality numbers than either from Communist Cuba or China.

The Korea Herald, August 29, 2021

N.Korea stresses close relations with Cuba on 61st anniversary of diplomatic ties

By Yonhap

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North Korean flag (Reuters-Yonhap)

North Korea on Sunday stressed its close relations with Cuba and expressed continued support and solidarity on the occasion of the 61st anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties.

“For the last 60-odd years, the DPRK and Cuba have strengthened and developed the fraternal and comradely relations of mutual support and close cooperation on the sacred road of joint struggle for accomplishing the socialist cause,” the North’s foreign ministry said on its website.

DPRK stands for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The North also said that it “rejoiced” over Cuba’s success in the “vigorous struggle to defend and advance the cause of socialism towards victory while smashing grave challenges from within and without.”

“We will, in the future, too, continue to extend full support and solidarity to the Cuban people in their just struggle and move forward hand in hand with them on the road of struggle for independence against imperialism and for socialism,” the website said.

North Korea and Cuba have maintained close relations since establishing diplomatic ties in 1960.

Pyongyang has recently been seeking to maintain closer ties with its traditional allies amid an impasse in nuclear negotiations with Washington. (Yonhap)

The White House, August 27, 2021

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, August 27, 2021

August 27, 2021 • Press Briefings

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

Q Understood. And can I ask about — the U.S. has donated over 3 million COVID vaccines to Afghanistan. The U.N. put out a report this week saying that the number of vaccinations in Afghanistan has significantly dropped since the Taliban took over.

Does the White House or does the U.S. government have any indication of what’s happened to those vaccines? Are they in the hands of the Taliban, and are they still being distributed? Or is there a concern that the Taliban might try to sell those doses?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have not worked with the Taliban as a — as the government. Right? And a lot of these assistance is often distributed through humanitarian organizations or others who work through COVAX. I would have to check and see what the implementation and mechanisms are, but we are quite careful and very focused on vaccines not — getting into the right hands.

And for individual — for countries we work with — and remember, this was an issue with Cuba, right? — we need to have mechanisms to ensure that they are getting out to the populations who need to get access to the vaccines.

14ymedio, August 30, 2021

The silence of the Cuban Government is prolonged before the request to authorize humanitarian flights from the United States

In Miami, organizations such as Solidaridad sin Fronteras, have dedicated themselves to collecting donations

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Skyway Enterprises had planned 20 shipments to Havana from July 22 to September 28. (Skyway Enterprises / Facebook)

The Cuban authorities have not yet authorized the landing on the island of cargo airlines from the United States with humanitarian aid despite the fact that the island is experiencing a collapse in its health system and that voices are growing crying out for a humanitarian corridor to bring resources to families and hospitals.

In mid-August, local Florida media reported that a group of US executives had requested permission from the island’s government a month ago, but Havana still had not responded. A silence that has lasted until today.

“So far we do not have permits to land on the island, which must be given by the Cuban government,” he explained last Thursday to Cubanet, Rey González, an executive from IBC Airways. “We are not flying to Cuba because we do not have those permits. Once we have those documents to land in the country then we can work with local agencies to send humanitarian aid. But so far we do not have that.”

It was in early July when cargo airlines IBC Airways and Skyway Enterprises obtained temporary authorization from the US Department of Transportation to travel to the island with humanitarian cargo. The permit, which will be in force until November 30 and was made public on August 13, includes charter flights “for emergency medical purposes, search and rescue, and other trips considered of interest to the United States.”

In Miami, organizations like Solidaridad sin Fronteras (SSF), have dedicated themselves to gathering humanitarian aid. Dr. Julio César Alfonso, president of the NGO, assured America TeVé that since the announcement was made they have not stopped receiving donations, but the arrival of medicines, food and supplies to Cuban homes has slowed down.

SSF also presented last week the website of its program of “direct assistance” to health workers on the Island with the aim of sending medicines and medical supplies, which will function as the main link for aid. They also intend “to coordinate different humanitarian assistance operations directly with all health professionals in Cuba who voluntarily decide to join our support network,” Alfonso assured.

While they continue to collect donations, the IBC Airways executive assures that at the moment it is not known if the Government of the Island intends to grant the permits to the airlines. “Unfortunately we cannot do anything until Cuba grants these landing permits, and there is no information on when they will authorize it or if they will authorize it,” González explained.

The IBC Airways company requested to fly twice in a week to Havana until November. The airline reported that it will carry diplomatic mail and 7,500 pounds of humanitarian aid on each flight, in coordination with the CubaMax agency.

Like IBC Airways, Skyway Enterprises is authorized to fly to Havana, Villa Clara, Camagüey, Santiago de Cuba and Matanzas. This last company had planned 20 shipments to Havana from last July 22 to September 28, from that date it will be able to fly only twice a week to the Cuban capital.

In August of last year, the Trump Administration suspended private charter flights to Cuba as part of a package of sanctions against the Cuban government. “The Castro regime uses the income from tourism and travel to finance its abuses and interference in Venezuela. “, he then wrote in his account Twitter, announcing the decision, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “Dictators cannot be allowed to benefit from travel to the US,” he added.

Two months later, the United States Government vetoed the takeoff of two cargo flights to Cuba that, according to Skyway Enterprises and IBC Airways, had a “humanitarian” role, and that did not fall within the exceptions for the suspension of air connections. between the two countries.

The Department of Transportation consulted the Department of State on the procedure to follow and finally the US Executive concluded that the flights “would not be in the interest of US foreign policy.”

Cuba’s response was immediate. Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez described the ban on humanitarian cargo flights as “a ruthless act.” “The Trump government reinforces the punishment of Cuban families in both countries until the last moment,” he lamented in a message on Twitter.

The silence of the Cuban government is surprising when the country faces a strong outbreak of the pandemic, aggravated by the lack of oxygen, medicines and doctors, overcrowded hospitals and collapsed funeral services. Photos and videos of the deplorable conditions in many hospitals and the complaints of the doctors themselves regarding the lack of supplies for work circulate on social media and in independent media.

Translated by


Reuters, August 28, 2021

Cuba to deploy China’s Sinopharm alongside homegrown vaccines

By Sarah Marsh

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Signage of Sinopharm is seen at the 2020 China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS), following the COVID-19 outbreak, in Beijing, China September 5, 2020. REUTERS/TingshuWang

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba, which to date had deployed exclusively its homegrown COVID-19 vaccines, will also start using the Sinopharm vaccine of its Communist-run ally China in its bid to battle one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world.

Health authorities will apply two doses of Sinopharm combined with a Cuban booster in the central province of Cienfuegos from Sunday, Vicente Verez, the head of the Cuban Finlay Vaccine Institute, was cited as saying by the provincial state-run outlet 5deSeptiembre.

The efficacy of the vaccine combo is above 90%, according to the outlet, without detailing where the data came from or whether Cuba’s drug regulator had authorized the use of the Chinese vaccine. The World Health Organization gave emergency approval to the Sinopharm shot in May.

Authorities who had said earlier this month they would be able to produce enough vaccines for all of Cuba by September did not explain why they were choosing to deploy a foreign one now.

“It seems obvious the decision to apply Sinopharm in Cienfuegos is associated to the limited availability of Cuban vaccines and the urgency caused by the explosion of cases,” said Brazil-based Cuban virologist Amilcar Perez Riverol.

The health ministry had said in May the plan was to have vaccinated 70% of the population by August but had so far only reached around 30%, said Perez Riverol, who has become a guru on Cuban COVID-19 data analysis, on Facebook.

Meanwhile, Cuba has one of the highest COVID-19 caseloads in the world which is overwhelming its vaunted healthcare system which is heavily focused on prevention and primary care.

The outbreak comes amid a shortage of basic goods including medicine that has fueled anger at the government, leading to unprecedented nationwide protests last month.

Cuban authorities, which blame the economic crisis largely on a tightening of U.S. sanctions, have hailed donations of medical gear and food since the protests from allies like China although it was unclear if the vaccines were donated or bought.


Government critics had long urged it to acquire foreign vaccines rather than simply relying on homegrown ones, accusing it of placing its desire for prestige and good publicity over health concerns. Authorities said they preferred to focus scant resources on vaccine development and production than imports.

U.S. President Joe Biden said last month the United States was prepared to send vaccines to Cuba if it was assured an international organization would administer them.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel retorted that if the United States cared about the island’s humanitarian situation, it would lift the U.S. sanctions they accuse amongst other things of slowing down production of its homegrown vaccines.

The country has developed an unusually large biotech sector for a country its size, partly in a bid for sovereignty given the decades-old crippling U.S. trade embargo.

It is the only Latin American country to have completed the development of two COVID-19 vaccines, Soberana 2 and Abdala, which have elicited interest from nations worldwide from Jamaica and Mexico to Vietnam and Argentina.

It says the three shot vaccines both have efficacy of over 90% although the data has not yet been published in peer-reviewed journals. It has authorized both for emergency use

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Additional Reporting by Nelson Acosta; Editing by Marguerita Choy)