Cuba, we’re told, is experiencing a nasty outbreak of cholera. Under normal circumstances, the reaction here in the U.S. would be obvious and clear: empathy for those who are affected and offers of help to alleviate their suffering. But since we are talking about Cuba, life is more complicated than that.
Some reports say Cuba is not being forthcoming with information about the scope of the outbreak. A columnist published in the Havana Times wrote, “It seems they avoided telling us about cholera to spare us the worry.”
The Miami Herald is reporting, however, that confirmed cases now stand at 110 and counting; that general cases presenting symptoms of cholera are rising; and these reports are being carried on provincial television in Cuba as detailed by Ana Maria Batista, identified as a Granma epidemiologist. Details are coming out,as this report filed today by CNN demonstrates. So where is Washington in all of this?
The U.S. Interests Section in Havana is providing some information and urging travelers to follow public health guideless and monitor sources of information.
But for others, as Albor Ruiz writes this week in the New York Daily News, the cholera outbreak has become “a propaganda exercise for those who, even after 53 years of a failed economic embargo, prefer a policy of hostility and isolation over one of dialogue and engagement.”
In this case, he is referring to the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-18), whose position accords her some notice in U.S. foreign policy and who also has tens of thousands of Cubans in her Congressional district with family members at risk on the island.
And yet, her office has issued no calls for compassion, not when there’s a political point to be scored. Instead, she was quick to issue a statement condemning the Cuban government – not just for its secrecy, which she asserts without explanation has cost lives, but for “the regime’s utter failure in areas such as sanitation and infrastructure.” Attack, attack, attack.
Opponents of the Castro government have long enjoyed using the suffering of Cubans for sport, but cruelty at that level isn’t a tactic that everyone is used to. Albor Ruiz quotes Romy Aranguiz, a doctor born in Havana, who says of the outbreak “there are a lot of people focused on it for anti-Castro propaganda instead of thinking of what they could do to help their brothers and sisters on the island….If they really care about Cuba they should be thinking about sending antibiotics to the island and stop talking so much nonsense,” she said.
But that is not how the hardliners view their role. “These are the people,” as Yoani Sanchez wrote recently, “who see the Cuban situation as a pressure cooker that needs just a little more heat to explode…Sadly, however, the guinea pigs required to test the efficacy of such an experiment would be Cubans on the island.”
Such are the costs of hate in the time of cholera. Can’t we do better?
International Port Corp (IPC) is offering weekly direct maritime shipping of humanitarian aid from the port of Miami to Havana, says PR Newswire. The first shipment left Miami on Wednesday and arrived in Havana on Friday, reports Reuters. The service permits aid recipients to pick up their packages at the port, or offers home delivery throughout the island in 1-2 weeks. IPC’s shipping service will allow individuals to send non-commercial goods to family or friends in Cuba, and will also send humanitarian shipments to Cuba from authorized NGOs, charities, and religious groups, reports the Miami Herald. Sarah Stephens, Director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, stated:
This is a new and better direction in U.S. policy that attempts to recognize the needs of average Cubans. It ought to be the future of U.S. policy – rather than trying to make Cubans suffer with sanctions and cause instability in their system, the U.S. should be opening channels of support, information, exchange, and humanitarian aid, policies that will benefit the Cuban people especially now as their government moves forward in the process of updating their economic model.
According to Leonardo Sanchez-Adega, a spokesman for IPC, the service is licensed under the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control and the U.S. Commerce Department. Sánchez-Adega also stated that IPC’s service is in compliance with both the U.S. trade embargo and Cuba’s June 18th customs regulation, which limits the amount of the non-commercial items allowed into the country.
The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has reached an agreement with Great Western Malting Co., a company based in Washington State, for a fine of nearly $1.35 million for “apparent violations” of U.S. sanctions against Cuba, reports Cuba Standard. According to OFAC’s press release, the violations occurred between August 2006 and March 2009, when Great Western “performed various back-office functions for the sales by a foreign affiliate of non-U.S. origin barley malt to Cuba.” During this time period, Great Western lacked an “adequate OFAC compliance program” and completed business transactions with a number of Cuban Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs) – individuals or companies with whom U.S. persons are prohibited from dealing in business negotiations.
Zarubezhneft, a state owned Russian oil company with plans to drill off Cuba’s coast, has contracted a third-party auditing company to determine whether the rig it plans to use has fewer than 10% U.S.-made parts, the maximum allowed under provisions of the U.S. embargo, reports the New York Times. Zarubezhneft has contracted a rig from Songa Offshore, a Norwegian drilling operator based in Cyprus.
It is unknown whether the findings of the auditing company will affect Russia’s decision to drill off Cuba’s coast. The rig is currently traveling to Cuba from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Zarubezhneft plans to begin drilling in November off the northern coast of Cuba near the town of Cayo Santa Maria.
The cholera outbreak that began two weeks ago continues to infect citizens in the eastern province of Granma, with 110 cases confirmed, reports CNN. Cuba’s Public Health Ministry released an official report last week stating that of 1,000 patients treated for cholera symptoms, about 50 cases had been confirmed, with three deaths of elderly people suffering preexisting health conditions. Unofficial sources have since reported higher numbers of confirmed cases and deaths in Granma. According to BBC’s Sarah Rainsford, doctors throughout the capital city of Havana have been checking for symptoms of cholera in their patients.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen wrote Wednesday to the State Department, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), and the Miami-Dade County Health Department, stating that the cholera outbreak poses health risks for U.S. citizens, reports NBC Miami. Albor Ruiz for the NY Daily News criticized Rep. Ros-Lehtinen for politicizing the issue, while Florida health officials have responded that “the potential for spread of cholera in Florida is extremely low.”
Cuba’s government has announced plans to expand the formation of cooperatives to the foodservice and transportation industries, reports EFE. According to Claudio Alberto Rivera, president of Cuba’s Cooperatives Association, the government is presently “involved in the creation of the legal framework” to develop cooperatives outside of the agriculture sector, the only industry in which cooperatives are currently legal. This comes shortly after last week’s announcement of Cuba’s plans to change its foreign investment law to favor access to technology, as part of the economic reforms taking place on the island.
11,000 doctors will graduate from Cuba’s medical schools this month, the highest number of students graduating with a degree in medicine in Cuba’s history, reports state newspaper Granma. Of the graduates 5,694 are foreigners studying in Cuba from 59 countries, reports Havana Times. Cuba’s government has placed high priority on the education of Cuban and foreign doctors, and revenue from the work of Cuban doctors abroad is a significant source of income for the country.
CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS
Cuba’s President Raúl Castro wrapped up his visit to China over the weekend and traveled to Vietnam, where he met Sunday with President Truong Tan Sang, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, and Vietnam’s Communist Party’s leader Nguyen Phu Trong, reports EFE. Vietnam is Cuba’s largest supplier of rice, and the two countries’ bilateral trade was valued at $247 million last year. During his four-day visit, President Castro commented on Cuba’s relations with Vietnam, stating: “Our relationship has developed over many years based on our rich history…when one country is in need, we help each other and we share a lot of common opinions about global issues,” the Associated Press reports.
President Castro left Vietnam and traveled to Russia Wednesday for his second official state visit to the country since taking office, reports EFE. While in Russia, President Castro met with President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev, and also paid tribute to Vladimir Lenin, reports the Havana Times. Ricardo Cabrisas, Vice President of the Council of Ministers, and Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, Foreign Minister accompanied President Castro on his trip throughout Asia.
Norway signed an agreement with Cuba’s government to provide $800,000 for healthcare services in Haiti, the third of such agreements since Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake, Cuba Standard reports. In total, Norway has now donated $2.5 million under these agreements. Cuba is additionally working in Haiti on an $80 million program funded by Brazil, which funds the construction of four hospitals and the purchase of equipment.
Cuba’s diabetes drug Heberprot-P will be tested in Europe for the first time, according to an official report by Cuba’s Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIBG). Heberprot-P, which helps curb diabetes-related foot ulcers and amputations of lower limbs, will begin clinical trials throughout the European Union in 2013, reports Xinhua. Ernesto López Mola, Business Director of the CIGB, said that these trials mark “the first time (Cuba) undertakes stage 3 research in so-called first world countries.”
More than 70,000 patients worldwide have received treatment with Heberprot-P since the drug’s introduction, reports Xinhua. The drug has been patented in 40 countries and CIGB officials have stated that Heberprot-P could generate more than $100 million dollars this year. Currently, Cuba’s biotechnology industry generates around $200 million in total revenue each year.
Chinthapally Rajasekhar, India’s Ambassador in Havana, announced Monday during a visit by Jyotiraditya Scindia, India’s Minister of Trade and Industry, that India wants to strengthen its economic ties with Cuba, reports the Press Trust of India. Scindia visited Cuba from July 10-13 with a delegation of 20 businessmen. Rajasekhar emphasized the potential for bilateral trade opportunities with Cuba in energy, mining, tourism, infrastructure, and the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. The Press Trust of India also reports that Scindia asked Cuban officials about the possibility of simplifying the visa process for Indian professionals in order to further facilitate economic cooperation between the two nations.
Scindia met with Cuban officials from the Ministry of Foreign Trade, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Basic Industry, and the Chamber of Commerce. Currently trade between the two countries is valued at around $40 million.
Juan Francisco Montalbán Carrasco, the recently appointed Ambassador of Spain to Cuba, arrived in Havana and presented his credentials to Gladys Bejerano, Vice President of Cuba’s Council of State, on Tuesday, reports EFE. Appointed two months ago to his new post in Cuba, Montalbán previously headed the Spanish embassies in El Salvador and Bolivia and most recently was a delegate to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, reports the Havana Times.
Around the Region
In an interview given this Wednesday for Spanish-language channel America TeVe, President Obama said that he does not consider Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to be a “serious” threat, reports USA Today. With regards to Venezuela’s relations with Iran, he stated:
We’re always concerned about Iran engaging in destabilizing activity around the globe, but overall, my sense is that what Mr. Chávez has done over the last several years has not had a serious national security impact on us.
The Pan-American Post reported on the conservative backlash to the President’s comments. Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said that Obama’s statements showed he was “completely out of touch with what’s happening in Latin America,” and he argued that Chávez has “encouraged regional terrorist organizations that threaten our allies like Colombia.” However, the Pan-American Post points out that the threat of Iran in the hemisphere has been exaggerated, and that Colombia has praised Venezuela’s efforts against guerrilla presence along the countries’ borders.
In response to the continuing conflict between El Salvador’s Congress and Supreme Court, Mari Carmen Aponte, U.S. Ambassador, and Linda Cross, British Ambassador, issued statements urging a quick resolution, reports Reuters. Ambassador Aponte expressed the U.S. government’s concern over the constitutional crisis and joined Ambassador Cross in emphasizing the importance of a speedy solution to prevent further conflict or instability.
Linda Garrett, Senior Analyst on El Salvador for the Center for Democracy in the Americas, provides a summary and analysis of the crisis that has rocked El Salvador’s court system for the past month in an interview for World Politics Review. Also see Linda’s new blog post about the constitutional crisis.
Exclusive: InfoMas journalist returns to Cuba after nine years, Irma Maurillo, Bay News
“Only 90 miles separate Cuba from Florida, but for more Cubans living in our area, home is a distant land. Liz Evora, a journalist for our sister station InfoMas, left the island nine years ago without hope of ever going back or seeing her father again. Evora recently returned to Cuba and reported on her journey as part of the exclusive series ‘Cuba: A Journey Home.’ Evora couldn’t go back as an American journalist, and instead she used her Cuban passport.”
Cuba’s illegal homes, Desmond Boylan, Reuters
Desmond Boylan’s photographs for Reuters of migrant workers building homes outside Havana.“In spite of restrictions on migration inside Cuba, thousands of workers arrive every year in Havana, build homes illegally to settle, and start new jobs and lives.”
El Salvador’s Streets Safer, Thanks To Gang Truce, Maria Hinojosa interviews Carlos Dada and Alex Sanchez, NPR
“El Salvador has one of the highest murder rates in the world. But police say murders have been cut in half since March. That’s when a former guerilla and a catholic bishop brokered a truce between two of the country’s most violent gangs. Guest host Maria Hinojosa talks with Alex Sanchez, a former gang member, and director of the gang intervention group Homies Unidos. Hinojosa is also joined by Carlos Dada, editor of an online newspaper in El Salvador.”
Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights, David Smilde, Hugo Pérez Hernáiz, Rebecca Hanson
The Washington Office on Latin America has a new blog on Venezuela. They write: “The coming six months then, represent a coyuntura that will define the course of Venezuelan history for years to come. Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights aims to provide independent, reality-based analysis and commentary to help English language audiences understand the complex situations that will occur during this period… We seek to call it as we see it, identifying the good, the bad and the ugly on all sides of the political spectrum.”
The Center for Democracy in the Americas also publishes a monthly Venezuela news update by Prof. Dan Hellinger, Caracas Connect.