U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 04/03/2020

Dear Friends,

During these tough times, CDA sends love and well-wishes to you and your family. We hope you are staying safe, staying home, and taking care of yourselves and those around you. To lift your spirits, CDA staff has compiled a list of the music that makes us smile; we hope it brings you joy!

Music and Playlists

This week, in Cuba news…

SPECIAL FEATURE: CUBA AND THE NOVEL CORONAVIRUS

CDA’s coverage of the novel coronavirus and its impacts on Cuba continues in this third special feature. Since the island confirmed its first cases on March 11, the virus has now spread to all but two territories in Cuba. The island continues to implement increased measures to limit further spread, an effort which it began ramping up last week. Most recently, Cuba announced it is shutting down its borders to foreign commercial passenger aircraft, effective yesterday, Thursday, April 2.

As of press time, the number of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Cuba has risen to 269, with 6 people having died in connection with the virus. In addition, 15 novel coronavirus patients have recuperated and 3,241 people across the island are being monitored for symptoms.

Resources about COVID-19 in Cuba:

Cuba’s MINSAP database: https://covid19cubadata.github.io/

El Toque: https://eltoque.com/coronavirus-hechos-datos-de-cuba-y-en-el-mundo/

NOTABLE DEVELOPMENTS

Groups across the Americas condemn the U.S.’s continued sanctions on Cuba amidst the novel coronavirus crisis

CDA, along with seven other organizations, released a joint statement last week calling for a suspension of U.S. sanctions against Cuba in order to facilitate effective humanitarian and medical aid during the current global pandemic. On March 30, churches across the U.S. and Cuba made a similar request. In a statement released by the U.S. National Council of Churches in conjunction with Cuba’s Council of Churches “soliciting the government of the United States for the immediate lifting of the economic, financial and commercial blockade imposed on Cuba for over 60 years as well as that imposed on other nations.” The statement also calls on all people to petition for the immediate lifting of the embargo, which it posits is limiting the global response to the novel coronavirus.

In addition to churches, other individuals and civil society groups have called for a lifting of sanctions during this difficult time. Cuban-American Spanish teacher and U.S. military veteran Carlos Lazo, who immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba and has since been an advocate for improved U.S.-Cuba relations, recently started an online campaign asking U.S. President Donald Trump to release the economic pressure on Cuba for as long as the epidemic lasts. The petition has garnered over 8,500 signatures. Last week, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres wrote to the world’s twenty largest economic powers to encourage solidarity rather than sanctions as the world faces the threat of the novel coronavirus.

Cuba closes borders to international flights, ships

On Tuesday, Cuba announced that it would prohibit commercial passenger flights from landing on the island and ask foreign ships to leave Cuban waters, Reuters reports. Commercial trade and donations will still be permitted. Cubans, including those with dual citizenship, are also still permitted to enter Cuba, though they must submit to a fourteen-day quarantine.

On the same day, Cuban officials announced the suspension of events such as the annual May Day parade and the next congress of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP). José Ángel Portal, Cuba’s Minister of Public Health, also declared a defense zone surrounding the Camilo Cienfuegos Community in southern Cuba after the neighborhood reported a second case of local transmission. On Thursday, Cuba announced that it would close access to and isolate the El Carmelo neighborhood in Vedado, Havana’s central business district, on Friday, April 3, beginning at 8:00 PM due to the relatively high number of cases there. Cuba is also offering reduced prices for certain voice call and mobile data services during this time to facilitate communication during quarantine, and, according to Dr. Francisco Durán, Cuba’s National Director of Epidemiology at the country’s Ministry of Public Health, the island will also soon begin an intensified testing regime, administering 100,000 rapid result tests which have the ability to provide a diagnosis in under a minute.

Cuba sends medical aid brigades across the world amid pandemic

On March 30, France24 reports that thirty nine Cuban doctors are set to arrive this week in Andorra. This microstate, found in the Pyrenees mountains between Spain and France, is the second in Europe to receive a brigade of Cuban doctors after Italy, which welcomed a medical team from Havana last week. According to Al Jazeera, Cuba has recently sent doctors to several countries in South America and Africa as well as Jamaica, Haiti, Saint Christopher, Nevis, and Barbados.

Cuba reprioritizes food distribution in the face of the novel coronavirus

The global novel coronavirus pandemic coincides with Cuba’s domestic economic crisis, exacerbating the island’s economic woes and creating new health challenges. As such, the country’s government will reprioritize its distribution of basic foods to the population, according to Prensa Latina. Cuba’s Ministers of Agriculture and Food Industry appeared on state-run television program Mesa Redonda to set goals for the immediate future of the island’s agricultural sector, outlined online on CubaDebate (in Spanish). Among these goals are widespread municipal self-sufficiency and increased exports. The ministers also announced that new incentives would be provided for farmers able to efficiently produce basic sustenance crops such as beans and rice.

Cuba turns to television for school and church services

This week, Havana approved a request made by Cuba’s Conference of Catholic Priests to broadcast four upcoming ceremonies on Cuban national radio and television, Vatican News reports (in Spanish).

Cuba is also using several of its state-run television channels to broadcast school classes for elementary through high school aged children, according to Reuters.

Cubans involved in evacuation of British Cruise ship released with no symptoms of the coronavirus [SPANISH]

On April 2, OnCuba reported that all Cubans involved in evacuating a British cruise ship in Mariel, Cuba on March 18, have been discharged from medical quarantine after fourteen days of showing no symptoms of the novel coronavirus and having tested negative for the disease. Dr. Francisco Durán announced at a press conference on April 2 that all Cuban health workers, customs officials, and other workers involved in the MS Braemar’s evacuation are healthy and have returned to their homes and jobs. The United Kingdom’s ambassador to Cuba, Ambassador Antony Stokes, tweeted the happy news on Thursday morning along with a note of thanks to the Cubans.

On March 18, Reuters reported that the ship, some of whose passengers had begun showing symptoms of  the novel coronavirus while on board, had docked west of Havana after being rejected at the ports of several other Caribbean countries.

RECOMMENDED READINGS AND VIEWINGS

Covid-19: Cuba Deserves Relief From US Sanctions, Peter Kornbluh, The Nation

Peter Kornbluh, the director of the National Security Archive’s Cuba Documentation Project, writes in The Nation this week arguing for a readjustment of U.S. foreign policy priorities to focus on humanitarian aid. He cites the call for sanctions relief spearheaded by CDA and joined by a coalition of policy advocates, trade lobby associations, and human rights groups. Mr. Kornbluh writes, “With the survival of the world at stake, Washington’s punitive efforts to roll back the Cuban revolution have never seemed so petty, and so abjectly counterproductive to real US national security interests, as they do now.”

“Cuba’s Cancer Hope,” a new look into Cuba’s medical ingenuity, released this week, PBS Nova

A new PBS Nova documentary called “Cuba’s Cancer Hope,” which premiered on April 1, follows doctors from Roswell Park Cancer Center in Buffalo, NY in their collaboration with Cuba’s Center of Molecular Immunology (CIM) to test and distribute a promising new lung cancer vaccine called CIMAvax. The vaccine was developed in Cuba and underwent clinical trials in the U.S. Roswell Park and CIM signed an initial agreement to partner in the further development of the vaccine during a CDA-led trade delegation for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2015. The medical partnership continues despite the continuing U.S. embargo on the island, and doctors aren’t the only ones making the trip. The documentary follows several U.S. citizens in need of treatment options for life-threatening diagnoses who have traveled to Cuba for a chance to receive the affordable, experimental treatment.

Despite the various changes to the U.S. embargo made under the Obama administration, it has remained illegal since the 1960s for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba for medical treatment, a practice also known as “medical tourism.”

U.S. sanctions and coronavirus: Why aid offers to North Korea but not Cuba?, Tim Padgett, WLRN

WLRN Americas editor Tim Padgett explores the impacts of U.S. sanctions on Cuba from the perspective of Cuban immigrants, exiles, citizens, and diplomats. He quotes one private accountant in Havana who says most of her clients–small Cuban businesses–are now closed. U.S. sanctions, according to Mr. Padgett, are affecting ordinary Cubans as well as many Cuban-Americans just as much as they are affecting Cuba’s government. Last week, CDA and seven other non-profit organizations released a joint statement calling for a suspension on such sanctions for the duration of the novel coronavirus pandemic. According to Mr. Padgett, the Trump administration’s willingness to offer aid to sanctioned countries besides Cuba such as North Korea and Iran throughout the novel coronavirus pandemic is a choice motivated by politics, which he argues must be set aside during this time of crisis. 

Cuba’s Santeria look to prayer and ritual for protection from the coronavirus, Sarah Marsh, Reuters

Many followers of the Afro-Cuban religion Santeria are turning to their deities, such as Inle, the deity of health, for protection from the novel coronavirus. Reuters’ Sarah Marsh examines the ways practitioners are carrying out various forms of worship in their homes during a time when most are in self-isolation.

The coronavirus and economic woes: Cuba’s uncertain future, Nora Gámez Torres, Miami Herald

Miami Herald reporter Nora Gámez Torres reveals the effects of Cuba’s measures to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus on the island’s already strained economy and infrastructure. According to Gámez, Havana is only receiving running water once every other day and food is becoming scarce across the island. “Mulas,” individuals who travel to third countries such as Panama to buy goods to bring back and sell on the island, have halted operations and the government shut down the island’s lucrative tourism industry on March 24. These economic stressors are exacerbated by U.S. sanctions on the island. As Gámez notes, CDA and seven other organizations recently released a joint statement calling for the suspension of such sanctions for the duration of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

More American students studying medicine in Cuba than ever before, Alan Macleod, Mintpress News

Alan Macleod of Mintpress reports on the lives and education of U.S. students attending medical school at institutions such as the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana, Cuba. More students from the U.S. are choosing to get their medical degrees abroad than in the past due to ever-rising educational costs at home. According to the American Medical Association, the number of international medical graduates (IMGs) practicing in the U.S. medical market increased by 28,000 since 2010. Cuba’s medical treatment and public health systems have been in the news since the rise of the novel coronavirus outbreak, as Cuba has been sending brigades of doctors all over the world and researching potential treatments amidst their own growing number of novel coronavirus cases.

EVENTS

Gibara, Holguín, Cuba: Gibara Film Festival, July 5 – 11

The small town of Gibara is transformed into the buzzing cultural centre of Cuba when it hosts the Gibara Film Festival every year. The emphasis of the festival is to remain as an alternative to larger international film festivals in order to recognize and celebrate the creativity and technical excellence of filmmakers, actors and technicians around the world. The festival also involves live music, theatre performances, art exhibitions and debates on film-making and post-production.


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