Some Miami politicians blame Cuba for coronavirus spread in South Florida

Last week staff writer Alexi C. Cardona reported in the Miami New Times that “Miami-Dade leaders think Cuba is partly to blame for the coronavirus spread.”(1) Cardona pokes fun at these “leaders.”  “Countless unknowns surround COVID-19 …  [b]ut one thing some Miami-Dade leaders seem to know for sure is that Cuba must be responsible — at least in part — for the surge of COVID-19 cases in South Florida,” she writes. This latest episode in Cuba-bashing, of course, is nothing more than exploiting the irrationality of anti-Cuba fanatics to gain votes at the expense of the commissioners’ own constituents and the Cuban people.

“Commissioner Javier Souto, whose district includes parts of Kendall and Westchester, has even implied that Cuba might be weaponizing the novel coronavirus and exporting it to Miami,” Cardona continues. To say that is rich is a huge understatement. 

Cuba has never taken any act of kinetic aggression against the United States. It is the United States that invaded Cuba in 1961 through a small proxy army, navy and air force at the Bay of Pigs, that attempted to assassinate Fidel Castro in no fewer than 638 ways,(2) that conducted all manner of widespread sabotage actions, such as burning sugarcane fields and blowing up power plants,(3) that at least planned to introduce a sugar cane plant parasite called Bunga as well as spread hoof-and-mouth disease among draft animals, control rainfall by cloud seeding, mine cane fields, burn cane, and direct other acts of conventional sabotage against the cane milling and transportation systems, as revealed in classified papers found at the LBJ library by a congressional researcher in 1975 and other sources.(4)

While some may dispute whether these types of plans were actually carried out, these and other acts have been documented by independent researchers such as Salim Lamrani.(5) In Terrorism by the United States Against Cuba–The Case of the Five, he includes essays by respected authors such as Noam Chomsky, William Blum and Michael Parenti discussing in detail other acts of international terrorism actually carried out by Cuban-American agents of the U.S. government too numerous to list.(6)

Politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians. Charles de Gaulle

And let’s not forget that the United States has harbored and protected anti-Cuban international terrorists such as Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch, who had the backing of the CIA. Among other things, Bosch is considered by the FBI to be the intellectual author of the bombing of a Cubana airlines airplane near Barbados that took the lives of all 73 people on board, and was responsible for at least another 30 acts of terrorism against Cuba. Carriles collaborated with Bosch, confessed in great detail a great number of terrorism activities, and was identified as a notorious terrorist by the FBI. Together with two more Cuban-American terrorists, Bosch and Carriles founded an organization called CORU, which carried out a machine gun attack on the Cuban embassy in Bogotá, the assassination of a Cuban official in Mérida, Mexico, the kidnapping of two Cuban embassy employees in Buenos Aires, the bombing of a Cubana airlines office in Panama City, the bombing of the Guyanese embassy in Port of Spain, and the assassination of former Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier in Washington, D.C. He also conducted many terrorist attacks against tourists in Cuban hotels and restaurants, among other despicable acts.(7) Yet Bosch and Carriles walked freely for years while living in Miami-Dade upon the direct intervention of Jeb Bush and George H. W. Bush, and acquittal in a sham trial in Miami, respectively.

Cardona also reports, “During the remote meeting, commissioners approved a resolution pushing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to prohibit travel to and from Cuba for at least 60 days. The resolution cites concerns about the Cuban government’s denial of COVID-19 cases on the island, the strong diplomatic relations between Cuba and China, the ‘rogue nature of both governments,’ and the island’s proximity to South Florida.” This is ridiculous because Cuba had already suspended international flights at least two weeks earlier, except for humanitarian reasons, so no prohibition is necessary. Also, far from denying COVID-9 cases on the island, Cuba has been issuing daily bulletins and news reports, published in Granma and other outlets, about the number of reported cases, the number of deaths, where they have occurred, and what it’s being done to combat the virus.(8) In contrast, it is our own Republican president and governor who went through a long denial period and only have had to be brought kicking and screaming to admit a bit of truth and take some action. And the United States does not have “strong diplomatic relations with China”? When did Trump stop loving President Xi?

In fact, Adam McCleod of Mint Press News wrote persuasively that Cuba is leading the world in the fight against coronavirus(9) despite its limited means and continued attempts by the United States to deny its health care system the resources it needs. And not only that, Cuba is actually helping other people abroad to combat the pandemic, at great risk to its medical personnel and sometimes free of charge. “[D]octors have flown off on new missions to battle COVID-19 in at least 14 countries including Italy[,] [Suriname, Jamaica, Dominica, Belize, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kitts and Nevis, Venezuela and Nicaragua,] and the tiny principality of Andorra on the Spanish-French border, burnishing the island’s international image in the middle of a global crisis,” the AP reported recently.(10) Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, who had accused Cuba of sending terrorists in the guise of its Henry Reeve Brigade (founded by Fidel Castro in 2005 and named after a 19th-century American volunteer who fought for Cuban independence from Spain), made a U-turn and started begging Cuba in February to bring back the doctors it withdrew in response to his smears.(11)

An article in Bright Magazine by Sam Loewenberg even asks whether Cuban medicine can help solve American inequality. “The Cuban model takes a fundamentally different approach: it teaches people essential skills, so that they can be responsible for their own outcomes,” he explains. He also cites an American student at the Latin America School of Medicine, located near Havana, where hundreds of doctors from many countries, especially Africa and Latin America, graduate every year after receiving a free education on the promise they will go back to practice in underserved communities. “I don’t see why people who don’t have the ability to get to a clinic shouldn’t have access to a doctor,” she said, suggesting that doctors emulate their Cuban comrades by conducting home visits. In addition, Cuba focuses on prevention rather than the treatment of advanced or dramatic diseases. “Doctors learn to make diagnoses by knowing about their patients’ working and living conditions, and by interacting, touching, and listening … Doctors learn to make diagnoses based largely on their in-person examinations, and may spend an hour with patients if the situation requires it. They use blood and radiological tests to confirm their diagnoses. Many U.S.-trained doctors, by contrast, rely on tests to guide their diagnoses.”(12)

Maybe the County Commission, instead of grandstanding, should ask for Cuba’s help to fight the coronavirus and bring some of the Henry Reeve Brigade doctors to poor and underserved areas like Overtown, Liberty City, Hialeah, and Homestead, which harbor much of the county’s black and Latino population. After Katrina, Cuba offered to send doctors to help New Orleans.

The resolution goes on, “The risk of the pandemic is far too great to continue to allow travel to and from countries that are not presumably forthright and are not well equipped to detect and contain COVID-19.” This statement requires only the briefest of ripostes: the resolution more aptly describes the United States, where Trump has lied repeatedly, abdicated his responsibilities, failed to adequately assist the states, refused the millions of tests produced by the WHO, stolen PPE and respirators from the governors, and continues an irrational and dangerous promotion of hydroxychloroquine. Contrast that with Cuba, which has mobilized its population and entire health care system to test, isolate, treat patients, and trace contacts. Together with a Houston-based U.S. physician, Dr. Lee Clark, Cuba has also developed, as part of its world-renowned bio-technology industry, a very promising treatment, Interferon  Alpha 2b Human Recombinant, which is effective in treating Covid-19 patients and has been requested by over 40 countries.(13) It is pending approval from the FDA.

Instead of continuing to use our neighbor to the south as a piñata, the County Commission should follow such precedents as the joint venture established with the help of New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo between Cuba’s Center for Molecular Immunology and the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo to develop CIMAvax, a groundbreaking Cuban vaccine against lung cancer that has helped many people throughout the world and has no equivalent in this country.(14)

The MS Braemar as it departs Cuba.

The Miami New Times article reports too many more demented statements by commissioners to be detailed here. I will close by pointing out another bit of related news from last month: the Cuban government authorized the British cruise ship MS Braemar, carrying five people with confirmed cases of COVID-19, to dock at a port near Havana, after weeks of navigating all over the Caribbean because no other country allowed it to come in.(15) In an exemplary act of human solidarity, Cuban authorities did not allow irrational fears to overcome their empathy for other fellow human beings and made arrangements to have them safely disembark and travel on tour buses to the José Martí International Airport, where they boarded chartered airplanes headed for the UK. The British government expressed deep gratitude for this gesture of solidarity.

This incident reminds me of the case of the M.S. St. Louis, which was carrying 937 passengers in 1939, mostly Jews trying to escape Nazi Germany, that nobody wanted. The ship docked briefly in Cuba (at that time a U.S. vassal state), where its passengers were tricked and could not stay, then came near Miami, but the United States refused to accept it, as did Canada. Eventually, it had to return to Europe. Some passengers managed to survive, but 254 refugees died at the hands of the Nazis, and many who did not die were interned in concentration camps. 

Statesmanlike solidarity should be the emotion we evoke at these difficult times. What the commissioners reflect instead is the worn thread of anti-Cuban fanaticism that may win them some votes, but doesn’t translate into statesmanship instead of politicking. Will they ever understand that you cannot save a country by destroying it?

Amaury Cruz is a writer, lawyer, and political activist from Miami Beach. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a Juris Doctor. 

5 Doctor of Iberian and Latin American Studies at the Paris IV-Sorbonne University, Salim Lamrani is Lecturer at the University of La Réunion, specializing in relations between Cuba and the United States.
6 See Lamrani, Salim (Ed.), Terrorismo de Estados Unidos contra Cuba, Editorial José Martí (2005).