Breaking the Blockade against Cuba: Interview with Claudia Camba

Ricardo Vaz: Can you tell us a bit of the history of Operación Milagro (“Operation Miracle”)?

Claudia Camba: Operación Milagro was borne out of another great Cuban internationalist mission, which was the literacy program “Yo Sí Puedo” (“Yes I can”), and more concretely in Venezuela, where this literacy program was called “Misión Robinson”. The Venezuelans, through this program, had the goal of teaching 1 million people how to read and write in six months. Throughout this time they had some major successes as well as big difficulties, and one of them was the participants’ vision. Almost all the illiterate taking part in this program were adults with vision problems.

To overcome this Cuba sent 1500 optometrists, to test the peoples’ vision and give them glasses. But even with glasses some people could not see, and after an examination it turned out that they had cataracts. That is how “Misión Milagro”, which initially was just between Venezuela and Cuba, was born. With this mission over 300.000 Venezuelans travelled to Cuba to have surgery, not only for cataracts but also for other eye problems.

RV: And this mission is later extended to Argentina?

CC: Later on, in 2005, Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro begin to wonder: why not extend this mission to the whole of Latin America? Our organisation, UMMEP (“Un Mundo Mejor Es Posible”, “A better world is possible”), had been conducting the “Yo Sí Puedo” literacy program in Argentina, and we were approached by Cuba about the possibility of articulating ourselves with “Operación Milagro”. For us it was an honour to accept this cooperation.

In the beginning the mission involved sending Argentinian patients to be operated in Cuba. The first airplane with Argentinian patients left at the time of the “Summit of the Peoples”, in November 2005. This summit was created to counter the Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata. Bush was coming to set up the ALCA free trade agreement and many Latin American presidents, with this newfound unity that had been forming, were prepared to strike a blow against Bush and the empire. One part of it was burying ALCA, and another was creating ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas), from the initiative of Venezuela and Cuba, in Argentina. That is why it was so symbolic that on that very day the first Argentinian patients left for Cuba.

RV: And what about the “Che Guevara” hospital in Córdoba, when does it appear?

CC: This initial version of Operación Milagro lasted around 6 months. It was ridden with difficulties, because as you can imagine, we were dealing with very humble people that did not have passports, had never left the country, some did not even know the neighbouring town. Argentina is a very big country, and to fly out of Buenos Aires you sometimes need to travel 2000 km to reach the airport. So the matter of passports and travels was very difficult.


Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro (Photo: Granma)

But in January 2006 Evo Morales triumphed in Bolivia, and declared that Bolivia was to join the ALBA agreements. Then Cuba replied that, under these agreements, hospitals would be built in Bolivia. We sent a letter to Fidel Castro proposing that, if this went ahead, then Argentinian patients could be operated in Bolivia. Being a neighbouring country, passports were not needed and a national ID document was enough. And that is how this began, this epic journey which involved Fidel, Evo and Chávez, through which 13 hospitals were built, 2 of them dedicated to patients from Argentina. Over 30.000 people from Argentina were operated in Bolivia.

A few years later, the following idea appeared, again from Cuba: given all our experience, with thousands of surgeries and plenty of doctors who did the pre- and post-surgical work in Argentina, why not gather these doctors and set up our own hospital in Argentina? This would have Cuba’s support, but not a Cuban medical team, because in Argentina the Cuban doctors’ degrees are not recognised. (This is absurd, since we are talking about the country with the highest development in terms of healthcare in Latin America and the Caribbean!).

With this idea in mind, we searched for a location, Cuba donated all the equipment and we inaugurated the Ernesto “Che” Guevara hospital on October 8, 2009, at first in a temporary location that was loaned to us. We started there and operated more than 7000 patients in that hospital. Two years ago we had the good fortune of being able to move to our own building, which has the advantage that it can be extended in the future, to make room for a university, lodging for patients. The campaign we are launching has to do with that.

RV: You have mentioned the relation between Operación Milagro and the literacy program “Yo Sí Puedo“. But how is it connected to another major component of Cuban internationalism, which is the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM)?

CC: The establishment of the mission in Argentina is deeply connected to ELAM and to the first Argentinian graduates from the school. Not in the stage where patients were being flown to Cuba but in the Bolivian stage. In this stage, when Fidel proposed setting up hospitals, he also urged that the first 50 Argentine graduates from ELAM be called to work in this mission. This was a very important task, because they did not have their medical degrees recognised in Argentina. Fidel was very worried, especially about their morale, since they had been trained to save lives and were barred from doing it. They were not able to practice medicine in Argentina, but they could do it in Bolivia. This would help their self-esteem since their situation was incredibly unfair.

Many of these doctors had been in Venezuela and founded, after a suggestion from Chávez, the so-called “batallón 51”. Seven of them joined us. Other doctors joined us later, and there was also the possibility of giving them scholarships to get specialty training in Cuba. This is the case of our current director, Lucía Coronel, who studied epidemiology. Besides her there are three general practitioners from the ELAM, an anaesthesiologist and an ophthalmologist. These are the ELAM graduates currently working with us in Operación Milagro. The other doctors are graduates from the universities in Córdoba. It is also interesting to witness how both groups come together, exchange ideas, make each other better, it is wonderful.


Operación Milagro
has allowed 50.000 Argentinians to regain their vision free of charge (Photo: Operación Milagro)

RV: Is there resistance from the Argentinian medical corporations to these Cuban-trained doctors? After all, they are taking away a potentially lucrative business!

CC: That is true. The pressure against us, if we look at it, we do not feel it will come from the government. Because we are solving a problem for the government, it is not in their interest to attack us. Those who seem to be getting emboldened, with the capitalists and the right-wing back in power, are the medical corporations. This is what is happening in Argentina. Now, what might happen? Throughout the years, they have pressured doctors not to join us. They never managed to do that with the Cuban-trained ones, of course. They tried to denigrate them, but the people love them, they are where they are supposed to be.

In our case, if the medical establishment attacks us I think it would backfire. Because imagine a hospital where every day people arrive from different parts of Argentina, especially from around Córdoba. If, suppose, they attacked us and we had to close (which will not happen because it is not possible), they will have their waiting rooms full of poor people. What we have been figuring out through the years is that the large waiting lists in the hospitals have worked to increase the prices of surgeries in the private sector, prices that may reach 20.000 or even 30.000 pesos (between 1000 and 1500€). The very doctors that are in the public hospitals many times also run private practices. So it might be in their interest to have large waiting lists, it is a matter of supply and demand using blind people to regulate the market. But at the same time these corporations have no intention of operating on anyone for free.

It is important to stress that this hospital is a hospital of the people. In other words, the people will defend it. But, of course, the corporations have their own interests, which is why we are struggling for socialism.

RV: Going back to a more concrete topic, how does the hospital run? In terms of funding, medicines, etc…

CC: The hospital runs thanks to the solidarity of Cuba. Essentially, up until now, the Cuban ministry of health donates every year the necessary medicines and supplies for the hospital to run, through the institution that manages medical services abroad. This is a lot of money. And when we were having financial troubles Cuba also helped us so we could keep going. Beyond that, we also get funds from donations. Some people do it through the internet, others leave it in a box we have in the hospital. Other countries have also offered their solidarity. For example, the Juntas Generales de Guipúzcoa, from the Basque Country, donated money for 3 years to buy a laser equipment, as well as medicines and supplies. Some laboratories also donate medicines and supplies and that is how we keep going. Trade unions and social movements also offer their contributions.


Claudia Camba participated in the XIV Spain Solidarity Meeting with Cuba, which took place in Bilbao from 9-11 June 2017 (Photo: Cubainformación)

RV: People sometimes do not understand, especially western people, that a country like Cuba that has its fair share of difficulties, maintains these solidarity programs…

CC: The key is to understand the difference between solidarity and charity. Solidarity means sharing what we have, and charity is giving away whatever is left. Not only that, solidarity will never bind anyone, or be a mechanism to colonise, or demand something in return, rather it will complement the existing knowledge. This is why Cuba has always sought to have sustainable hospitals and why we are also planning to set up a medical school, so that solidarity can keep multiplying beyond Cuba. In practice the hospital is Argentinian, there is only a Cuban doctor that works as a consultant, and then there are 15 Argentinian doctors. In other words, this goal of sustainability has been achieved.

Other than that there is the difference between two systems. It is hard to grasp it if we are looking from a capitalist perspective. This is like the tourist that goes to Cuba and evaluates everything with a capitalist mindset. Now, whoever understands that socialism is meant to place people front and centre, and not capital, will understand this. And on the other hand, if we want to talk about poverty, there are plenty of poor people in Argentina, as well as problems of children living in the streets, eating from rubbish bins, as well as child prostitution. In Cuba you will not find a child suffering from malnutrition, or sleeping in the street. Unicef recognised Cuba as the only Latin American country without childhood malnutrition. It is the country with the largest life expectancy and the lowest child mortality rate in Latin America and the Caribbean. Does every Cuban have a car? Surely not, but that is also not the case in Argentina. This is what I mean. Poverty can mean different things from a capitalist or a socialist perspective.

RV: Now turning to the “Súmate” campaign (“Join Us”), what are its goals?

CC: In our current hospital building we have the possibility of constructing two more floors on top. The idea is to start by building an area to lodge patients that come from the countryside. People come and sometimes have no place to stay, they have surgery and end up sleeping in the bus terminal. This is unthinkable, it is illogical, a health hazard for the person. So we are planning to build this not only for the people in the countryside nearby, but also to coordinate with other provinces further away, so that people can come in an organised fashion, have surgery, stay here, then return to their houses and have a doctor do a post-surgery check. This is the idea to begin with.

The second step is to create an auditorium for lectures, so that we can bring specialists from around the world to share their experiences with Argentinian doctors about everything that has to do with public healthcare. We want to strengthen public health system. And the accommodation will also work for them, because in the cities there is access to this kind of training, but not so much in the countryside. That means that they can never operate on patients because they have no way of receiving training, and we think that is something that we can help with.


The “Súmate” campaign in front of the Dr. Ernesto “Che” Guevara ophthalmologic centre in Córdoba (Photo: Operación Milagro)

RV: As far as I understand, the work involves more than just receiving patients. There is also outreach work to find patients?

CC: Indeed. The program is built on a premise from the beginning, which is called “active search” (“pesquisa activa”). Fidel, for example, talked about this when he was in Córdoba and gave a speech at the university. The point is that we do not simply wait for people to find us. Although we do have open consultations, on weekends the doctors go out, thanks to a network that social organisations set up in their neighbourhoods, and perform this active search. So the doctor goes there because there is something going on with peoples’ vision, and those that have a problem that we are able to deal with are forwarded to the hospital. This way we are breaking some of the biggest barriers in ophthalmology, which are geographical, informational or communicational. There are people who believe their problems have no solution! Especially older people. But blindness due to cataracts is reversible, so we need to go out and find them. This is what our doctors do.

RV: One last question: the blockade against Cuba also manifests itself through the media. This makes it so that nothing is said about Cuban internationalism and solidarity. Why do you think this is so? Why is it so dangerous for people to find out what Cuba is doing?

CC: Because it would reveal the humanism of socialism. Because it would reveal what a country that has been under a blockade for more than 50 years has been able to achieve. This is similar to the demonisation of Venezuela, omitting all that Venezuela has been doing around the world. For example, the PetroCaribe program in the Caribbean, or its response after the earthquake in Haiti. Venezuela also helped us in a lot of programs, with Cuba often providing the human resources and Venezuela the financial ones. All this solidarity is never heard of.

Even more so concerning Cuba, because Cuba is the model of what can be achieved. Imagine how much more it could do without the economical and media blockade! It is our task to break the blockade. And we, Argentinians involved in solidarity with Cuba, feel that these missions are a way to breach the blockade bit by bit. Every time we get to a poor neighbourhood the people are made aware of Cuba, they are introduced to this very small island called Cuba that is big when it comes to solidarity. And that is how they get to know for the first time what Cuba is all about.

  • Published in Cuba

America should strengthen, not abandon, relationship with Cuba

The drawdown in personnel from the American embassy in Havana and the Cuban embassy in Washington in the wake of mysterious attacks on U.S. officials is a setback to the efforts begun by President Obama to reverse a five-decade policy of isolation that failed to advance U.S. interests. But whether the perpetrators of the alleged attacks, be they rogue elements of Cuban security forces or perhaps a third country like Russia or North Korea, are successful in damaging ties between the United States and Cuba will depend on how the U.S. government and American businesses, travelers and civil society respond.

The Trump administration has said its withdrawal of personnel is not intended to impede engagement, but rather to safeguard the health and security of American diplomats. Although courageous State Department diplomats pleaded to maintain the U.S. mission at full strength, the drawdown is a step any administration would have taken in the face of a danger to American personnel that it could not identify or mitigate. The expulsion of Cuban diplomats, however, was a more contentious step, given that the United States does not necessarily believe the Cuban government authorized the alleged attacks.

How long it will be before the American and Cuban embassies are fully staffed again is impossible to predict. Both governments remain at a loss to explain the source and method of the alleged attacks, which have apparently caused hearing loss and brain injury. The FBI has not detected any devices inside or outside American diplomatic residences in Havana or been able to replicate in lab tests the effect of the suspected attacks.

Inevitably, diplomatic engagement will be hampered during this period. Cuban travel to the United States will also diminish as the understaffed U.S. embassy reduces consular services for Cubans seeking a U.S. visa. Still, other forms of engagement do not have to end. On the contrary, now is the time for advocates of greater ties to stop those in either country seeking to drag the relationship backward.

Most importantly, supporters of engagement should make sure the alleged attacks do not dampen U.S. travel to Cuba. Since the diplomatic opening nearly three years ago, travel to the island has soared. The low crime rate in Cuba makes it among the safest places in the world to visit, but the State Department is now discouraging all travel to the island. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged that no U.S. private citizens have been affected by the alleged attacks, but since some apparently occurred at hotels where American citizens would stay, the State Department was required to issue a travel warning.

The cultural and natural splendor of Cuba should continue to motivate Americans to travel to the island. Even those skeptical of governmental engagement should feel comfortable visiting the island for cultural exchanges, as the hospitality industry is the sector with the largest entrepreneurial engagement and private employment. Private sector establishments, which employ about one-third of Cuban workers, depend on spending by foreign visitors to thrive. As Cuba recovers from Hurricane Irma, continued engagement has a humanitarian imperative as well.

Americans also have an incentive to visit Cuba before the Treasury Department issues new regulations governing travel there, as mandated by President Trump in June. The regulations are a few weeks overdue, and it is unclear when they will be issued. Treasury officials who oversee sanctions prefer to prioritize countries like Russia, Iran and North Korea, rather than proctor whether Americans step foot on a Caribbean beach.

Similarly, U.S. companies should not overreact and abandon the island. U.S. corporate leaders regularly complain about the challenges of navigating the bureaucratic and political thicket in Cuba. The travel warning and reduction in embassy commercial officers could cause some companies to delay or reconsider their Cuba plans. Savvy outfits, however, will look beyond the current diplomatic imbroglio and consider the first-mover advantage and long-term value of investing in Cuba. For its part, the Cuban government, which continues to signal its appetite for engagement with foreign companies, should expedite to the extent possible the approval of business petitions. The conclusion of a few high-profile deals could move other companies from the sidelines and beget more deals.

Finally, U.S. civil society, which has been instrumental to the process of normalization, should intensify engagement with their Cuban counterparts. Universities, sports leagues, cultural institutions, human rights groups, and research centers like the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, which is developing a lung cancer vaccine in collaboration with a Havana medical center, daily demonstrate how American engagement with Cuba enriches the lives of people in both countries.

The perpetrators of the alleged attacks on U.S. officials apparently wanted the U.S. and Cuban people to drift apart again. Whatever the origin of the illnesses afflicting U.S. diplomats, Cuban opponents of President Raul Castro’s opening to the United States will be pleased if Americans disengage from Cuba, and critics of normalization in the United States are cheering the renewed tensions. For the benefit of the Cuban people and Americans with a stake in the relationship with Cuba, it is important that the latest developments do not derail the historic reconciliation between the two countries.

  • Published in Cuba

Cleveland Extends an Economic Olive Branch to Cuba

In the midst of escalating diplomatic tensions between the U.S. and Cuba, the city of Cleveland is trying to build business ties with the island nation.

In Havana last Friday, representatives from the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority signed a non-binding "memorandum of understanding" with the country's maritime authority aimed at laying the groundwork for potential future trade. 

"The money is starting to flow down there," said Darrell McNair, chairman of the Port Authority. "You don't want to be last to the party in a situation like this." In recent years, ports in other statesincluding Virginia, Alabama, Texas, and Louisianahave reached similar agreements. Cleveland, he said, is the first northern port city to do so.

Although the agreement is not a guarantee that Cuba will do business with the Port of Cleveland, McNair said it puts the city in an advantageous position" if the U.S. ever lifts its embargo on Cuban trade.

"I think it's unlikely given the current political environment," said Gustavo Arnavat, Senior Advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C. Diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba have flared in recent weeks, with the U.S. State Department accusing the Cuban government of failing to protect U.S. diplomats from a series of mysterious "health attacks." And in June, President Trump tightened restrictions on Cuba that President Obama had previously loosened.

On the other hand, Arnavat said there is as slight possibility that relations could thaw under Trump. "The President is a 'dealmaker,'" said Arnavat. "If the Cubans come to the president with the right deal, the president may in fact turn around and encourage the Congress to get rid of the embargo."

If that day ever comes, said McNair, cities that have made efforts to establish a relationship with Cuba will have an advantage.

"You just don't wake and decide to do business with this country and expect it to happen overnight," he said. Before the signing of the memorandum of understanding last week, he said, the Port Authority had been in talks with Cuban economic officials for over a year.

Despite the current diplomatic friction, McNair was upbeat about prospects for warming U.S-Cuba relations. "We're not politicians," he said. "We do believe there will be an opening in the trade relationship."

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United States: Jungle or Hell?

After a large caravan of tear-moving events, a monstrous event took place in Las Vegas.

The largest city in the State of Nevada is one of the main domestic tourist destinations.

Two Associated Press (AP) journalists, Sally Ho and Regina García Cano wrote a chronicle on what happened.

Their introduction synthesizes the tragedy by saying, "a man kills dozens in concert in Las Vegas."

They say he fired from the 32nd floor of one of his hotels against an outdoor festivity where nearly 22 000 people attended.

Sally Ho and García Cano assessed it as "the worst shot slaughter in the modern history of the United States."

And they add, it turned the esplanade into a field of death from which there was not many options to escape."

With the result that, according to the first count, 58 deaths and near 515 wounded.

“I cannot get into the mind of a psychopath right now”, said the chief of police Lombard Joseph.

Assistants to the festival ran for their lives after interpreting the blasts as fireworks.

SWAT team agents entered the aggressor's room who had committed suicide.

His name, Stephen Craig Paddock, 64 years old, who had with him, at least, 17 firearms, including rifles.

Still some wonder how this person transferred that amount of weapons to the tourist hotel.

There was another detail. Who took claim for the attack? A terrorist gang, the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

Dozens of ambulances carried the wounded, while some people put the victims in their vehicles and took them to the hospital.

Some of the victims were bullet injured, others tramped by mob at moments of panic.

In a speech to the nation, President Donald Trump qualified the attack as "an act of pure evil".

He didn't mention the hairy issue of the free sale of weapons in several domestic stores, although he did ordered flags to be half mast high.

Before Sunday, the worst shooting had taken place by mid 2016 at a gay disco in Orlando, Florida, where 49 people died.

Looking at the new tragedy           that took place in the United States, experts in the matter wonder the following:

Does this government have the face to demand something from others nations around the world?

Should not they perhaps start by establishing order at home before laying behavior guidelines to their neighbors?

This government harshly questions Havana and Caracas for their respective political, social and economic systems.

But not a word on the brutal influence of the National Rifle Association in their electoral processes.

Everybody knows that that multimillionaire organization throws millions of dollars to the two parties, in particular to the Republican Party.

They are plentiful and they already overflow the reasons that support a very justified question: In reality, what does it mean the United States today, A jungle or hell? The facts speak for themselves.

Amilkal Labañino Valdés / Cubasi Translation Staff

Port of Cleveland signs memo of understanding with Cuba's maritime administration

HAVANA - The port authority of Cleveland, Ohio, and Cuba's maritime administration have signed a memo of understanding. 

This is the first event of its kind since the U.S. decided to pull its diplomats from their embassy in Havana after the diplomats suffered symptoms they say are related to some sort of attacks. 

The U.S. also told Cuba this week to pull 15 of its diplomats from their Washington, D.C., embassy.

According to Reuters, part of that group includes Cubans who were dealing with U.S. businesses, which may lead to more setbacks in U.S.-Cuba relations.  

"Our job is not to try and interpret what our government has to say," Darrell McNail, with the Port of Cleveland, said. "We do feel that the trade relationship will develop over time, if not today, maybe tomorrow."

Cuba already has similar agreements with ports in Virginia, Louisiana, Alabama and Texas. 

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U.S.A.: A Paradise for Violent Crime

According to the Associated Press (AP) violent crimes in the United States grew over the two years in a row.

What period of time did that North American news agency write? The time comprising between 2015 and 2016.

The fact was broadly commented this Monday for its journalist Sadie Gurman.

Revising FBI statistics, she remarked that it grew mainly in the most important cities.

Gurman noticed that Donald Trump used the numbers as evidence that the country is amid a dangerous wave of crimes.

Therefore? The need of making arrests and other sanctions "against drug crimes."

AP remembers that last year there was a blast of shootings and robberies, up to 4,1% more than in 2015.

While homicides of varied nature reached 8,6% in that same time.

The source aforementioned turned to last year statistics to highlight that violence jumped to 3.9%, and murders to more than 10.

"This is a concerning tendency that threatens to thwart the advances that made safer our neighborhoods and communities", said the secretary of Justice, Jeff Sessions.

He also sentenced: the years of crime reduction have been replaced by increases.

The website Público.es recently informed in Madrid that two years ago nearly 1134 people were killed in the U.S., mostly black people.

An investigation of the British newspaper 'The Guardian' revealed that the youths of that community have nine times more probabilities of getting killed at the hands of the Police than at the hands of anyone else.

Scary no doubt, the United States has become, by its own right, a paradise for violent crimes.

Amilkal Labañino Valdés / Cubasi Translation Staff

  • Published in Specials

An aggression against US diplomats in Havana? A groundless story

The unbelievable story of US diplomats that would have suffered hearing loss and other health problems during their tour of duty in Cuba, was published by the media in August last year. The first of such alleged incidents dates back to November 2016 and the last one to only a few weeks ago.

However, to date there is no credible explanation for the variety of symptoms described, and experts deny that the laws of physics could even apply in some of the hypothesis stated.

The story, which seems a science fiction story, has been taken very seriously in Havana.

On instructions from the senior Government, the Cuban authorities opened their own investigation as soon as they were first notified of the alleged incidents by the US Embassy in Havana and by the US State Department on February 17, this year.

“According to the preliminary results and the information we’ve shared with the US authorities, there is no evidence so far that would confirm the causes or origin of the alleged health problems experienced by the US diplomats and their family members”, stated a familiar source with the Cuban investigation.

The US investigations do not shed any light into the story either. Members of the US specialized agencies were invited to Cuba to conduct an on-site investigation, but the results have not been conclusive. “The truth is that we don’t know what or who have caused this”, acknowledged a spokesperson with the US Department of State, Heather Nauert. “This is why the investigation is still ongoing”.

The complexity of the investigation and the perplexity of the experts have not prevented some from trying to point at Cuba as the nation responsible, as they also try to reverse the progress achieved in the US-Cuba bilateral relations that has been taking place as from December 17, 2014.

Marco Rubio, a senator of Cuban-origin and a hardliner against any rapprochement with Havana, sent a letter recently to the US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, requesting the expulsion of all Cuban diplomats from Washington D.C. and the eventual closing of the US Embassy in Havana as retaliation for the alleged “sonic attacks” that would have caused the health problems to the US officials in Cuba.

However, the letter signed also by the Republican senators Tom Cotton, Richard Burr, John Cornyn and James Lankford, mentions no proof of the “Cuban guilt” and leaves out the willingness that the Cuban authorities expressed from day one, to cooperate and conduct the investigation.

Rubio was one of the minds behind the review of the Cuba policy adopted by the Trump Administration in June this year to intensify the application of the blockade. The legislator, who holds a seat in the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has used every means available to him to restrain the ties between both countries.

Unbelievable facts

The hypothesis of a “Sonic attack” and the use of sophisticated “Sonic devices” against US diplomats have been constant since the story hit the headlines despite the lack of evidence and the criteria of experts indicating that no device is able to cause the symptoms described in the conditions stated.

The US Department of State has remained tight-lipped on the particular damages to the health of its personnel in Havana, but the media has reported a wide variety of symptoms. In some cases, these symptoms include severe headaches, dizziness and hearing loss, while others have experienced cognitive disruption, memory loss and mild brain damage.

The diagnosis provoke confusion among experts, the FBI, the State Department and the US agencies involved in the investigation, according to reports of the Associated Press (AP).

“Brain damage and concussions, that’s not possible”, said Joseph Pompei to AP, a former MIT researcher and psychoacoustics expert. “Somebody would have to submerge their head into a pool lined with very powerful ultrasound transducers”.

Dr. Toby Heys, Leader of the Future Technologies research center at Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK, told New Scientist last month that directing ultrasound into the ear cavity could theoretically cause permanent hearing damage but it would require the use of huge devices in great volumes, which would be difficult to hide.

Sonic weapons used to disperse crowds and for the protection of some vessels in the face of pirate ships, work with the same type of equipment. The devices cover a considerable area and every person within its reach is affected.

However, most of the alleged incidents in Havana, according to US public sources, took place in enclosed spaces, sometimes even inside one single room, and with precision laser, affecting one person in particular, without affecting the rest.

Some of the alleged attacks would have taken place in the residence of diplomats and even in public buildings such as the Hotel Capri recently refurbished, a 19-story tower of concrete and 250 rooms, where there are no reports of other hotel guests affected.

According to AP reports, the FBI itself travelled to Havana and investigated some of the rooms where the attacks would have taken place, but found no trace of sonic devices.

The Cuban specialized services have not detected “possible perpetrators or individuals with motivation, intention or means to carry out this sort of actions”, according to sources linked to the investigations. “The presence of suspicious individuals or means have not been established at the places or surrounding areas where the incidents were reported”.

In Cuba, there is no precedent of this sort of actions. “The Cuban authorities don’t have nor are they familiar with the equipment or the technology that could be used for purposes similar to those described as sonic attacks”, added the same source.

Cuba has always been willing to cooperate

After they were notified for the first time by the US Embassy in Havana, the Cuban authorities set up an inter-institutional expert commission to analyze the facts. They expanded and intensified the measures that guarantee the protection, security and safety of the Embassy premises, its staff and the diplomatic residences. They also opened new direct communication channels between the US Embassy and the Cuban Department for the Security and Safety of Diplomats, as stated in the official statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs dated August 9, 2017, when the news were made public.

The Cuban side insisted that the US specialized agencies should travel to the country and conduct the investigations on-site, which occurred in June 2017. Other visits by these agencies took place in August and September.

“The three meetings held between representatives of the Cuban authorities and the US specialized agencies took place against a constructive and professional backdrop”, said a source with knowledge of the exchanges. The US side, he stated, expressed the intention to cooperate “more substantially with the investigation of the incidents”. Likewise, the members of the US specialized agencies who have visited Cuba, have acknowledged that the Cuban local authorities have acted promptly and with professionalism.

“We value positively the continuity of these visits. The Cuban authorities have great interest in expediting and completing the investigation, for which purpose, cooperation from the US authorities is essential”, said the source.

In the face of countless of variables to the case, influenced by the long history of conflicts between the two countries, cooperation is essential. Some of the fundamental aspects for the success of this cooperation and to achieve the results in any case scenario should include actions such as: timely notification of the incidents; submitting evidence; sharing information that would help establish the facts and identify possible perpetrators, should there be any; having access to those affected and to the medical doctors who diagnosed, and exchange with those experts who are familiar with the incidents and the alleged technology used.

Not even in the worst moments

Another fact that does not add up to the story of the sonic attack is timing. In November 2016, the governments of Cuba and the United States advanced quickly towards the completion of an important number of agreements for the benefit of both peoples.

After a long history of aggressions and attempts to subdue the Cuban people out of hunger and necessity, to transform the Cuban political system, the Obama Administration acknowledged on December 17, 2014, that the blockade had failed and accomplished the isolation of the United States.

The political backdrop between the two countries changed completely. Diplomatic ties were reestablished and 22 agreements on different areas were signed, including but not limited to environmental protection, the reopening of non-scheduled flights and the cooperation in the area of security and safety. Who would even think of sabotaging the relationship with Washington?

In addition, if the Cuban government never resorted to the use of aggressive methods against US diplomats out of its revolutionary principles, even when tension was at its height, what would be the logic to start doing so now, after the sovereign decision to reestablish ties with Washington?

On May, the State Department expelled two Cuban officials from the United States as a consequence of the alleged attacks that damaged the health of members of its staff in Havana, a measure considered by Cuba as “groundless and unsubstantiated”.

Now we know that, at the same time the Cuban officials were being expelled, the Cuban authorities were conducting the investigation and expressing their complete willingness to collaborate with their US counterparts.

The official statement by the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs reads that Cuba “strictly and seriously” observes and has always observed its obligations deriving from the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which refer to the protection of the integrity of diplomatic agents and local staff of the mission. “Our country’s impeccable track record in this area is recognized internationally and Cuba is universally considered as a safe destination for both visitors and foreign diplomats, including the Americans”, he said.

In line with the statement, a Cuban high-ranking diplomat reaffirmed that “that Cuba has never perpetrated nor will it ever perpetrate actions of this nature, and has never permitted nor will it ever permit any third-party use of its territory for this purpose”.

Facing the lack of evidence and the complexity of this case, the Cuban authorities keep the investigation open and are willing to collaborate with their US counterparts to establish the facts.

  • Published in Specials

‘In Cuba, health care is a human right. Why not in the U.S.?’

Two major health care unions have endorsed the Third “Days of Action Against the Blockade” scheduled for Sept. 11 to 16 in Washington, D.C.

As U.S. workers see threats to existing health care support, this action raises a vital question: “In Cuba, health care is a human right. Why not in the U.S.?”

National Nurses United and the New York State Nurses Association have joined the action project initiated by the International Committee for Peace, Justice and Dignity.

At the center of events are two Cuban health professionals, Dr. Jesús de los Santos Renó Céspedes and nurse practitioner Eduardo Gonzalez Copello. They are emblems of Cuba’s profound commitment to international solidarity, as well as examples of Cuba’s dedication to prioritizing the wellbeing and development of all people, particularly children.

Dr. Jesús de los Santos Renó Céspedes.

Dr. Renó is head of pediatrics at the National Institute of Oncology and Radiology in Havana. He is a professor, researcher and specialist in pediatric oncology and also a member of the International Society of Pediatric Oncology.

Copello has specialized in infectious diseases, such as leprosy, and sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS, and teaches at several educational institutes in Cuba. In 2014, he went to West Africa where he worked with victims of Ebola.

Five U.S. medical students from Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) will join the Cuban medical professionals in Washington for a packed week of meetings with medical school students and public events. Swedish and U.S. doctors will join advocacy teams in the halls of Congress to press the need to end the U.S. blockade of Cuba.

A major public event at Calvary Baptist Church on Sept. 14 will host Cuban Ambassador Jose Ramon Cabanas. In addition, Canadian author Stephen Kimber and Dr. Margaret Flowers, a U.S. pediatrician and health care activist, will join the ambassador and the Cuban medical professionals and students.

Public programs are scheduled daily, including screening a new film about U.S. graduates of ELAM: “Dare to Dream: Can One Medical School Change the World?” Filmmaker Jennifer Wager will lead a question-and-answer discussion after the viewing. Find the full schedule of events at tinyurl.com/y8ud6nkb.

Initial endorsers include Health over Profit for Everyone (HOPE), Health Care Revolution (student organization at Georgetown University), Institute for Policy Studies, IFCO/Pastors for Peace, Clinica Martin-Baro, Labor Campaign for Single Payer, Birthing Project USA, Pan-African Community Action (PACA) and Do No Harm Coalition.

Organizers are asking for help in spreading the word: “No stone should be unturned in the struggle for universal health care to be in the U.S., as it is in Cuba, a human right.”

  • Published in Cuba
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