Exposing Cuba’s Coronavirus propaganda
BY MAX YOUNG
In his final speech as leader of the Labour Party on the 25th of March, Jeremy Corbyn praised the internationalism of Cuban doctors travelling to Italy to fight coronavirus as “inspirational.” By March 29th, Cuba’s “emergency relief Henry Reeve brigades” of 593 healthcare professionals were dispatched to 14 countries. The country’s foreign ministry stated that the global crisis required “understanding health as a human right and strengthening international cooperation in order to address our common challenges.”
But the reality behind the rosy image of Cuban healthcare perpetuated across global media is soon revealed once the incompetence of Cuba’s health service, the regime’s ruthless propagandising, and its treatment of Cuban near-slave doctors become clear.
The incompetence was quickly demonstrated. Of the recipient countries only Andorra asked whether Covid-19 might be present in Cuban health brigades, as the Cuban government had insisted that there was no community spread of the virus in the country. On April 1st Andorra reported that one of the 39 members of the Cuban brigade had tested positive. She had travelled with the rest by air to Madrid, and by bus to Andorra – after this the entire group was quarantined.
Cuba’s real motives are mercenary. It receives payments of $5000-$11,000 for each worker. The international workers themselves never see more than 5-20% of this.
Cuba has treated its underpaid healthcare workers as an “exportable commodity” since the 1960s. (The average monthly salary of Cuban doctors is less than $70). The doctors sent overseas are not informed of the terms of their contract until the last minute. They are not informed of the destination to which they will be sent. Doctors are usually abroad for two to three years – their families are not allowed to accompany them. They are forbidden from talking with the media. Workers who “desert” and abandon their mission lose their wages in Cuban bank accounts, are not permitted to return to the country for eight years, and see their families suffering from systemic harassment and punishment back home. They are punished with up to eight years in prison if they do return.
Cuban workers abroad are subject to the same labour conditions as in Cuba: they are not allowed to form independent unions, to strike or peacefully protest, or to undertake collective bargaining. They are forced to donate a portion of their pay to state-controlled organisations like the Cuban Communist Party instead. They cannot leave their residence in the evening. They cannot drive a car. They cannot socialise with locals. Their living conditions are often dangerous and remote. They are not granted facilities to treat wounds they sustain – hundreds have died. Groups of Cuban doctors have “minders” – agents trained as spies to prevent deceptions and report back to the state. Some doctors are themselves trained as intelligence officers to perform the same task. All workers abroad are tasked with propagandising the Cuban state and promoting the Cuban Revolution. One Cuban doctor described themselves as “the highest qualified slave labour force in the world.”
At home, the situation for the Cuban health service is no better. The dictatorship has been forced to enlist athletes and PE teachers for “sanitation work” due to its lack of sufficient numbers of domestic doctors. The health system is unable to cope. Although there are exclusive facilities for the Communist Party elite and foreigners paying with hard currency, ordinary citizens must put up with filthy hospitals lacking basic medicines and equipment and sometimes even running water. Cubans even have to bring their own bedsheets and food to hospital.
Meanwhile, Cuba has been ruthlessly promoting a so-called coronavirus wonder drug. Interferon Alpha-2b has been produced in Cuba for 30 years and is based in a copy of the drug invented elsewhere. The regime claims that it supplements a natural deficiency of interferon in the body as a result of a viral infection and significantly strengthens the immune system. Agreements to send healthcare professionals abroad during this crisis has often come with the sale of this drug attached. Tests and studies for the effectiveness of the drug were virtually non-existent several months ago. The Cuban state has made similar claims regarding its “miracle” vaccine for lung cancer, which has been widely publicised by sympathetic media outlets. The clinical trials that were undertaken for that treatment found it to “barely work at all.” Meanwhile, a group of researchers from MIT and Harvard University have discovered that Cuba’s interferon in fact assists in the advancement of coronavirus in the human body.
The Cuban regime has relied on medical soft power for years to preserve its sympathetic global image. The truth is that the bold claims it makes are fabricated, as is commonly the case with struggling dictatorships. The state pumps out slave doctors and ineffective drugs to stricken nations, and press releases to everyone else. It is a massive exercise of propaganda that has seen its efforts redoubled since the outbreak of coronavirus – to the detriment of Cuban citizens, and all of us.
Max Young is Deputy Editor of Free Market Conservatives. Follow him on Twitter: @maxneoliberal