When swine flu began there was a hue and cry in some quarters to shut the border to prevent the virus from taking root in the US. It seems fairly clear, now, that by the time we detected the virus, in late April, it had already situated itself in the US — assuming that it didn’t start here in the first place. We don’t really know where the jump from pigs to humans occurred, although the best guess is Mexico. Closing the borders would have done no good and would have stranded thousands of students and other tourists in Mexico. Since the US has more world travelers than Mexico, it was in fact the US that was the driving force in spreading the virus to Europe and Asia. If one wanted to try to stop this virus by travel restrictions, the logical target would have been the US, although it wouldn’t have done much good. You can’t contain influenza. It’s too slippery.
Still, the idea lingers. The latest entry in “strangers bearing germs” narrative is Cuba’s ex-President, Fidel Castro, but it comes with an ironic twist that has some force to it:
The 83-year-old ex-president wrote in state-controlled newspapers on Saturday that many of Cuba’s early cases of the virus were visitors from the United States and he used the occasion to take a jab at the U.S. embargo.
“We had the strange case where the United States on one hand authorized more trips for a large number of people carrying the virus, and on the other prohibited us from obtaining equipment and medicine to combat the virus,” Castro said.
He added, however, that President Barack Obama was not plotting to infect Cubans with the flu when, in April, he eased restrictions on Cuban-Americans who want to travel or send money to Cuba.
“I don’t think, of course, that it was the intention of the United States,” Castro wrote. (Will Weissert, AP via Miami Herald)
It is an irony that opening up visitation but keeping the embargo intact has put the Cuban population at an added risk. Cuba had tried to isolate itself from Mexico by grounding air flights between the two countries, but it just doesn’t work for flu. Nor does enforced isolation of the sick and quarantine of their households. The virus is now spreading fast on the island, and is in every province, although according to Castro, “principally those with the highest number of relatives who reside in the United States.”
Health care is free for everyone in Cuba. It is an efficient and effective health care system, but one that has been shackled and impeded by the US at every step of the way. There is no question in my mind that civil liberties have been unacceptably abridged in Cuba and that there are political prisoners. On the other hand, the US has one of the most notorious systems of incarceration in the world, not to mention Gitmo which is situated in Cuba. We are hardly ones to point fingers. The use of the embargo weapon, instigated by a tiny group of politically powerful anti-Castro fanatics in Miami, some of whom are out and out terrorists, does the US little credit.
And now we have visited swine flu on them. Not our fault, to be sure. But the embargo that prevents the Cubans from dealing with it fully is our fault. It is immoral and cruel. Time to bring it to a swift end.