Cuba, swine flu and the embargo

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.

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Thank you for pointing this up. Embargoing medical materiel is always vile; in this case, it's particularly--to use your word--"ironic." Re less wealthy nations generally (though Cuba's medical and educational systems make it an exception to which the following likely does not apply), are there figures re the likelihood of house-living chickens getting together with pandemic 2009h1n1 this winter? I'm curious too what preparations WHO and CDC/HHS may--or can--be making on this.

You know Revere, thats a two edged sword economically you are talking about when you say dont close the borders. The Brits might have been able to contain it. Aussies... uh maybe. But its a silent bomb waiting to go off in this case.

But... lets face it now PAHO/WHO and CDC stated for the fact that it was mild (ask those dead people if it was mild when they went), they didnt follow their own goddamn protocols (Why?), and those were to "stop it, slow it down, stamp it out"

Excuse me but they didnt even throw the Tamiflu blanket so to make the statement that they couldnt have stopped is a little bit of pontification I think. There were 8 cases in San Diego after the initial one. I think that was slowable or maybe even stoppable. Texas? Hmmmm? It just showed up at the doorstep and we said "Swine Flu, sure come on in"

If nothing else and you would have a very HARD time arguing this one is that by slowing it, they might have had a bit more time to make vax and maybe the Aussies and N. Zealanders and Argentine's might have had a shot available to them for vax. But, we dont make vaccine here anymore because of all of the ramifications. Hell they aint making it now without Unkle Sugar to back their asses up.

But dont you think it would have been a good idea to put a hold on everyone entering the country to see if they developed symptoms. Big logistics problems but man they do it for cows and horses. This Administration is going to really feel the heat if this flame goes much brighter in the form of more and more cases. Canada might have also had a shot as well at slowing it.

Not the Obamantion though.. Nope, they knew those kids were sick and then they just let them go right on off to school and onward to infect New York City. I am sure that the dead there would have liked to at least have a shot at survival in the form of maybe having the time to get a vax out onto the table before they croaked.

As for the vax.... Not for me or anyone in the family unless it starts to go above 10%. Thats a personal choice. Everyone else can go look at whats in the stuff. Its not what they told you it was initially. Amazing what you can read off of a product sheet if you can get your hands on one.

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 01 Nov 2009 #permalink


did you read my last comment on 10-30-2009 ?

thank' you

Randy: It is economics and free traders that brought us the current international system. They don't want anybody telling them what to do, and as a consequence the default is always to allow commercial traffic. If there were a world gov't body that could be fixed, but as of now it can't be without voluntary agreements. By the time we knew about this virus it was being seeded throughout the US and the US was the main source for the rest of the world. It was travelers from the US and Canada that spread it. So it would mean closing US borders in and out, not just in. We would have stranded all our citizens outside the US and couldn't travel for business or commerce. As you say, the economic consequences would have been considerable -- and all for nothing. It was not containable. The Cubans tried and failed and so did the UK and European nations. Just not possible and anyone who knows flu would or should have known that. CDC certainly did.

Stefano: I am traveling and it's hard to keep up with substantive comments that require some thought and work. I'll return to home base at the end of the week.

mk: jeez . . .